The feast of Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church, the day on which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit and the infusion by that same Spirit of the apostles, thereby continuing the mission of Christ in the world. Last Sunday as we celebrated the feast of the ascension of the Lord we heard Christ promise: “I am with you always.” This Sunday, in the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the supernatural foundation of the Church at Pentecost, we see that promise fulfilled in the first moments of the Church’s life. Jesus stays with us, teaching, governing, and sanctifying us by his ongoing presence in the Church.
As much due to the emerging influence of evangelical Protestantism as western society’s incapacity or unwillingness to stomach the language of the Christian religion, the Holy Spirit has, in recent times, been dealt a rather poor hand. We hear people speak of being “spiritual, but not religious”; of being “moved by the Spirit” to sit lightly (at best) and ignore (at worst) core teachings of the faith. We have even seen attempts in some quarters to label the Holy Spirit as some sort of feminine goddess (because, you see, the Hebrew noun Ruarch is feminine, even if the Latin Spiritus is masculine), as if the past two thousand years of Church history – littered as it is with the most spectacular examples of women saints – martyrs, virgins, and doctors of the Church – somehow sought to eradicate the fairer sex altogether from our collective memory.