A message from Father Nick 62

The First Pentecost by Duccio di Buoninsegna


Welcoming the Spirit

Our Greek word PENTECOST connects us with the Jewish feast of Passover, marking fifty days from the ceremony of the new barley sheaf. In other words, the apostles and Our Lady were gathered together on an existing holy day. That was when, as Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit came upon them with elemental power, bringing a new life force to the world.

This would enable his friends both to accept and to preach the Good News, their fearfulness transformed into real discipleship. On Pentecost Sunday a great change came over Peter. From now on, he and the others who had run from Calvary were ready to give their lives in service to their Master. From now on, the Church would be a universal sign of hope and purpose.

Nevertheless, there are moments when a prophet appears: a person who invokes the Holy Spirit and who is prepared to use his or her gifts and experience in reading the “signs of the times”.

Bernini’s Gloria

When Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope St John XXIII on 28th October, 1958, at the age of seventy-seven, the world did not expect too much of him, despite his warmth and affability. Now canonised of course. Pope St John looked too plump to be a prophet! But he had a good sense of history and geography, having served in a variety of diplomatic posts: in Paris, the heart of sophisticated Catholic Europe; in Bulgaria and Greece among Eastern Orthodox Christians; and in Turkey with its many Muslims. He seemed to have a way of addressing all people.

He was also profoundly moved by the recent fate of the Jews and he recognised that the Catholic Church had much to address. On 20th January, 1959, at the abbey of St Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome, he announced that he was summoning a General Council. Its purpose was to be pastoral rather than doctrinal, and it was to be held in dialogue with the people of a damaged yet developing world.

Many, of course, disliked the idea of such a council, but the “Second Vatican Council” produced a number of truly important documents, which are meant to guide us in our time. In the days leading up to the Council, Pope St John liked to refer to it as a “New Pentecost”. There is of course only one real Pentecost – the one we celebrate this weekend – but so great is that mystery that it will continue to reveal itself in new ways. As Pope St John said to the gathered bishops,

The Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers, but at the same time she must ever look to the present, to new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world, which have opened avenues to the Catholic Apostolate.”

Pope St John XXIII