17 May Pentecost Sunday: Father Stéphane Pouliot
May 15th, 2016
Father Stéphane Pouliot
Tonight (this morning), we are celebrating the climax of the Easter season with the solemn feast of Pentecost. My own brother who has in 2010, professed perpetual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, as a consecrated celibate in the religious community of Marie-Jeunesse, in Sherbrooke, QC, has spent the past week on retreat along with his religious brothers and sisters to prepare himself for this most sacred day.
The tradition of praying a novena, nine days before this Feast of Pentecost, is rooted in the very retreat that the disciples were commanded by Jesus to make in Jerusalem before receiving the Holy Spirit.
We may not have this year prepared ourselves very intentionally for Pentecost. We may have thought that there was so much to do, so many interruptions to our routine, so many responsibilities demanding our immediate response that, well, here we are, Pentecost is here, and we may be in no shape to receive the Grace of God. Is it now too late then? No, it is never too late. For one, we can learn from this year’s experience, and be better prepared next year. But we can also acknowledge that the Church has deployed a great deal of effort in the past few minutes at helping our hearts be better disposed to receive the Holy Spirit. She, our beloved Mother Church, has given us an account of the first Catholic Pentecost, to help us see that now that Jesus has carried our earthly reality into Heaven with his Ascension, the next step is to insert the reality of Heaven into our earthly dimension with Pentecost. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in the room where Jesus celebrated the first Mass is no small event. A violent wind fills the entire house where they are sitting (cf. Acts 2:2). They see individual tongues, as of fire, resting on each of them (cf. Acts 2:3).
And lo, behold, they now begin to speak in languages unknown to them, because the Holy Spirit wants the whole world to know Jesus (cf. Acts 2:4). The eruption of the Holy Spirit in the world of the disciples changes their perspective. Before this moment, they were concerned about their safety, about what people would think of them, feeling guilty of having deserted Jesus, confused as to what to do now that He has disappeared from their sight with His ascension into Heaven.
In 1969, Sister Jeanne Bizier was in Rome on behalf of her religious community, very much aware of the changing times. Her religious congregation’s chief mission was teaching students in the classroom. But 5 years before, the government of Quebec had seized control of education, and without regard for the Catholic parents and children of the province, was determined to impose a new curriculum, one which would no longer be driven to make disciples of Jesus. Rather, it would chiefly focus on forming young minds for the job market place. By 1969, with the reality of religious sisters teaching in the classroom no longer welcome by the government, young women were hesitant to join a teaching religious congregation, and Sister Jeanne knew that something had to be done to renew the ever relevant call to consecrate one’s life to Jesus. Her presence in Rome was a real plea to God for an answer. What is to be done? Something must be done, but what? She was hoping against hope that she could meet with Pope Paul VI, and have a private audience with him. The chances of that happening were slim, and yet she persevered. She had questions for the Pope, but would she get to meet him? Between meetings, in a hallway, providentially, she met the Pope, and the encounter changed her life.
When Paul VI saw her, he fixed his eyes intently on her face, and said passionately: “Daughter of the Church!” She returned to Quebec and in the days that followed her encounter with the Pope, the Sisters of her congregation would report that she only had to speak, and their love for the Church would be kindled anew in their hearts. Their low morale, or skepticism about the future of their congregation, or of Catholic education in Quebec, was giving way to a bold love for a Church whom many were running away from.
This story of Sister Jeanne Bizier shows us that the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was not only for those present in Jerusalem 33 years after the birth of Jesus. The Holy Spirit counsels us against discouragement, refreshes us from within when we are weary and heavily burdened, gives us a restful peace in the midst of anxiety, and in prayer, guides us home when our busyness has separated us from the One who really matters: Jesus.
Bishop Robert Barron says that “the Holy Spirit never comes without gifts”. Those gifts bear to be once again desired: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. We need wisdom from the Spirit in order to prioritize, to let Jesus be at the centre of our lives. We need understanding from the Spirit in order to know how to implement this wisdom in our day-to-day schedule. We need knowledge from the Spirit in order to not only accumulate book knowledge about God, but to come to know God’s heart. We need counsel from the Holy Spirit in order to know right from wrong, according to God, but also see clearly where we need to go next when God slams shut some doors, and opens a new unexpected door, thereby revealing His plan to us.
We need the gift of fortitude from the Holy Spirit in order not to faint in adversity, when we are on trial, when our very faith is ridiculed by family members, or by coworkers. We need fortitude from the Holy Spirit not only to defend the faith, but also to spread it. As Archbishop Prendergast told me recently at the March for Life in Ottawa: “Are you keeping the faith?….You need to give it away.”
We need the gift of piety from the Holy Spirit in order to see God as my Father, the Church as my family and my enemy as my brother or sister. We need the gift of piety in order to consider life sacred from conception until natural death, and we need the gift of piety in order to heal our broken hearts and families.
We need the Holy Spirit’s gift of fearing the Lord in order not to foolishly discard the 10 commandments as irrelevant. We need to fear the Lord to avoid being deceived into believing ourselves infallible when it comes to making choices. We need to fear the Lord in order to properly appreciate how much bigger than us is God’s perspective, and how liberating is the Lord’s narrow way, versus the enslavement of our famously popular social re-engineering of marriage, and of human identity.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).”
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful gathered here and now. And kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.