Message for Pentecost Sunday
Fr. Joseph Levine; Sunday, May 31, 2020
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1,24,29-30,31,34; 1 Cor 12:3b-7,12-13; Jn 20:19-23
The miracle of Pentecost is not that of people speaking in unknown tongues, but of people of different languages receiving the gift of a common understanding of the mighty works of God in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man. The miracle of understanding begins with the Apostles and disciples who, quite notably, had previously been incapable of understanding Jesus. When the mighty wind of Pentecost and tongues of fire came upon them, all of a sudden the lights went on. They understood and began talking about what God had given them and those who heard also understood despite the difference of language.
Through the Apostles’ speech others heard and understood and were brought into the unity of faith. The unity of faith brought the disciples together in one mind and one heart, or we could say one understanding and one purpose. (Cf. Acts 4:32)
This unity of understanding and purpose do not come about as the fruit of human dialogue, negotiation, or the politics of compromise. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit to those who believe in Jesus Christ. It is a gift that, having been received, requires great effort to preserve.
St. Paul writes: Strive to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; one body and one Spirit, as also you have been called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:3-6)
This is the work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, this is the miracle of Pentecost, this the miracle that makes possible the miracle of love.
Our world today – and it seems the Church as well – has despaired of unity in faith and so seeks the unity of Pentecost and the miracle of human love apart from the unity of faith. This despair of faith falsifies love, separates Jesus Christ from the Holy Spirit and from the Church, and leaves man without God in the passing and perishing world.
The unity of understanding and purpose that the Holy Spirit brought about at the origin of the Church, the miracle of Pentecost, stands in opposition to an ancient biblical event in which an apparent unity of purpose ended up with misunderstanding, lack of communication, and division of language, namely the building of the Tower of Babel.
The historical Babel is also a figure and prophecy of these last times in which we live. The unity that was once built up in the Church through the work of the Holy Spirit has been largely undone by the building of the new Babel. Division, misunderstanding, and confusion are the great sign of the times in which we live, which might well be the last. (cf. Mt 16:3) Certainly it does not require a conspiracy theorist to recognize that in the world today just about everything is in place for the appearance of the Antichrist.
How did we get here?
It is important to have some sense of the history, because it did not happen overnight.
The root cause is the rejection of the spiritual order in favor of the temporal order; the rejection of the world to come, for the peace of this world. That led to the rejection of faith, to be replaced by human reason, scientific reason, which proving its weakness and insufficiency, has in turn been replaced by emotion and the will to power.
This past Monday the Church honored St. Gregory VII who was Pope from 1073 to 1085 and whose name has since been associated with what historians refer to as the Gregorian Reform. The Gregorian reform had two chief, interrelated goals, goals which – recognizing the very different circumstances in which we live – are very relevant today: purification of the clergy and the liberty of the Church vis-à-vis the princes, kings, and emperors of the day.
St. Gregory VII also condemned the 1st major eucharistic heresy and obliged its author, Berengarius, to confess: “I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine that are placed on the altar are, through the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and proper and lifegiving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration they are the true body of Christ.” (Quoted by Pope St. Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, 52) This was quoted by Pope St. Paul VI, whom the Church honored this past Friday, in his encyclical letter responding to the new eucharistic heresies that began to crop up already in the time of Vatican II, and which are still with us today.
Let us return to the matter of the liberty of the Church. St. Gregory VII lived in a Catholic Europe. The princes, kings, and emperors were all baptized and, at least nominally, professed the Catholic faith. We certainly do not live in a Catholic country today, but we do have some rather prominent politicians who nominally profess the Catholic faith.
The heart of the matter was whether or not the spiritual order of grace, entrusted to the Catholic priesthood, should be subject to the temporal interests, even the most noble, of the Catholic princes, or vice-versa. In a word: should this world be subject to the world to come, or should hope for eternal life be subject to the needs of this world?
Fittingly the Holy Eucharist comes into play here for Jesus declared: Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks by blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. (Jn 6:53-54)
So we could rephrase the question in a different fashion: Should the Mass serve worldly politics or should worldly politics, at least, make space for the celebration of the Mass?
St. Gregory’s victory, so to speak, did not come during his own lifetime. Indeed, his epitaph would be: “I have loved justice and hated iniquity therefore I die in exile.”
Nevertheless, St. Gregory VII stands at the beginning of what is called the High Middle Ages, which lasted roughly to the end of the 13th century.
During the next two centuries monasteries flourished, new religious orders were born, and there were numerous holy bishops and priests. There were great saints and doctors of the Church like St. Bernard, St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure. There were also holy kings, like St. Ferdinand of Spain and St. Louis of France. The reign of St. Louis in the 13th century, perhaps, marks the high point of everything for which St. Gregory VII labored.
Despite all the turmoil, conflict, and violence that are part and parcel of the human condition, the High Middle Ages represent the greatest unity that has ever been achieved in human history. That unity, the work of the Holy Spirit, was memorialized first in the great romanesque churches, then the great gothic churches, like Notre-Dame of Paris and the splendid cathedral of Chartres.
That the term ‘Medieval’ is used as an insult, even by Catholics, shows how far the rebellion against the Catholic faith has progressed. Truly, I am more ashamed of belonging to the modern world than I am of being heir to the Catholic faith of the Middle Ages. Truly, the modern world is shrouded in the deepest darkness, but for a time in the Middle Ages, the light of God shone brightly.
Still we must note two (or maybe three) discordant notes: the separation of the orthodox Churches in 1054 AD, at the beginning of this period, the failure of the Crusades, and the growing mistreatment of the Jewish people. Finally, despite the progress that was made, the back and forth conflict between Pope and Emperor continued through the High Middle Ages.
At the other end of the High Middle Ages we find Pope Boniface VIII, who fought a losing battle against Philip the Fair, the grandson of St. Louis, to maintain the liberty of the Church. In 1302 Boniface VIII wrote the famous bull, “Unam Sanctam” that spoke of the spiritual and temporal power as two swords (cf. Lk 22:36-38) that had been entrusted to St. Peter. St. Peter, in the person of the Pope exercises the spiritual power directly and the temporal power indirectly, through the secular prince. The real question was not whether or not the temporal power should be neutral (as though that were even possible), but whether spiritual should be subordinated to temporal or temporal to spiritual.
King Philip’s practical ‘victory’ over Pope Boniface marked the beginning of a progressive historical resolution of the question in favor of the temporal power. This progressive exaltation of the temporal over the spiritual would be accompanied by the separation of reason from faith, the reduction of reason to purely ‘scientific’ reason, together with the nearly complete secularization of society that we know today.
The path of modern history has also been marked by disunity and fragmentation the full scope of which was not evident until the First World War blew the world apart. Nevertheless, the road to the return to God has been blocked by the myth of religious violence, the claim that the primacy of the spiritual is the source of never-ending conflict and violence in this world. Instead, the proclaimed solution to religious violence is setting the peace of this world above the peace of the kingdom of God, while restricting religion to the private sphere.
Set this in contrast to the words of Jesus: Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace, but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his own household. (Mt 10:34-36)
Why such harsh words on the lips of Jesus? Because he claims our absolute loyalty for himself, and claiming our absolute loyalty he would lead us beyond the unstable peace of compromise that belongs to this passing world, to the eternal peace of the heavenly kingdom. So he added, Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worth of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life loses it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Mt 10:37-39)
In the end, in terms of the Church and the world, this means that unless the temporal order recognizes and submits to the superiority of the spiritual order (represented by the hierarchy of the Church) the Church will live in a state of persecution, whether open or disguised, not of peace. While in certain times and places the Church has attained a precarious and fragile peace, persecution, even in the age of faith, has been the norm. At the same time, the chase after temporal peace, without God, will end in disaster.
Now, though, it seems as though the Church has given up the struggle. She no longer fights for her liberty. Instead, she places herself at the service of mundane human need, sacrificing even the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for safety’s sake, while forgetting that the greatest human need of all is eternal salvation.
Who even knows anymore that there is an objective spiritual order, distinct from and superior to the temporal order; this spiritual order is made present and visible by the sacramental structure of the Church.
In the meantime we are left with a temporal order that has been utterly stripped of all spiritual reference. The temporal order is on the one hand disintegrating because it is has no principle of unity within itself, while on the other hand there are dangerous and powerful movements afoot to establish unity by deception and force. The pandemic has revealed just how easy it is for the whole population of the world to be controlled; or should we say enslaved.
Why has God, in his providence, allowed all of this to happen?
Well, if we consider this in the light of the revolution against the medieval unity, recognizing the great flaws that were present in that unity, then we can say that through all these centuries, God has been working to purify his Church. For this Christ gave his life on the Cross that he might present to himself the church in splendor – his beloved bride – without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. (Eph 5:27, cf. Rev 19:6-8)
So where does that leave us? In recent decades we have seen in the Church an aspiration for a new Pentecost, a new unity, a new evangelization. This was, perhaps, the great ambition of Vatican II. Nevertheless, we have seen little fruit. There has been no new Pentecost.
Let me suggest that the reason for the failure of these hopes is that, failing to understand history and the signs of the times, they were built on false foundations, foundations of compromise with the world.
What are the true foundations?
The truth of the Catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles by way of sacred Tradition and the primacy of the spiritual order, which is the order of grace, the supernatural participation in the very life and nature of God, which leads us to eternal life. A return to these foundations requires that we repent of all the ways, in thought, word, and deed, that we have bought into the lies of the modern world, the new Babylon.
It does no good to pray, “Come, Holy Spirit”, if we are not actually going to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit without reserve and without condition. We cannot open ourselves to the Holy Spirit if will not let the Holy Spirit convict us of our sins and lead us to repentance.
Only then will we truly be able to hear Jesus saying to us: Peace be with you. This is not the false peace of the world, but the true peace that comes from God, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. To the one and only true God, be all glory, praise, and honor forever. Amen.
Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.