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  AlephHallo again to all.

When the Council of Trent had ended in 1563, this sentence was engraved in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome:

(Here the Holy Spirit spoke for the last time)

Whenever we happen to read those words, they bring a chill. That the Third Person of the Trinity is mute — with nothing further to inspire or to communicate — is a deadening idea. That the wind, energy, fire, passion, and intelligence sweeping on Pentecost through that house in Jerusalem has nothing further to tell us or teach us, is hardly conceivable.

'The faith once for all delivered to the saints' is a comforting expression, but occasionally it seems like a down duvet used to cover the difficult matters that the church, in every age, must face. Whatever happened on that Day of Pentecost, it wasn't soothing and gentle. That force, that extraordinary manifestation of the Godhead, speaking for the last time? Boxed, caged, and engraved?

We're not suggesting that the Holy Spirit is the vessel of a new revelation; God forbid. But surely the Holy Spirit guides, strengthens, and helps the Church interpret and communicate the Good News anew in every generation. The Holy Spirit still speaks, through the plebs sancta Dei (the holy common people of God), the ministry, and the councils of the church. How to know when the Holy Spirit is speaking to the Church and when not? The advice of Gamaliel [Acts 5:38-39] still seems to us to be a fine way:

So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone. If this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.

Several years ago on Whitsunday, we commented: 'We must be prepared for the cost of inviting the Holy Spirit into our work, our councils, our conventions, our synods, our deliberations, our wrestlings with doctrine, our confessions, our lives'. It is a rather awesome thing, such an invitation. Are we really open to what we invoke when we say, with all our heart, Come, Holy Ghost? Our Lord the Holy Spirit will never batter*, surely, but is most gracious to respond to invitations. One never knows what the Spirit has in store for us or our lives. Prepare to be surprised.

In Messina, Sicily, it was the custom on Whitsunday to represent the tongues of fire not with lighted torches in churches but rather by sending down a rain of rose petals from the sanctuary ceiling during the singing of the Veni, Sancte Spiritus. The rose, a deeply mystical symbol of wisdom in the Church from the earliest ages, becomes an archetype of the living gifts of the Spirit, showered to all who will accept them. The rose petals, tongues of fire and love, drifting and whirling from the heights on to all in the congregation... We find that ever so much more inspiring than the message of the engraved stone in Rome.

Charles Williams, in his brilliant Descent of the Dove, wrote about the Day of Pentecost: 'The real work was now to begin'. Indeed it does begin this day once again.

Come, Holy Spirit.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 4 June 2006

(Click for the 9 June update on Cynthia's cancer.)

*Well, perhaps It will batter when invited. See John Donne's famous sonnet: 'Batter my heart, three-person'd God'

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