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Pentecost: The Ultimate Gift
Recall that Our Lord said he had to leave to send the Paraclete. In His last discourse to His disciples before His Passion and Death, He told them:
But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he is come, he will convict the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment.
John 16: 7-8
The Holy Ghost is a wonderful gift of God to the Church, the same in essence as the Father and the Son. The giving of the Paraclete to the Church happened on Pentecost.
What is the Holy Ghost? According to St Thomas, the Holy Ghost is a person, proceeding from the love of Father for the Son. In fact, the Holy Ghost is God’s love, abiding in us. What kind of gift can possibly match God’s love for us, which is so infinite and comes from his goodness? Yet there is even more to this gift!
Christ told the Apostles that they should not fear to lack the words with which to speak to the officials about Him, because the Spirit would give them the words to say. The Holy Ghost becomes a living well of inspiration, inhabiting the corners of our mind that are not corrupted by worldly desires. Indeed, the sacred scriptures themselves were given by inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
And the Holy Ghost has given all of us something else besides. According to Pope St. Leo, the Great Pentecost comes 50 days after the Resurrection to parallel the receiving of the Law on by Moses on Mount Sinai 50 days after the Exodus from Egypt. Just as Moses received a law on Mount Sinai, we received a law on Pentecost. What kind of Law? The Holy Ghost is present to us in our conscience (according to St. Augustine), which is the law received in Pentecost. What could better help us in our sanctification than the knowledge of the will of God, given to us by our conscience? Hence, we must in no way violate our conscience; that would be a sin, because it is the voice of God! But of course, one must also inform one’s conscience, lest one be accused at the Judgment for negligence.
Pentecost gave us the gift of God himself, living within our conscience! By the activity of the Holy Ghost in one’s soul, grace can operate to bring forth amazing feats of virtue, good works which merit removal of punishment for past sins, and more! How great a gain there was for the Church when Christ sent the Paraclete!
This list of gifts given by us by God in the Paraclete is a very different list than the 7 gifts of the Holy Ghost that we know, but it is in fact the core and foundation of the life of prayer. Recall that St Paul says that the Holy Ghost helps us to pray when we do not have the words (Romans 8:26). The foundation of truly unitive prayer is the presence of God within us. Well, that presence of God is the Holy Ghost. So without Pentecost, we would be more distant from God in prayer. How can we predispose ourselves to receive this gift of Pentecost, so that we may cultivate divine intimacy in prayer?
According to St Augustine, “to love the world is to lack those spiritual eyes, which are able to see Him Who is invisible, the Holy Ghost.” So to benefit from the gift of Pentecost, we must be far from any worldly loves. Sin darkens the intellect, burdens, our minds, and silences our ability to hear the voice of the Holy Ghost. That means we must leave all desires for anything but God behind, instead embracing things in the world only according to reason and for the love of God. We should also detach ourselves from creature comforts by fasting or vigils (staying up late at night while praying). Only thus will we be fully able to enjoy the great gift God has given us on Pentecost.
There are many varieties of feel-good Christianity that make excuses for sin, continuing to permit or encourage it while embracing “mysticism.” Sin and mysticism cannot exist together. How could anyone possibly be a mystic, united in some way with God, when they separate themselves from the presence of the Holy Ghost by their sins? After all, the Holy Ghost has come to convict the world of sin, and so is not compatible with the tolerance of sin. These same feel-gooders also discourage true sacrifice and self-denial. Thus they reject the Spirit of Pentecost that they claim to embrace.
The “new Pentecost” of Vatican II, as it was called by Pope St. John XXIII, is honored by the embracing of penance, not by its abandonment. In the original Pentecost, God gave the Church the Holy Ghost, and as a consequence, we receive charity, inspiration, God's presence in the conscience, and divine intimacy in prayer. These gifts from God to the Church cannot be enjoyed by us unless we do the work to clear the way in our heart, besides partaking in the sacraments. It is therefore contrary to the spirit of Vatican II that there has been a great abandonment of the Church’s ancient penitential discipline, but that is a story for another time. For now, we must take up the bright weapons of penance and sadness for our sins to destroy the evil desires of our heart. If we do not start now, how will we enjoy all the gifts to us that God gave to the Church so long ago?