Father Donald Senior, CP

May 20: Pentecost Sunday

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Come, Holy Spirit


Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

A few years ago, Catholic Theological Union had the privilege of honoring at our annual “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” dinner Father Ted Hesburgh, the legendary president of the University of Notre Dame.  

Former chair of the U.S. Human Civil Rights Commission, taking prophetic stances on immigration and the Vietnam war, the recipient of 150 honorary doctorates (still a record) and on a first-name basis with leaders of government and commerce, he was a most deserving recipient. I was eager to hear what he would have to say about his notable achievements to the large crowd gathered to honor him.  

Instead, Hesburgh’s remarks centered on a prayer he recited every morning of his life. It was taken from the ancient hymn that is included in the liturgy for Pentecost Sunday:

“Come, Holy Spirit, come!

You, of comforters the best;

You, the soul’s most welcome guest;

Sweet refreshment here below …

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;

On our dryness pour your dew; 

Wash the stains of guilt away;

Bend the stubborn heart and will;

Melt the frozen, warm the chill;

Guide the steps that go astray …

On the faithful, who adore 

And confess you, evermore …

Give them joys that never end. Amen. Alleluia.”

I felt we were given a glimpse into the heart of a great man’s deep faith. It is that kind of faith in the power and beauty of God’s Spirit that we celebrate today on the feast of Pentecost, the joyful liturgical season that began with Easter and now comes to its climax.  

One way of thinking of the Scriptures is to see both the Old and the New Testaments as a collective search for God. The Bible turns to familiar human images to try to capture its experience of God.  

For example, Israel’s frequent portrayal of God as “Father,” that is, God experienced as nourishing and loving and faithful as the best human parent could ever be. For Christians, the life of Jesus gives us a breathtaking palette of beauty enabling us to glimpse the reality of God: God as merciful, forgiving, healing, unifying. As Pope Francis has repeatedly stated, Jesus is “the human face of God’s mercy.”

In today’s feast our faith lifts up another image to help us glimpse the transcendent beauty of God, namely that of the Spirit. Unlike the discernible human images of “father” or “mother” or the human face of Jesus, the Son of God, the image of the Spirit points to a characteristic series of experiences that help us understand more deeply the reality of the unseen God.  

For example, in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear the familiar story of the descent of the Spirit on the apostles who are gathered in Jerusalem. 

The Spirit appears as “tongues of fire” that settle on each of them. The experience this scene is attempting to portray is the powerful transformation from fear to boldness that enables the apostles to leave their hiding place and — with burning hearts — proclaim the Gospel to a multitude of devout Jews “from every nation under heaven.”  

Another set of experiences is cited by Paul in the second reading. He affirms that the many gifts to be found among the Christians in Corinth are, in fact, signs of the Spirit that will be manifested not in destructive behavior but in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Human virtues like these are signs of the Spirit and help us understand the infinite beauty of God.  

Finally we have the exquisite scene from John’s Gospel where the Risen Jesus appears to his disciples huddled in a room “for fear of the Jews” and “breathes” on them the power of the Spirit, the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. This act of the Risen Christ echoes the famous verse of the Psalm response for today taken from Psalm 104: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” 

In the life-giving experiences of the Christian community, we discover the Spirit of God.


  • scripture