Translation of the Epistle for the Feast of Pentecost

Pentecost Icon, Coptic, Modern

When the days of Pentecost were drawing to a close, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a violent wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as of fire, which settled upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy spirit and began to speak in foreign tongues, even as the Holy Spirit prompted them to speak. Now there were staying at Jerusalem, Jews, devote men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound was heard, the multitude gathered and were bewildered in mind, because each heard them speaking in his own language. But they were all amazed and marvelled saying, Behold, are not all these that are speaking Galileans? And how have we heard each his own language in which he was born? Parthians and Medes, Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus Asia, Phrygia, Pamphilia, Egypt and parts of Libya about Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, Jews also and proselytes, Cretens and Arabians, we have heard them speaking in our own languages of the wonderful works of God.

Continuation of the Holy Gospel According to Saint John

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: If anyone love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me, does not keep My words. And the word that you have heard is not Mine, but the Father’s Who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you while yet dwelling with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your mind whatever I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, or be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, ‘I go away and I am coming to you.’ If you loved Me, you would indeed rejoice that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it comes to pass, that when it has come to pass you may believe. I will no longer speak much with you, for the prince of the world is coming and in Me he has nothing. But he comes that the world may know that I love the Father, and that I do as the Father has commanded Me.

Saving Words of the Gospel.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Transcription of Sermon

Of the many titles we heard given to the Holy Spirit in the “Veni Creator” and then again in the sequence of the “Veni Sancte Spiritus,” each one of those is worthy of a long time of meditation. Each title that the Holy Spirit is given, it reveals something of His greatness, something of His love for us, and gives us yet another angle to understand His working and His identity. Altissimi donum Dei, gift of God Most High, is one of those titles. And this is not a coincidence because we see the use of the term “holy spirit” throughout Scripture, often with the verb next to it of “give.” He is the Gift of God.

The first time He was given to the world, we see this in the first line of Genesis, when it says that God sent His Spirit hovering over those primeval waters of creation, His רוח‎ (ruach), His Spirit. And then again, we see that same word used when God, in fashioning Adam, breathes, רוח‎, He breathes into his nostrils, sharing His divine life. As a result, Adam was created according to the image and likeness of God. The image was retained. The likeness was lost through Original Sin. Therefore, the Holy Spirit was lost through Original Sin. And then, throughout the Old Testament, we see 150 references to the Holy Spirit, some of them prophetic about what Our Lord will do later. In the New Testament, we see 250 references to the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Epistle today was taken from Acts, that famous scene of Pentecost. And we could even call that book of the Acts of the Apostles, the “Acts of the Holy Spirit”. If you read that, and I recommend you do, you see how the Holy Spirit is mentioned in every chapter, on every page. He is really the protagonist of that book of the Church, protagonist in our lives. We see a prophecy of what our Lord is going to do in Ezekiel, and we see that scene of the valley of dried-up bones of the dead, and then God breathes on them, and what happens? They receive flesh, sinews, new life, and they stand up, a scene of the recreation of the world through the giving of the Holy Spirit.

And this is going to be something that then seems to happen in layers throughout the New Testament. We see Him often referred to in Luke, in the early chapters of Luke. Probably most prominent is Mary’s own personal pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon her. And as a result, we have this central mystery of our Faith; of the Incarnation. Christ speaks in the Last Supper many times about the gift of the Holy Spirit that is going to come to us, and He has to go away so that the Holy Spirit can come to us. If Christ did not ascend, if he were here in the flesh, in one place, then we would all make pilgrimages to see Him, hear His counsels, maybe we’d be afraid of Him – who knows? But His presence would be limited to that place. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God is made actual, made real in every soul in grace. And because of the mystery of the incarnation and the Eucharist, we have a presence of God in every tabernacle.

And so, we were made for Him. We were made to be living tabernacles of the Eucharist. And it’s the Holy Spirit, through the action of grace, that prepares our hearts to receive Him. If you love Me, you’ll keep My Commandments, says the Lord. There’s a certain correlation between these two actions; loving and obedience. To love without obedience is pure sentimentalism and goes nowhere. Obedience without love is some mechanical and fulfillment that also goes nowhere. There’s meant to be a certain correspondence of wills in which we allow the will of God to make a claim on us without losing our own will but configuring it to the other. And so, there’s a certain beautiful harmony of wills when God’s will is made known to us and we embrace it without calculations, without counting the cost, without thinking would this mean for my life, but like the Blessed Mother, simply giving a fiat: Let it be done to me according to your will.

This harmony of wills is something that is a universal vocation. We’re called to it, but we don’t all do it so well all the time. When you listen to that beautiful viola de gamba played up in the choir loft today, you hear one string, one note, and it sounds beautiful. When you hear two strings, they gather. This harmony of strings is beautiful, this vibration of these two things coming together, one not taking anything away from the other. So, when we submit to the will of God, we lose nothing; we gain everything. But if that’s the simple straightforward path to holiness, why aren’t we saints?

This is a good question that I have to ask myself. And each one of us might do well to ask ourselves, “Why am I not a saint?” And it’s not complicated. We’re complicated, but the solution to that, the answer to that, is not complicated. It’s called self-love. So why are the saints saints? It’s not because Padre Pio had the stigmata or bilocated, not because St. Margrett Mary had visions of the Sacred Heart. The saints aren’t saints because of the extraordinary. They’re saints because of their heroic surrender to the will of God. That is the common denominator of all of the saints, and that is called fidelity to grace. Fidelity to grace. That is a life program for each one of us to be faithful in every moment.

When we understand this as a relationship, a loving relationship of mutual possession, God possesses me as His child, God possesses me as His temple, God possesses me as His creation, and we can say this without temerity, we possess Him through grace, then we start to understand that we don’t live by rules, we live by the commandment of love, which makes the rules freeing. In other words, the rules are not an end in themselves. Rather, they’re guidelines, they’re protections to keep us in the will of God. In a moment of weakness, sometimes we have to look at the rule, but hopefully what motivates us is simply what Our Lord says: If we love Him, we will keep His commandments. And that is the touchstone of true love, that I’m obedient, I’m faithful.

So, this fidelity to grace is nothing less than loyalty, loyalty to Him who loves me, loyalty to Him who has come to live in me. So, what’s the problem? If it’s that simple, what’s the problem? Well, we have this fallen nature and as a result, disordered passions, fear, anger, disordered joy, sadness, then you can mention… those are just the passions. Then we’ve got the capital sins. When we give them a free hand, we don’t distinguish God’s will very well. It’s very difficult to discern His will when our heart is given to something less than Him. 

Interestingly, John of the Cross says of all of those passions just mentioned, he says the one that sets us up for frustration the most is the passion of joy. Why? Because we can choose something very good, something beautiful, and make and think that is the cause of our joy, that that is going to be our fulfillment. But if it’s not Our Lord, it’s going to frustrate us ultimately because it’s passing, ultimately.

And so, this fidelity to grace then is lived out in the context of our fallenness, of the disorder that we have within us, which is not a problem but rather an occasion for great holiness because God’s providential plan has room for brokenness, has room for disorder, has room for temptation. When I don’t seek the temptation, in other words, I don’t consciously put myself in an occasion of sin, then I know that those temptations that will come from the world, the flesh, and the devil are part of God’s providential plan so that I can give a faithful, loving response to it. And thereby, that temptation and my victorious response, my loving, generous response, doesn’t leave me the same.

No temptation leaves us the same. We either fall or we grow in holiness. Those are the two choices. So, we get to either be faithful to God or serve something less than God. You can serve two masters.

Another hindrance to hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit is lack of forgiveness. If there’s somebody I’m angry at and I haven’t forgiven, I am not going to have union with Christ, I’m not going to be able to distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit, and I’m not going to even really be able to worship truly.

On the other hand, to have a habitual attitude of a debtor, one who has been forgiven, one who has been shown mercy, and we have a habitual attitude of repentance, as a result. Our Lord can do great things with that, and He sure has. It’s up to us then to humbly admit our wrongs, confess them, and trust in His grace, and then have as a simple, all-encompassing program for life: fidelity to grace, obedience to the will of God, in the great promptings, in the small ones, the more delicately, the more lovingly we listen to His voice, more easily do we distinguish it, and the easier it is to fulfill it, and, in short order. God will bring about great things in us, not least of which is holiness.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Holy Ghost.

— Fr. Ermatinger