Feast of the Pentecost – St. Gregory the Great

Source: District of Asia

(He gives us a complete exegesis of the Gospel text, and among other things solves the apparent difficulty concerning the various forms under which the Holy Spirit appears visibly. Hom. 30, n. 8 in John 14. 23.)

A: On the Gospel of the day

1. The Spirit is all love:

The Holy Ghost is all love. For which reason St John says that God is love (I John 4. 8-i6). He who desires God with the whole of his soul now has someone he can love. . . . If anyone were to ask you if you love God you would all reply: I love him. At the beginning of the Gospel you will have heard what Truth itself says: If any man has any love for me he will be true to my word. Wherefore, the proof of love are deeds. That is why St John in his epistle says: If any man boasts of loving God, while he hates his own brother, he is a liar (ibid. 20).

2. The delight of the indwelling:

Attend carefully to these words of Truth: And we will both come to him, and make our continual abode with him. God comes to the hearts of some but does not dwell there, because while they do manage to fear him and have remorse, in the moments of temptation they forget the motives for their repentance and fall again into the same sins, as if they had never been sorry for them. God comes and dwells in the heart of the man who loves him perfectly and who keeps his commandments; one who is so permeated with the love of the Divinity that he does not leave him or separate himself from him, even in times of temptation. Therefore he truly loves who does not allow himself to be overcome and who does not consent to evil pleasure, because the more we delight in earthly love so much the more do we separate ourselves from that which is heavenly.

3. The man who has no love for me, lets my sayings pass him by:

Examine well your consciences, beloved brethren. See if you really love God. Let no one believe in himself unless what he believes corresponds to his works. Let us ask this question of our soul, our life, our tongue. The love of God is never idle, and will work great things if it exists in us; but if we refuse to do good works, then it is a sign that we lack it.

4. The Paraclete:

Many of you know that the Greek word Paraclete is equivalent to the Latin Lawyer, because he defends us or pleads our cause as sinners before the tribunal of God. Of him it is said that he pleads for sinners, he who has the same nature with the Son and the Father, because he makes all those pray in whom he has poured out his love. That is why St Paul says, in his epistle to the Romans: The Spirit himself intercedes for us, with groans beyond all utterance (8. 26).

He who pleads and supplicates is less than he with whom he pleads. Therefore how can it be said that the Holy Spirit pleads, since he is not less than the other Persons? The Spirit himself pleads because he inflames with love those whom he has filled with his presence, making them plead and supplicate. The Spirit is also called the Consoler, because he lifts up the souls of those who repent of their sins, preparing them to obtain pardon. Opportunely did the Lord say of this same Spirit, He shall teach you all truth. Unless the Spirit is in the hearts of those who listen, then the words and exhortations of preachers will be in vain. Let no one attribute to the preacher those things which he hears, because unless the Holy Spirit were in the heart of the one who teaches, in vain would his tongue be occupied with exhortations to lead a good life. . . . There-fore the word itself is useless to instruct unless your minds are anointed with the Holy Spirit.

B: The Feast

1. The meaning of the miracle:

You have heard how the Holy Spirit appeared over the disciples in the form of tongues of fire and granted to all the gift of tongues. What is the meaning of this miracle? Surely that Holy Church, filled with this same Spirit, has to speak through the mouths of all peoples. Those who tried to erect a tower against the designs of God's providence lost the use of the same language; while in those who humbly feared God were united all the tongues of the earth. On this day humility received this gift as a reward, while in the construction of the tower pride received, as punishment, confusion.

2. The form of fire:

The Holy Spirit, co-eternal with the Father and the Son, appeared under the form of fire, because God is an incorporeal, ineffable and invisible fire, as St Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews: Our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12. 29). It is said of God that he is fire, because he consumes the rust and filth of our sins. About this fire Truth says: It is fire that I have come to spread over the earth, and what better wish can I have than that it should be kindled? (Luke 12. 49). The hearts which are so fixed on the things of this world are called earth, because while they accumulate in themselves such base thoughts, they are trodden under foot by the evil spirits. The Lord spreads fire on earth when he inflames carnal hearts by the breath of his Spirit. The earth catches fire when those hearts abandon the concupiscences of this present life and burn with the love of God. Then again, it was fitting that the Spirit should appear under the form of fire, because fire drives from the heart all laziness and coldness, lighting up in it the desire for what is eternal.

3. The form of tongues:

The Holy Spirit showed himself under the form of tongues of fire because he is co-eternal with the Son and the tongue has a close relationship with the Word . . . the tongue gives sensible form to the word, and therefore the Spirit appeared under the form of tongues, because all who are touched by the Spirit confess the Word of God, that is, the only-begotten Son of the Father, and cannot deny him because he has the tongue of the Spirit. Put in another way we may say that the Holy Spirit appeared under the form of tongues because he gives strength to and makes to speak those whom he fills. The teachers in the Church have tongues of fire because when they preach they inflame the hearts of their hearers. The word of him who teaches would be idle and useless unless it were capable of enkindling the fire of love. The disciples on the way to Emmaus felt the effects of this fire, produced by the words which Jesus spoke to them. Were not our hearts burning within us when he spoke to us on the road, and when he made the Scriptures plain to us? Truly the soul is set on fire by what it hears, it casts from it idleness and coldness, it is inflamed with supernatural desires and puts far from it carnal and earthly lusts. The true love which takes possession of the soul torments it with tears, and on being tormented with such ardour, it nourishes itself with those very torments. . . . The Spirit appeared under the form of a dove and fire because those whom it fills are made simple and encouraged to work. It makes them simple through purity and encourages them to work through zeal. God is not pleased with simplicity without zeal, or with zeal without simplicity. You must be wary, then, as serpents, and yet innocent as doves (Matt. 1o. i6). . . . Of what use is simplicity without rectitude, and rectitude without simplicity?

4. The form of a dove:

Lastly, why did he appear over our Redeemer and the Mediator between God and man in the form of a dove, and over the apostles in the form of fire? The Only-begotten Son of God is the judge of all mankind. But who would be able to support his justice if he were to examine our faults with the full rectitude of his zeal, without before having procured through his meekness our emendation? He became man for men, and he shewed himself to them full of meekness and humility. He did not wish to chastise sinners, but to draw them to him. He wished first of all to correct with meekness, so that, on the day of judgement, he might have someone to save.

5. The Holy Spirit, spirit of meekness:

Therefore the Holy Spirit had to manifest himself over the Lord in the form of a dove, because he had not come to chastise sinners with zeal, but to tolerate them yet by his meekness. He had to shew himself over the disciples on the form of fire, so that these, who were nothing but men, and therefore sinners, should be able to stimulate others to reflect and chastise in themselves by penance the sins which God pardons through his meekness. According to the words of St John, even those who follow the precepts of the Master cannot be exempt from sin: Sin is with us, if we deny that, we are cheating ourselves; if means that truth does not dwell in us (f John i. 8). Therefore the Spirit appeared to men under the form of fire and to the Lord under the form of a dove, because we must examine ourselves with diligence and care; we must burn up and wipe out through penance those sins which God, in his mercy, has pardoned in his meekness.

C: The love we should have for the Holy Spirit

(Having described the work of the Holy Spirit in the Fathers of the Old Testament, St Gregory goes on to sing the praises of the Spirit.)

Who was it who raised them to such heights of glory? What did he do with them except transform them from carnal into heavenly beings? Think, beloved brethren, and meditate on the greatness of this feast of the coming of the Holy Ghost which we are celebrating. In the Incarnation of the Son of God he took our flesh; but in the coming of the Holy Ghost men received God. In the mystery of the Incarnation God became man. In the mystery which we are celebrating today men became like God by adoption. For which reason, if we do not wish to remain in carnal death, let us love the spirit which gives us life.

D: The splendour of the Spirit in the apostles

Since the flesh is ignorant of the things of the spirit, perhaps someone, under the influence of some carnal thought, will say within himself, how can I love one whom I do not know? Often we think in this manner because . . . the more we become familiar with, occupy ourselves in and think of corporal things, so much the more do we find ourselves ignorant of the Creator. In spite of this, however, when we see wonderful things, then we are sure that God dwells in the souls of those who do them. Not one of us can look at the sun when it rises, because our sight would be hurt by its splendor. But we see the mountains lit up by it and we know that it is risen. Neither can we see the Son of justice in himself. Let us, therefore, at least make sure that we see the mountains lit by his splendor, that is, the holy apostles who shine in their miracles, in all their virtues, and are filled with the brightness of the risen Sun, who, up to now invisible, becomes visible through them, just as the material sun does when it lights up the mountains. The power of the Divinity is like the sun in the heavens. The power of the Divinity is in men as the sun on the earth. Let us then contemplate the Sun of justice on the earth, since we cannot see it in the heavens, so that, by doing all kinds of good works by his help, we may be able to contemplate him there one day. There, in the heavens, is the abode of peace and tranquility eternal, there is true and eternal rest. All this our Lord will give us, who reigns with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.