First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
Sequence: Veni, Sancte Spiritus
Gospel: According to St. John 20:19-23
The sequence for this weekend’s Pentecost liturgy, Veni, Sancte Spiritus or “Come, Holy Spirit,” is one of the oldest such prayers still in use in the Mass today, having been composed in the 1200s by, according to most scholars, either Pope Innocent III or his friend Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton (the man whom we can thank for dividing the Bible into chapters).
Near the end of the sequence, the line “In Your sevenfold gift descend” brings to light that around which this feast centers – the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and subsequently upon the whole Church. The line also reminds us that the Holy Spirit’s descent brought the bestowal of gifts, specifically those seven gifts listed in Isaiah (11:2-3): wisdom, understanding, counsel (right judgment), fortitude (courage), knowledge, piety (reverence), fear of the Lord (wonder and awe).
It is this last gift that, especially to our modern American ears, doesn’t sound like a gift at all, but rather more like a holdover from the pre-Vatican II world of Innocent III and Stephen Langdon. The secondary description of “wonder and awe” softens the blow a bit, but it does not erase the phrase “fear of the Lord” from Isaiah, nor from the writings of the saints and the Church whenever the topic of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit arises.
Despite the fact that this “gift” seems to be a 180 degree turn from what we have all been taught about Jesus being our brother and friend – no one wants to be afraid of a brother and a friend – it is very possible that there is for us today more of a need of this gift than at any time since Pentecost.
When we think of the times that we conform to the society around us, when we are silent when we should speak up, and when we are docile passengers on the cruise ship known as the American Empire, can we offer a good Catholic reason to do so? Is it because the two thousand year Tradition of the Faith got it wrong and the Enlightenment experiment in which we live got it right? Or is it because we are afraid – afraid not of God, but of those who might see us as too religious, too Catholic?
Listen to conversations at gatherings. People, very often Catholics, will be happy to voice liberal opinions that contradict the Church’s teaching on, for example, sexuality and human life. Other people, very often Catholics, will be happy to voice conservative opinions that contradict the Church’s teaching on, for example, economics and war. Now listen to the birds chirp as people stand up to both sides and defend the Church’s Tradition.
Maybe we don’t defend the Church because we don’t really know what She teaches on these and other issues. For those of us who are unsure, the Bible, the Catechism, the documents of Vatican II and all papal teachings are but a click away. The Gifts of Knowledge and Understanding will be our guide so that we can be the well-informed Catholics that we know we should be.
Maybe we don’t defend the Church because we do know – or we think we know – what She teaches, but we don’t really believe it. For those of us who are unconvinced, those same sources, along with an open mind and a docile heart, might bring us to a new place in our relationship with the Deposit of Faith. Here we can add the Gifts of Wisdom and Piety to help us to be humble enough to listen to Christ’s call to be whole-hearted disciples.
Or, maybe we don’t defend the Church because we are more concerned with what the beautiful people think of us than we are with what God thinks of us. For those of us who are, when we look at ourselves honestly, filled with the fear of becoming social pariahs, the Holy Spirit offers us His Gifts of Counsel and Fortitude so that we can say the right thing in the right way at the right time to the right people.
No one wants to hear a sermon over cocktails, but that cuts both ways. Neither does anyone want to hear their personal beliefs – often merely a parody of their beliefs – trashed over cocktails. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit enable us to defend our beliefs within the context of Christian charity: never, ever stooping to the level of ‘fighting fire with fire,’ yet still willing to stand up for our Mother, the Church.
St. Thomas Aquinas saw a direct link between Fear of the Lord and the theological virtue of hope. The more we move from an infantile fear of punishment by God to a mature fear of offending the One we love, then the more our hope in eternal Beatitude will grow. Besides, we probably shouldn’t put much hope in spending the afterlife with our Father if we didn’t spend any time in this life defending our Mother.