The season of Eastertide comes to a close this weekend with the celebration of Pentecost, and yet in many ways it feels like we’ve had two Lents instead! But thankfully, after a couple of lean months, things seem to be heading in a hopeful direction here in Perth. As a result, I’m pleased to inform you that we’ll be having our first public Masses in the parish this coming week, the details of which I’ll outline below. And with Phase Three of the State Government’s reopening plan coming into effect from next weekend, I will hopefully be able to announce even more good news for the parish in the coming days. Thanks again to you all for your steadfastness and patience during this trying time.
After the fifty days of Eastertide, in which—despite the interruptions—we’ve done our best to bask in the joy of the risen Christ, this weekend we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, marking that remarkable day when God sent down the Holy Spirit to guide the community of Christ’s followers that we call the Church. Jesus had promised his disciples that, after he had ascended to the Father, they would be baptised with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and so receive power to witness to him to the ends of the earth.
In Rome there’s a beautiful tradition that takes place on Pentecost each year at the Pantheon, the iconic 2,000-year-old pagan temple-turned church in the heart of the Eternal City. If any of you have visited there you would know that for a roof it boasts the largest unsupported dome in the world, which features an enormous oculus opening in the centre that floods the building with natural light. Well, in a tradition that dates back over a thousand years, each year on the feast of Pentecost a number of workers climb the roof (these days it’s done by the Roman fire department), and drop thousands of red rose petals through the oculus on the gathered crowds at the conclusion of the Sunday morning Mass, while the choir sings Veni Creator Spiritus (Come, Creator Spirit). It’s designed to evoke the Holy Spirit descending upon the disciples “like tongues of fire” at the original Pentecost, and it’s a truly remarkable sight to behold.
This lovely tradition captures just a hint of how strange and surreal and awe-inspiring it must have been for all those present at the original Pentecost, as they received this tremendous influx of divine power and love, leading to the remarkable happenings that we heard about in our first reading. But for one of the disciples, Pentecost was not the first time they had had an encounter with the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about the Blessed Virgin Mary.
If you recall, at the start of Saint Luke’s Gospel, we hear how the Archangel Gabriel visited a teenaged Mary and told her that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, an event we know as the Annunciation. When Mary asked how this could happen, since she had never been with a man, Gabriel said that the Holy Spirit would “cover her with his shadow”, enabling her to miraculously conceive the Christ in her womb.
Mary’s greatness as a Christian flows from this divine encounter with the Holy Spirit. By accepting the Lord’s plan for her life, Mary became fruitful, cooperating with the Spirit’s promptings in loving obedience to the Lord. And when Mary experienced the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, she did not keep him to herself, but rather she immediately went forth to share the experience with her cousin Elizabeth.
Well, some thirty-four remarkable years later, Mary would once again experience the power of the Holy Spirit coming down upon her at Pentecost. I wonder what the recognition must have been like for Mary – her excitement at something so wonderful and yet remarkably familiar. Not long after her first encounter with the Holy Spirit, Mary sang the joy-filled song we know as the Magnificat, in which she declared that her soul “glorifies the Lord,” and her spirit “rejoices in God her Saviour.” Well we can only imagine the joy that filled her heart upon being reunited with the Holy Spirit, and this time for good. It was no longer just an event from the past, but was now an ever-present reality.
What does this have to do with us? In Catholic theology we say that to speak correctly of Mary is to speak correctly of Jesus. In this instance, we could perhaps say that to speak correctly of Mary is to speak correctly of the Holy Spirit. Look at what the Holy Spirit was able to do through Mary’s cooperation, and imagine what he might be able to do with us!
Remember that, prior to his Ascension, Christ said that it was better that he go to the Father, so that his Spirit would come and be poured into our hearts. And though we are not able to see Jesus in the flesh as the Apostles did, we do have God with us through the abiding gift of the Holy Spirit. Each of us has received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation, and he never ceases to act within us, awakening within us the desire for holiness and prompting us in the direction of God’s will.
In this we need to distinguish between our human judgment of things, and the divine discernment of God derived from the Holy Spirit. Again, Mary is for us the example par excellence of a model discerner, one who freely chose to cooperate with the Spirit’s promptings in her soul, and who brought forth Christ into the world as a result. A person who is open to the gift of the Holy Spirit finds their soul full of light, and raised above natural reasoning, able to see that which they did not know formerly. But it requires prayer and a recollected soul to be able to detect the gentle whisper of the Spirit in our lives.
And so today we not only celebrate what happened 2,000 years ago, but we also anticipate and pray that something might happen again. This same Holy Spirit who, at the dawn of time, hovered over the abyss, bringing creation from chaos; the same Holy Spirit who hovered over the Virgin Mary, making her the Mother of her Creator; this same Holy Spirit who hovers over the bread and wine during each Mass, transforming them into the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ – this same Holy Spirit, whom we received in our Baptism and Confirmation, seeks to live in and through us, so that, like Mary, we may be instruments of bringing forth Christ into the world.
Following the original Pentecost, the disciples carried the divine flame of the Spirit to the far corners of the earth. Our God still desires to renew the face of the earth with the fire of his love. And we have the privilege of being invited to share in this divine mission.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
V. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
R. And you shall renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit,
did instruct the hearts of the faithful,
grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise
and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
So, as I mentioned at the start of this letter, this coming week we’ll be offering our first public Masses in the parish since mid-March. For the coming week at least we still have to maintain the 20-person limit and have all parish visitors sign-in and use hand-sanitiser, which means that our Masses will have to take place during office hours. As such, we will offer Mass at 9:30am and 10:30am from Tuesday to Friday this coming week (Monday is a public holiday). Please enter through the parish office and follow the instructions of our parish volunteer or secretary. Admittance will be granted on a first-come basis. If we have more than twenty people for a given Mass, we will have overflow seating in the Betty Knight Hall for another twenty people (unfortunately the folding wall will have to remain closed, but we will have the speakers on and you will be able to receive communion). The cry room remains out of use for the time being. These weekday Masses also mean that, for now, we will cease having adoration of the Blessed Sacrament during the week, though the church will remain open for private prayer until 2pm each day (except Monday this week).
Tomorrow (Sunday 31st) we will again have reconciliation and adoration at St Kevin’s in Serpentine between 9:30-10:30am, but the 5:30-6pm reconciliation time at St Francis Xavier is on hold for now. Moving forward, our hope is that the further relaxing of restrictions will enable to us to return to our regular weekday schedule of Masses starting this coming Saturday, and potentially even allow for some form of Sunday Mass schedule. This remains to be seen however, and I will inform you of such developments as they unfold.
A few other notices and links:
– Please do not park in front of the parish church from 2pm onwards on school days—even in the spaces marked “church parking only”—as this greatly hinders the current pick-up process at our neighbouring school. Once parents are allowed out of their cars again things should calm down, and I will let you know when this is the case.
– For this week’s piano song we have some classic blues – “Sweet Home Chicago”:
– Here’s an abridged version of my Pentecost homily that I filmed for Catholic Youth Ministry: https://youtu.be/jOb2FKh5Z6U
– A few fascinating observations from Catholics in the U.S. about what they’ve found themselves missing the most during this distance from the Mass: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/05/22/what-our-readers-are-surprised-find-they-miss-about-church
– Here’s a somewhat spicy article on a topic close to my heart – namely, that beauty is perhaps the greatest catalyst for genuine renewal in the Church: https://www.dorothydaycwfarm.org/blog/the-boredom-of-the-church-only-beauty-will-save-the-world
– Lastly, for a taste of the beauty of Catholicism for this week, check out this trailer for a tremendous documentary film featuring the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal: https://youtu.be/63ZKn4QtqSU