Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: Filled with the Holy Spirit and Amazed

With the Invitation to say Often: ‘Come Holy Spirit, Come by Mary’

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Pentecost – Year A- May 31st, 2020

Roman Rite

Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7.12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Ambrosian Rite

Acts 2:1-11; Ps 103; 1 Cor 12:1- 11; Jn 14:15-20

1) Pentecost: amazement for a great gift.

«The day of Pentecost, when the disciples ‘were filled with the Holy Spirit’ , was the baptism of the Church, which was born ‘outgoing ‘ and ’ready to go’ to announce the Good News to all» (Pope Francis).

This Good News is awaited, welcomed and understood by our brothers in humanity who, today as then, are amazed and ask themselves: “Are not these people who are speaking all Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? » (Acts 2, 7-9).

Faced with the event that today we celebrate, man’s first spiritual reaction is wonder. At Pentecost what happened that was so new, unexpected, unpredictable to arouse such an amazement in those who witnessed it so that they were as if out of their mind? Men began to understand each other while continuing to speak their own language. The event that fills a man with amazement is that he suddenly no longer feels alien to others: communion between people has happened. Any cause of extraneousness due to the different culture («Jews or Greeks») or to the different social condition («slaves or free») is removed. This event, which is the exact opposite of what happened during the construction of the tower of Babel, fills with amazement because man finally finds an answer to his deepest desire for a life in communion.

If this happened, it was not by accident or necessity. The fact that men began to understand each other again is the consequence of another event that has occurred in our history. What has happened? On the day of Pentecost, the divine person of the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the human heart, within human history.

Who is this divine person? He is the Love that unites the Father and the Son and comes to each of us to do the work of Christ.

Furthermore, coming to dwell in each of us, the Holy Spirit, who is Love, gives us the experience of the same love with which the Father loves and forgives us (This is the first effect of the gift of Love: the remission of sins).

Loved by the Father and forgiven in our sin, we can taste the gift of peace. «Jesus said to them again: Peace be with you». Here is the miracle that fills us with amazement: true communion between people is rebuilt. «Amazement”, wrote St. Gregory of Nyssa, “makes known and generates life while concepts create idols». Let us live on this Sunday of Pentecost by not doing like those who abandon the amazement of children but keep its whims.

Let us live today’s amazement in the wake of the daily amazement of Mary in front of her son whom she adored. Let us make our own the amazement of the shepherds, who in the night of the birth of the Lord were watching and then contemplated the glory of God in a child. Let us be amazed like Peter, James, and John during the transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor, His face lit up like the sun and His clothes became white as light … and a bright cloud covered those who were there. Finally, let us be amazed like the pious women who went to the Sepulcher in the early morning and saw a young man dressed in a white robe and were amazed because his appearance was like lightning and his garment as white as snow.

Surprised by the love that fills us, let us keep alive the amazement that makes know and generates life.

2) The feast of the Church.

Pentecost is the mystery of donated love and lived communion, of lasting consolation and shared joy.

Joy is the constant Presence of Christ among us.

Joy is the certainty that the Master, the Lord is alive; He is with his friends of yesterday, today, and always and gives them (us) his Spirit, the Guide in the knowledge of the Truth[1] that makes us free and able to live in peace.

Let us share this joy and celebrate the great feast of Pentecost in which the liturgy makes us live again the birth of the Church. «We can say that the Church had its solemn beginning with the descent of the Holy Spirit” (Benedict XVI). Today is the feast of the Church; it is our feast; it is the feast of the Holy Spirit, the feast of God-Love. “Let us invoke Him. Let us bless Him. Let us experience Him. Let us effuse Him»(Paul VI).

Before ascending to heaven, Jesus commanded to his disciples first not do anything on his own but to stay together in community and to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. And so convened the nascent Church, the small group of believers together with Mary and the Apostles who in the meantime, with the choice of Matthias, were back to being twelve. And so fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit descended on the community of the disciples – «devoted themselves with one accord ” – gathered «with Mary, the mother of Jesus » and the twelve Apostles ( cf. Acts 1:14 ; 2.1 ) .

Harmony is the condition of the gift of the Holy Spirit and prayer is the condition of harmony. But there is also another condition so that this gift could be received by us: to be vigilant in waiting for the Lord.

Often, we give priority to activity, to an industriousness that involves us up to the limit of our strength and beyond it. But we would be freer, happier, and more fruitful if we gave more time to the Word of God, in which our will and our actions spread.

Of course, the Lord needs our work and our dedication, but we need his presence. We must learn the courage of “inaction” and the humility of waiting for the Word and His words. To listen in silence and in communion to the word of God is better than many human words, and the time of prayer will be more fruitful than many actions.

3) The gift of the Spirit and the certainty of the heart.

During the passion of Christ, the Apostles ran away. At the first news of the Resurrection, the disciples did not believe, and it took forty days before the resurrected Jesus could bring them back to the surface of life, instilling confidence and certainty in their spirit. Pentecost marked their rebirth: the tongues of fire shook them, and, in that morning of Paradise, all became clear. Truly everything: the nature and the mission of Christ and the persecution and the martyrdom which awaited them when fulfilling their mission for the foundation of the Church. Their hearts went on fire for the certainty, the sweetness, and the irrepressible joy. The Spirit works always in this way also in our hearts, with gentle force and strong sweetness. He is first and foremost the Spirit of Truth, and truth is to see clear in things and in ourselves, to have the certainty that God loves us so that we may love Him and seek refuge in Him.

The Holy Spirit, that in an instant transformed the Apostles, continues in the Church to transform us who are hardheaded and obtuse in heart. It is enough that we open for Him the door of our heart. Then He comes with the Son and with the Father and makes us the dwelling place of God, who is the abode of all mankind.

Far from God, humanity seeks only itself, tries to get salvation in the satisfaction of everyone’s selfishness and falls into a radical contrast where no one understands his neighbor. With the end of understanding, even selfishness remains unsatisfied.

The «Holy Spirit» creates understanding because it is the love that comes from the cross, the gift of Jesus Christ. It is not necessary to mention in detail here the doctrinal and practical teachings of Pentecost. I think it may be sufficient to recall the expression with which Augustine tried to summarize the core of Pentecost. “The history of the world,” says St. Augustine, “ is a struggle between two loves: the love of self to the point of hate of God and the love of God to the point of the abandonment of the ego. This love of God is the redemption of the world and of the self.”

At the first light of the day of Resurrection, Jesus gave a name to this ego: “Mary.» It is the salvation of “man”: every human being is called by name by God. From eternity God knows us. We are not children of chance and chaos; we are the children of Love. It is in the Holy Spirit that God loves us, and it is in the Spirit that we love him. Our life is this relationship of love in which we are called and to which we respond, in which we call to Him and in which He gives an answer to each of us. We then become in the Church and with the Church the place of the encounter with the Word and the temple of the Spirit.

 4) Testimony of unity and forgiveness.

In the first reading of today’s Mass, St. Luke describes the coming of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-11) using the classic symbols that accompany the action of God: wind, earthquake, and fire. But in his narration, there is another symbol: the tongues of fire that divide and set down on each one of them so that “they began to speak in other tongues.» With this the task of unity and universality to which the Spirit calls his Church becomes clear. The sacred author dwells also in saying that the crowd was of people made of various nationalities (2.19 to 11). He adds: «Each one heard them speaking in his own language » (2:8). It is like saying that the Spirit does not have its own language, nor it is bonded to a language or culture, but it is expressed through them all. With the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost and the birth of the Christian community, within humanity begins a new history inverted with respect to the history of Babel. In the narration of Genesis (11:1-9), we read that men wanted to reach God as the conquest of their own and not as a gift. It is the eternal temptation of wanting to build a city without God and seeking salvation in themselves. But outside God, man finds only confusion and dispersion. At Babel men of the same language do not understand each other anymore. Instead, at Pentecost men of different languages ​​come together and understand each other. The task that the Spirit has entrusted to his Church is to give the human history a movement of reunification in the Spirit, in freedom and in God.

The Spirit transforms a group of people, enclosed in the shelter of the Cenacle, into conscious and courageous witnesses. He opens the disciples to the world and gives them the courage to step forward in public speaking of “the mighty works of God.» It should not be forgotten, however, that the risen Jesus not only gives the Spirit for the mission but also in view of the forgiveness of sins. In fact, John the Evangelist puts in a close relationship the Spirit, the community of the disciples and forgiveness.

In the Church, the place of celebration and forgiveness (Jean Vanier), a special place is reserved to the consecrated Virgins who, though living in the world, live of prayer to praise God and intercede for his forgiveness. They testify that complete donation to God is not to trust in something but in Someone. In the faith that transforms the heart, every day they can receive God, present in them (and us) with His Spirit. «God’s love is widespread in our hearts through the Holy Spirit that God has given us.»(Romans 5:5) Their lives, lived in a spousal relationship with Christ, testify tenderness, faithfulness, and mercy. Their lives and their mission are to welcome God to give him to the world.

The condition of Bride of Christ gives to the personality of the woman a great emotional development. She shows the positive aspect of virginity because there is a renunciation only considering the fullness of a higher order. On the other hand, the virginal commitment is intended, according to the divine plan, to elicit a spiritual fruitfulness. The call is a gift of God to the person (“You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn 15:16)) who becomes a gift of the human person through the consecration in virginity. “The gift of prophetic and eschatological Virginity  acquires the status of a ministry in the service of God’s people, and places the consecrated persons in the heart of the Church and of the world» ( Preamble to the Rite of Consecration of Virgins , n. 2) .

In the virgins, who follow the path paved by Mary, the virginal love consecrated to Christ is the source of spiritual motherhood. It is surprising to note that, in order to express his spiritual fatherhood, St. Paul has used an image specifically feminine: the pain of the birth “My children” he writes to the Galatians (4:19) “for whom I am again in travail.”[2]


Patristic reading

Saint Irenaeus, bishop and martyr

From the treatise Against Heresies

(Lib. 3, 17. 1-3: SC 34, 302-306)

The sending of the Holy Spirit

When the Lord told his disciples to go and teach all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he conferred on them the power of giving men new life in God.

He had promised through the prophets that in these last days he would pour out his Spirit on his servants and handmaids, and that they would prophesy. So when the Son of God became the Son of Man, the Spirit also descended upon him, becoming accustomed in this way to dwelling with the human race, to living in men and to inhabiting God’s creation. The Spirit accomplished the Father’s will in men who had grown old in sin, and gave them new life in Christ. Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that men of every language joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first-fruits of all the nations.

This was why the Lord had promised to send the Advocate: he was to prepare us as an offering to God. Like dry flour, which cannot become one lump of dough, one loaf of bread, without moisture, we who are many could not become one in Christ Jesus without the water that comes down from heaven. And like parched ground, which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above. Through the baptism that liberates us from change and decay we have become one in body; through the Spirit we have become one in soul.

The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God came down upon the Lord, and the Lord in turn gave this Spirit to his Church, sending the Advocate from heaven into all the world into which, according to his own words, the devil too had been cast down like lightning.

If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God. Since we have our accuser, we need an advocate as well. And so the Lord in his pity for man, who had fallen into the hands of brigands, having himself bound up his wounds and left for his care two coins bearing the royal image, entrusted him to the Holy Spirit. Now, through the Spirit, the image and inscription of the Father and the Son have been given to us, and it is our duty to use the coin committed to our charge and make it yield a rich profit for the Lord.

[1] The word «truth» in John means both the divine reality and the knowledge of the divine reality. The traditional interpretation, especially the one by the Catholic Church, has understood «truth» especially in the second sense, the dogmatic sense. The Spirit guides the church through the Councils, the Magisterium, and Tradition. This is an important aspect of the action of the Spirit of Truth – the most important – but not the only one. There is a more personal aspect to bear in mind: The Holy Spirit leads us to the true life of Christ. St. Irenaeus defines the Holy Spirit our «communion with God», and St. Basil says that «thanks to the Spirit we become intimate friends of God.»

[2] It can be remembered that to show the fruitfulness of suffering, Jesus himself used the comparison of the woman who gives birth: in this way he made his disciples understand the fruits that their participation in his passion can produce (cf. Jn 16:21). This means that spiritual fertility is expressed more adequately in female terms, even if it is common to men and women.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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