Homily for Pentecost Sunday

19 May 2024

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Pentecost Sunday


[Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; 1Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 15:26-27; 16:12-15]

Last Friday, I returned to Edmonton from Jasper. I spent the week there with the priests of the Archdiocese for our annual clergy study days.

I don’t know what it is about the mountains, but it never fails that, as soon as I enter the national park, I begin to decompress. Pressures I may be experiencing seem immediately to lighten, and a sense of relaxation begins to take over. I find that experience counterintuitive – one is actually hemmed in by the mountain range as it presses itself upon everyone enclosed within it, yet it fosters at the same time a real decompression. I have heard many people say the same.

Today I raise this with you as a way of helping to appreciate a particular gift of the Holy Spirit, whose bestowal at Pentecost we celebrate this morning. People today have many worries that weigh heavily upon them. Contrary to the experience at Jasper, it is as if these things hem us in like immense mountains that allow no exit and, far from enabling us to relax, leave us feeling suffocated by the pressure. What the Church proclaims in this solemn celebration is that the peace we seek, the “decompression” for which we long, results from the bestowal of the Holy Spirit.

First, let’s notice how the working of the Holy Spirit in our souls is described in the special sequence for this feast. It is sung prior to the proclamation of the Gospel:

“You, of comforters the best; You, the soul’s most welcome guest; Sweet refreshment here below; In our labor, rest most sweet; Grateful coolness in the heat; Solace in the midst of woe.”

Comfort, refreshment, rest, solace – the prayer is speaking of the “decompression”, if you will, that results from the receipt of the Holy Spirit. Bear in mind that the sequence is a prayer of the Church that goes back at least to the thirteenth century, and thus expresses the experience of believers over hundreds of years. From generation to generation, Christians have been gifted with profound consolation and peace when the Holy Spirit floods the soul.

Why the experience of the mountains brings with it a sense of decompression is a mystery to me. When it comes to the consolation that accompanies the gift of the Holy Spirit, we need look no further than today’s scriptural texts for the explanation.

The passage from Saint John’s Gospel records the teaching of Jesus himself that the mission of the Holy Spirit is to “guide [his disciples] into all the truth”. What this means is that the Spirit enables all that Jesus revealed and taught to enter and settle into our hearts so that we can understand it and assent to it in faith. And what did Jesus reveal? That God is our Father, whose love knows no bounds and who is always aware of our every need, even before we are; that Jesus is God’s Eternal Son, sent to lay down his life to forgive our sins that we might live with him forever; that God’s love is ever-victorious over all that threatens us, even sin and death. As the Holy Spirit brings us to an acceptance in faith of this truth, fear and worry yield to peace and consolation, and the soul does find true rest.

Now, to be sure, what I am focusing upon here does not exhaust the effects of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. The account of Pentecost given in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles recalls how the fearful apostles were transformed by the Spirit into bold and courageous proclaimers of the Gospel. Saint Paul speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit to fashion the baptized into a real communion of believers, endowed with a multiplicity of gifts for the service of the Church. Much more can be said on the basis of other passages from the Bible. I am choosing to highlight the Holy Sprit’s “decompression effect” because of the urgent need for this particular gift, given the widespread anxiety and fear seizing the hearts of many people these days and paralyzing them in their grip.

We need not rehearse here the many understandable reasons for people’s anxiousness. A common cause is false self-reliance, the mistaken understanding that we are left to our own devices as we face the many urgent and insoluble issues that confront us, our families, and the world. The Solemnity today urges us to give up this falsehood and call upon the Holy Spirit to do what Jesus promised the Spirit would do: guide us into all the truth, the truth of God’s love and providence, and, as Saint Paul says, enable us to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, which means accepting in faith that Jesus is sovereign over all things, guides our lives, and takes care of us in ways we could never imagine.

So, in our celebration this morning, let’s take honest and careful stock of all that is worrying us. As we do, let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide us more deeply into the truth of the Lord’s Real Presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, is here in our midst, in the fullness of divine power and tender mercy. May the Holy Spirit deepen our faith in this wondrous presence, so that by our communion with the power of God’s love, we may know real “decompression”, the refreshment and peace for which we long.

✠ Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph Basilica
May 19th, 2024