Monday in Whitsun Week
by Dom Prosper Gueranger 1870
Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and enkindle within them the fire of thy love.
Yesterday, the Holy Ghost took possession of the world: His commencement of the mission given Him by the Father and the Son was such as to indicate His power over the human heart, and prepare us for His future triumphs. The days of this solemn Octave are a fitting occasion for our respectfully considering the progress of His workings in the Church and the souls of men. Jesus, our Emmanuel, is the King of the whole earth; His Father gave Him all nations for His inheritance (Ps. ii. 8). He Himself tells us, that all power is given to Him in heaven and in earth (St. Matth. xxvii. 18). But He ascended into heaven before establishing His Kingdom here below. The very Israelites, to whom He preached His Gospel, and under whose eyes He wrought such stupendous miracles in attestation of His being the Messias, have refused to acknowledge Him, and ceased to be His people (Dan. ix. 26). A few have been faithful, and others will follow their example: but the mass of the people of Israel have impiously resolved not to have this Man to reign over them (St. Luke, xix. 14).
As to the Gentiles, what likelihood is there of their accepting the Son of Mary for their Master? They know nothing whatsoever of Him, His teachings, or His mission. They have lost all their primitive religious traditions. Materialism reigns supreme in every country, whether civilized or barbarian; and every creature is made an object for adoration. The very first principles of morality have been corrupted. The insignificant minority, who proudly call themselves Philosophers, have the strangest theories: they became vain in their thoughts, as St. Paul says of them, and their foolish heart was darkened (Rom. i. 21). Races, once distinct, have been gradually fused into each other by conquest. Revolution after revolution has habituated mankind to respect no power but that of might. The colossal Roman Empire, with despotic Caesars at its head, crushes the whole earth beneath its sway. And this is the time chosen by the heavenly Father for sending His Son into the world! Jesus is to reign over men, and His reign must be accepted: but, there seems to be little chance of there being any welcome given to a King, Who claims to rule the mind and heart of His subjects!
During these long sad ages, another master has presented himself to the Nations, and they have enthusiastically hailed him as their king. It is Satan. So firmly, indeed, has he established his rule, that our Lord calls him the Prince of this world (St. John, xii. 31). He must be cast out (St. John, xii. 31); that is, he must be driven from the temples men have built to him, from society, from the soul, from literature, from art, from political life, all of which are under his sway. There will be resistance from the world he has corrupted; nay, he himself, the strong armed one (St. Luke,xi. 21) will resist, and so powerfully, that no mere created power shall ever make him yield.
So, then, everything is against the Kingdom of Christ, and nothing is favorable. And yet, if we are to believe certain modern writers, the world was in a fit state for a total and complete reformation! Impious and absurd assertion! Are we to deny the evidence of facts? Or must we admit, that error and vice are the best preparation for truth and virtue? Man may know that he is in a state of wretchedness, and yet not know that his wretchedness comes from sin, still less be resolved to become, at once and at every sacrifice, a hero in virtue!
No: in order that Jesus might reign over a world such as ours was, there was need of a miracle, nay of a miracle, as Bossuet observes, comparable to that of creation, whereby God draws being out of nothingness. Now, it was the Holy Ghost Who worked this miracle. He willed, that we, Who have never seen the Lord Jesus, should be as certain of His being our Messias and God, as though we had witnessed His wonderful works, and heard His divine teachings. For this end, He achieved the master-miracle of the conversion of the world, wherein God chose the weak things of the world, that he might confound the strong, the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are (I. Cor. i. 27, 28). By this stupendous fact, which was evident to men as the noon-day sun, the Holy Ghost made His presence known and felt by the world.
Let us consider the means He took for establishing the Kingdom of Jesus upon the earth. And first, let us return to the Cenacle. Look at these men now endued with power from on high (St. Luke, xxiv. 49): what were they a while ago? Men without influence, poor, ignorant, and, as we all know, easily intimidated. But now, the Holy Ghost has changed them into other men: they have an eloquence which it is hard to resist; they are heedless of every threat or peril; they are soon to stand before the world, yea, and conquer it with a victory such as no monarch ever won or fancied. The fact is too evident for the blindest incredulity to deny: the world has been transformed, and transformed by these poor Jews of the Cenacle. They received the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost, and He has done through them the work He came to do.
He gave them three things on that day: the power to preach the word, which was signified by the Tongues that sat upon them; the ardour of love, expressed by the Fire; and the gift of miracles, which they exercised that very morning. The word is the sword wherewith they are armed; love is the source of their dauntless courage; miracles win man’s attention to their teachings. These are the means used for driving Satan from the world, and for establishing the Kingdom of Jesus; and these means are all provided by the Holy Ghost.
But he does not confine His action to this. It is not enough for men to hear the word, and admire the courage, and witness the miracles, of the Apostles. Neither is it sufficient that they should see the force of truth and the beauty of virtue, or acknowledge the disgrace and sinfulness of their own manner of life. In order to a conversion of heart, to confess that the Jesus, Who is preached to them, is God, to love Him, be baptised, promise fidelity to Him, even to martyrdom if required, for all this there is need of the grace of the Holy Ghost. He alone can take away the stony heart, as the Prophet expresses it, and give a heart of flesh (Ezechiel, xxxvi.26), filled with supernatural faith and love. Hence, He will accompany His ministers, wheresoever they preach the Gospel; the visible working is theirs, the invisible is His: man’s salvation is to be the result of the two united. They must be applied to each individual, and each individual must freely yield his assent to the exterior preaching of the apostle, and to the interior action of the Holy Spirit. Truly, the undertaking is one of extreme difficulty, to bring mankind to receive Jesus as its Lord and King: but after three centuries of contest, the Cross of our Redeemer will be the standard round which the whole civilized world will be rallied.
It was just, that the Holy Spirit and the Apostles should first turn to the Israelites. They were the people to whom were committed the words of God (Rom. iii. 2); and the Messias was born of their race. Jesus had said that He was not sent but to the sheep that were lost of the house of Israel (St. Matth. xv. 24). Peter, His Vicar, inherited the glory of being the Apostle of the Jews (Gal. ii. 7); although it was also by his ministry that the Gentiles, in the person of Cornelius the Centurion, were first admitted into the Church; and, again, it was by him, at the Council of Jerusalem, that the baptized Gentiles were declared emancipated from the Jewish Law. We repeat it, the first preaching of the Christian Law was an honour due to the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: hence, our first Pentecost is a Jewish one, and the first to celebrate it are Jews. It is upon the people of Israel that the Holy Spirit first pours forth His divine Gifts.
As soon as the Solemnity was over, these men, who have received the faith, and are now truly children of Abraham by holy Baptism, return to the several provinces of the Gentile world whence they came; they return, bearing in their hearts that Jesus whom they have acknowledged to be the Messias, their God and their Saviour. Let us honour these first-fruits of holy Church, these trophies of the Paraclete Spirit, these messengers of the good tidings. They will soon be followed by the Disciples of the Cenacle, who, after using every means, that zeal could devise, for the conversion of the proud and ungrateful Jerusalem, but to no effect, will turn to the Gentiles.
So that, of the Jewish nation, a very small minority has acknowledged the Son of David as the heir of the Father of the Family; the body of the people has rebelled against Him, and is running headlong to destruction. By what name are we to call their crime? The Protomartyr, St. Stephen, speaking to these unworthy children of Abraham, says: O stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! ye always resist the Holy Ghost (Acts, vii. 51)! Resistance, then, to the Spirit of God is their crime; and the Apostles, finding the favoured people determined to refuse the truth, turn to them that are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death (St. Luke, i. 79). These are the Gentiles; and upon them the Apostles are henceforward to lavish the torrents of grace, which Jesus has merited for mankind by His Sacrifice on the Cross.
These messengers of the word of life carry the treasure to pagan, lands. Every opposition in man’s power is made against them, but they triumph over all. The Holy Spirit gives efficacy to His own indwelling within them; He acts Himself on the souls of their hearers; and rapid is the spread of Faith in Jesus. A Christian colony is soon formed at Antioch, then at Rome, and then at Alexandria. The tongue of fire runs through the world, beyond even the farthest limits of the Roman Empire, which, as the Prophets had foretold, was to serve as an instrument to the establishing the Kingdom of Christ. India, China, Ethiopia, and a hundred other distant countries, hear the word of the heralds of the Gospel of Peace.
But they have another testimony, besides their word, to give to Jesus, their King: they owe Him the testimony of their blood, and they give it. The fire that was enkindled within them on the Day of Pentecost, consumes them in the holocaust of martyrdom.
And yet, observe the power and fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit! To these first Apostles He raises up successors, in whom He continues His influence and work. So will it be to the end of time; for Jesus is to be acknowledged as Lord and Saviour by all generations, and the Holy Ghost has been sent into the world in order to effect this.
The Prince of this world, the old serpent (Apoc. xii. 9), makes use of the most violent means for staying the conquests of these messengers of the Holy Spirit. He has had Peter crucified, and Paul beheaded; he spared not one of the glorious chieftains. They are gone, and yet his defeat is terrible to his pride. The mystery of Pentecost has created a new people; the seed sown by the Apostles has produced an immense harvest. Nero’s persecution has swept away the Jewish leaders of the Christian host; but they had done their grand work, they had established the Church among the Gentiles: we sang their triumph in our yesterday’s Introit: The Spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole earth! Alleluia (Wisd. i. 7). Towards the close of the first century, Domitian finds Christians even in the imperial family; he makes them Martyrs. Trajan, Adrian, Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius, all are jealous of the growing power of Jesus of Nazareth; they persecute His flock, and yet they see it multiply. Their master, the Prince of this world, gives them political influence and philosophy; but the Holy Ghost brings both to nought, and the Truth spreads through the universe. Other Emperors, such as Severus, Decius, Gallus, Valerian, and Maximian, with the sterner course of cruelty unrefined by sophistry, order a universal massacre of the Christians, for the Empire was filled with them. And when this, too, failed, Satan brings all his power to bear in the last Persecution, which is decreed by Dioclesian and his fellow-Caesars. It is to be the extermination of the Christian name. It deluges the Empire with the blood of Martyrs; but the victory is for the Church, and her enemies die, despairing and baffled.
How magnificent, O Holy Spirit! is Thy triumph! How divine is this Kingdom of Jesus, which thou thus foundest in spite of human folly and malice, or of Satan’s power, strong as it then was upon the earth! Thou infusest into millions of souls the love of a Religion, which demands the most heroic sacrifices from its followers. Thou answerest the specious objections of man’s reason by the eloquence of miracles; and hearts, that once were slaves to concupiscence and pride, are inflamed, by thee, with such a love of Jesus, that they cheerfully suffer every torture, yea and death itself, for His dear sake!
Then it was, that was fulfilled the promise made by our Saviour to His Disciples: When they shall deliver you up, take no thought how or what to speak, for it shall be given to you, in that hour, what to speak; for it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you (St. Matth. x. 19, 20). We have a proof of it in the Acts of the Martyrs, where we read their simple and sublime answers, when questioned by their persecutors, and this frequently in the midst of the most excruciating torments. It is the word of the Spirit, combating and conquering the world. The by-standers would frequently exclaim: “Great is the God of the Christians!” At times, the executioners, excited by the heavenly eloquence of the victims they were torturing, cried out that they too would be Disciples of such a God. We are told by authors who lived in those times, that the arena of martyrdom was the forum of Faith, and that the blood and testimony of the Martyrs was the seed of Christians.
For three centuries did these prodigies of the Holy Spirit continue, and then the victory was complete. Jesus was acknowledged as the King and Saviour of the world, as the Teacher and Redeemer of mankind; Satan was driven from the kingdom he had usurped; and idolatry was either abolished by the Faith in the one true God, or they, that still kept it up, were looked upon as ignorant and depraved beings. Now, this victory, which was gained, first over the Roman Empire, and, since then, over so many other infidel nations, is the work of the Holy Ghost. The miraculous manner of its being accomplished, is one of the chief arguments whereon our faith rests. We have not seen or heard Jesus; and yet we confess Him to be our God, because of the evident testimony given of Him by the Spirit Whom He sent to us. May all creatures, then, give glory, thanks and love to this Holy Paraclete, Who has thus put us in possession of the salvation brought us by our Emmanuel!