Papal Homily at Pentecost Mass
“The Holy Spirit Is Love”
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 4, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI’s address at the Mass of Pentecost, which he celebrated today in St. Peter’s Square.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended with power on the apostles; thus began the mission of the Church in the world. Jesus himself had prepared the Eleven for this mission by appearing to them on several occasions after his resurrection (cf. Acts 1:3).
Before the ascension to heaven, “he charged them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father” (cf. Acts 1:4-5); that is, he asked them to stay together to prepare themselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And they gathered in prayer with Mary in the Cenacle, while awaiting this promised event (cf. Acts 1:14).
To stay together was the condition Jesus placed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; the premise of their harmony was prolonged prayer. In this way we are offered a formidable lesson for every Christian community.
At times it is thought that missionary effectiveness depends primarily on careful programming and its subsequent intelligent application through a concrete commitment. The Lord certainly does ask us for our collaboration, but before any other response his initiative is necessary: His Spirit is the true protagonist of the Church. The roots of our being and of our action are in the wise and provident silence of God.
The images used by St. Luke to indicate the irruption of the Holy Spirit — wind and fire — recall the Sinai, where God revealed himself to the people of Israel and offered his covenant (cf. Exodus 19:3 and following). The feast of Sinai, which Israel celebrated 50 days after the Passover, was the feast of the Covenant.
On speaking of the tongues of fire (cf. Acts 3), St. Luke wants to represent Pentecost as a new Sinai, as the feast of the new Covenant, in which the Covenant with Israel is extended to all the nations of the earth. The Church has been catholic and missionary from her birth. The universality of salvation is manifested with the list of the numerous ethnic groups to which those belonged who heard the apostles’ first proclamation (cf. Acts 2:9-11).
The People of God, which had found its first configuration in Sinai, extends today to the point of surmounting every barrier of race, culture, space and time. As opposed to what occurred with the tower of Babel, when people wanted to build a way to heaven with their hands, they ended up by destroying their very capacity to understand one another mutually. The Pentecost of the Spirit, with the gift of tongues, shows that his presence unites and transforms confusion into communion. Man’s pride and egoism always creates divisions, builds walls of indifference, hatred and violence.
The Holy Spirit, on the contrary, makes hearts capable of understanding everyone’s languages, as it re-establishes the bridge of authentic communication between earth and heaven. The Holy Spirit is love.
But, how is it possible to enter into the mystery of the Holy Spirit? How can the secret of love be understood? The Gospel passage takes us today to the Cenacle, where, the Last Supper being over, an experience of disconcert saddened the apostles. The reason was that Jesus’ words aroused disturbing questions: He spoke of the world’s hatred of him and of his own, he spoke of his mysterious departure; much remained to be said but at that moment the apostles were not able to bear the weight (cf. John 16:12).
To console them, he explained the meaning of his departure: He would go, but he would return; meanwhile, he would not abandon them, would not leave them orphans. He would send the Consoler, the Spirit of the Father, and the Spirit would enable them to know that Christ’s work is a work of love: love of him who gave himself, love of the Father who has given him.
This is the mystery of Pentecost: The Holy Spirit illuminates the human spirit and, on revealing Christ crucified and risen, indicates the way to become more like him, that is, to be “expression and instrument of love that comes from him” (“Deus Caritas Est,” No. 33). The Church, gathered with Mary, as at her birth, today implores: “Veni Sancte Spiritus!” — “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of thy love!” Amen.