Despite having no spare shelf space at home, I still buy books to read, both new and secondhand. Occasionally a used book will arrive with a postcard or marker tucked in between the pages of the book. This week I received a book – Gateway to Hope, by Maria Boulding – and inside was a card headed NOVENA to the HOLY SPIRIT. The card contained three prayers to the Holy Spirit, including this short one by Pope John XXIII
Renew your wonders
in this our day,
as by a new Pentecost.
My first visit to St Barnabas was back in 2016, on a particularly windy day. As the 10 o’clock service was about to begin, the main door blew open, and we all waited for someone to enter. No-one came, or at least, no-one we could see. Later, as I began my sermon, I said that the wind was like the Holy Spirit blowing into the church.
God wishes that every church and every soul had the Holy Spirit blowing through it, blowing away the cobwebs from the darkened corners of our lives and filling our lungs with the air of new life and love. Yet often the Holy Spirit comes and then passes by a church without even bothering to knock on the door. Why is this so?
We can liken a church and ourselves to a house. If the doors and windows of the church and of the soul are too tightly fastened, the spirit cannot enter. That happens when we have decided for ourselves what God wants for the Church, and no further reference is needed. Belief in God is intellectual, and the Holy Spirit is the the poor brother left outside the door. Churches, and our souls, need an openness of both mind and heart to enable the spirit to enter.
On the other hand, if the doors and windows are always open to every passing breeze, the Holy Spirit can enter in and just as quickly exit the other side. This happens when the church is too free and easy in its doctrine and practice, being captivated by passing trends and always wishing to appear in step with the times. The Holy Spirit remains in the home where discipline in liturgy and doctrine are established, and where the church understands that the Holy Spirit is no novelty but has guided the Christian Church for nearly 2,000 years.
On Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, which recalls the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in Jerusalem, empowering them for service in the Lord’s name. St Peter tells them, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” In this moment the Christian Church is being born, and every year we celebrate its birthday on the feast of Pentecost.
In his short prayer Pope John XXIII calls upon a new Pentecost in our day. This prayer can apply both to ourselves as individuals and to the Church as a whole. Without the Holy Spirit, our lives and the life of the Church will drift into error and irrelevance. Asking for the Holy Spirit to blow into your life is a good and healthy prayer and, as our church emerges from lockdown and struggles again to find its footing, the church’s lungs will benefit from a gulp or two of the spirit of wisdom, truth and life.
With blessings at Pentecost