Pentecost Reflection

The God of Light and Colour 

Next Sunday is Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit. Forty-nine days have passed since Easter. That is seven weeks or a week of weeks. The coming of the Spirit bonds us together as God’s people and so one of the many things which we celebrate at Pentecost is the birth of the church.

When you think of the Holy Spirit, what thoughts or images come to mind? What does the phrase ‘Holy Spirit’ remind you of? It isn’t easy to imagine the Holy Spirit. We can picture God the Father as creator, as the loving Father calling his family together, as the one who always hears our prayer.  Christ became human and lived among us. We can read the accounts of his words and actions in the Gospels and see him depicted in religious art.  But the Holy Spirit is different. We depend on the images that we find in the bible and our own experiences of his presence.

The images that I associate most vividly with the Holy Spirit centre around light and colour. One   picture that comes to my mind is of Mount Callan. On summer evenings, especially after it has been raining, you get the most incredible views of it from near our family home in Kilmaley. As the sun sets, you get a tremendous interplay of light and shadow, the contrast of the dark mountain against the red, setting sun. The same back-and-forth between light and colour is at the centre of Bernini’s wonderful depiction of the Holy Spirit in the apse of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The golden rays of the sun penetrate the alabaster depiction of the dove lighting the great basilica, just as the Holy Spirit illuminated the upper room on the first Pentecost. In the gospels, the Spirit took on the form of tongues of fire.

The Holy Spirit brings to mind peace and harmony. It is the peace that you experience when you walk into a Church where there a just a few people quietly praying. It is the sort of harmony you often see between a couple who have grown old together while navigating the ups and downs of life. I recall when I was a young seminarian in Rome, travelling back from Sicily by train. An elderly couple sat across from us. Unusually for Italians, they scarcely spoke. They didn’t need to. You could see in their eyes that their bond transcended words and reached into the depths of their souls. The Holy Spirit is the gift of peace and inner happiness.

The Spirit invokes images of joy. The unbridled happiness of little children reflects the Spirit. You hear it when you walk past a primary school at breaktime.  When a parent arrives to collect them, the children explode in joy. Children don’t take things for granted. They celebrate everything. Worries don’t weigh them down. The Spirit came so that we might have life and have it to the full.

The Holy Spirit dwells in us as we struggle with the sadder side of life. The Spirit works through us as we stand together at the grave of a loved one or come to terms with the pain of a broken relationship. The Spirit who gave the apostles the power to overcome their fears, gives us the strength we need when our human weakness is most evident.  The Spirit guides and protects God’s people no matter what challenges we may meet.

Pentecost is the feast of peace, patience, kindness, forbearance, generosity, faith, temperance and all the other blessings that the Spirit brings. The feast of the Holy Spirit is a reminder that we should never close our minds to new possibilities. None of us have it all figured out, none of us ever will. Maybe that is at the centre of the distinction between divine and human. At our confirmation we were anointed with the oil of chrism blessed by the bishop on Holy Thursday. The olive oil and balsam first clings to our skin and then filters through to our deeper being becoming part of us, just as the Spirit enters our soul.

Pentecost is the celebration of the unlimited presence of God in each and every one of us, those with whom we agree and those who view life differently. When Christ walked among us only those within earshot could hear his words or experience his presence. When the Spirit came, these limitations banished and the healing, saving presence of the divine reached across generations and continents.

Come Holy Spirit,

fill the hearts of your faithful

and kindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created,

and You shall renew the face of the earth.

Fr. Albert McDonnell

Radharc na nOileán Pastoral Area.

Clare Champion Article 17th of May 2024