Fr. Abbot Brendan Coffey
Last Sunday a man disguised as an elderly woman in a wheelchair, wearing a wig and lipstick, threw a cake at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting was unharmed in the incident as it sits behind bulletproof glass. The episode was a publicity stunt to get attention for climate change. We all know what the Mona Lisa looks like, right down to that enchanting smile; but there is still something very special about being able to go and see the real thing, the original, in person.
Today we celebrate another original, the birthday of the Church, the day of Pentecost, and that birth occurred among the Jews. The Holy Spirit descended on the Church on the day Israel recalls the gift of the law and the covenant to show that the Spirit is the new law sealing the new and eternal covenant.
In May 1975 Pope Paul VI asked, “Have we forgotten the Holy Spirit?” The Church is not an institution; it is a mystery and even a miracle – it is original. The Church is a mystery, something that can be known only through communion with God. The Church is a miracle, because we could never have expected such closeness to this divine reality.
The one who speaks to us within, is the Holy Spirit. This is the ‘real deal’, the original. The Spirit unveils before our minds and hearts what the words spoken in the Gospel truly convey. Under the guidance of the Spirit we believe and understand what Christ spoke, because words in themselves are not enough.
Today people are not interested in anything that is not completely honest and original. Saints are not people ‘playing a role’ called holiness; they may very well be characters, but they are not actors. To the deeply observant they are unmistakable, because the presence of the Spirit cannot be faked. Sooner or later the person behind the curtain is exposed and the truth revealed and the world is always the better for it.
The Spirit is called the Paraclete, meaning ‘Comforter’, but most of us have grown perfectly comfortable in our lives. Therefore, we have to ask, have we forgotten the Holy Spirit? Have we settled for a copy instead of the original? Because the original is available, right here and right now.
We are a world where very little is transparent, where humility is confused with weakness, where selfishness reigns, where we are all too easily offended, where there is a lack of compassion and no peace and where I always know best. We are paralysed with shame because of scandals, divided into liberal and conservative camps; we are a world at war – which we rightly and very easily condemn, but what about our private little wars to which we are so committed?
We need the Holy Spirit in our world and in our lives, we need that touch of originality; and let us not forget that when we come to the celebration of these Sacred Mysteries, we stand where no one can stand but the High Priest of all creation. We call on the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ in an act that we can only mediate in obedience to Christ’s command.
The Holy Spirit has written the new law on our hearts by pouring love into them. Love is the ‘weight’ of a soul, which draws it, as if by a law of gravity, to what it loves and where it finds its rightful rest. Christian life is meant to be lived by attraction, not by force, out of love, not out of fear! Pentecost is the door to the fullness and joy of Christian life. It is original, a masterpiece, not a cheap copy.