Ampleforth Abbey

24 November 2017

Echoes of the Word 4th June 2017 (Pentecost Sunday)

Commentary on John 20:19-23

At first sight this is a surprising Gospel reading for Pentecost, but of course the event of Pentecost came too late to be a subject for the Gospels, and we read the account of another incident where the Risen Christ gave the Spirit to his disciples. There are two emphases in the account. The first is peace. Christ brings peace to his disciples with the double greeting of peace, and peace is a Christian watchword. Peace was the song of the angels at Jesus’s birth. Each of Paul’s letters opens with a greeting of peace. The letter to the Ephesians proclaims that Christ is our peace, the reversal of all worry, strife, envy, jealousy, self-seeking ambition. ‘Go in peace’ is Jesus’s dismissal of those he cures, and also the dismissal at the end of Mass. Peace was Jesus’s bequest to his disciples after the Last Supper. The second watchword is forgiveness, for God was always known as a God of mercy and forgiveness, as Jesus came to show by his constant approach to sinners. But the Lord’s Prayer shows that if we do not ourselves forgive, we block God’s forgiveness of ourselves too.

Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB


The Holy Spirit

The Christian religion has been going on for a long time now. It has gradually evolved its own doctrines, its own forms of worship, its own structures of organisation and authority, its own ways of thinking and talking about spiritual matters. As a structure it is imposing and impressive. It looks like something which is destined to last. Yet however solid and permanent it may seem it is nothing but an outward form, an empty shell, unless something quickens and enlivens it from within. This essential principle of life within it is the Holy Spirit. The word ‘spiritus’ in Latin means ‘breath’, and ‘breath’ of course, for us human beings, is equivalent to ‘life’. As long as we breathe, we live, and when we stop breathing, we die. And in the Church things can and do die. Even though the outward forms may remain, the life has gone out of them. We repeat the words of the Creed without knowing what they mean, or, indeed, if they mean anything at all. The organisational structures become oppressive rather than supportive. The doctrines can seem unrelated to the reality of the world we live in. Prayer and worship can become simply a monotonous routine which we persevere in simply out of habit and familiarity. The principle of life is no longer there, or is merely faint and lacking in power. At such times the Church needs to call upon the Holy Spirit to inspire and energise it anew. This has happened many times in the history of the Church and is still happening today, which is why, despite all obstacles, both external and internal, the Church lives on. And when our own individual spiritual life becomes empty and sterile, we have only to call on the Holy Spirit to energise us, knowing that this prayer, above all, can never remain unanswered.

Fr Cyprian Smith OSB