Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit
COMMENCEMENT OF THE MICHAELMAS LAW TERM 2017
Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Saint Michan, 2nd October 2017
There are two great hymns in the Latin liturgy invoking the Holy Spirit. We opened our liturgy this morning at the Commencement of the Michaelmas Law Term with the best known of the two: the Veni Creator Spiritus. It is a hymn that is traditionally sung at the beginning of great Church events or at the religious events that accompany moments of beginning in civil life.
The other great hymn to the Spirit, the Veni Sancte Spiritus, the Sequence or pre-Gospel chant of the Feast of Pentecost, is perhaps less well known.
It is a beautiful hymn that illustrates who the Spirit is. The Spirit is referred to as: Father of the poor; source of all our store, of comforters the best, the soul’s delightful guest, the pilgrims sweet relief, rest in our toil, refreshment in the noonday heat, solace in all our grief.
The Spirit is presented, as a wisdom that can guide our lives. It is a wisdom that contributes to individual human maturity and to serenity in human interaction. We receive gifts, not just for ourselves. We are charged to “gift” them to others and into our society.
The believer in the Spirit is the one who allow those gifts of comfort and relief, rest and refreshment, solace and hope to be the inspiration of his or her life.
When we invoke the Spirit at the beginning of a new Law Term, we are not invoking just a vague spiritual ethos upon the day-to-day work of the administration of justice. We are invoking the gift of a special humanism of the Spirit that should inspire our lives and inspire the culture of the administration of justice. For the hymn, the Spirit is a “blessed light of life” and we pray that the Spirit will fill with that light “the inmost heart of those who hope”.
The Gospel reading reminds us that the Spirit will “teach us everything” and “remind us of all that [Jesus] said”. The Spirit is not a spirit of uniformity. Our prayer is that the Spirit will fill us with a humanism that is creative. The believer is not a walking compendium of doctrine and norms but one who brings creative talents to play in the search for that humanism of the Spirit that our changing world requires.
The second reading reminds us that the Spirit speaks to us through a variety of gifts. The spirit works in all sorts of different ways. The Spirit continues to teach. In a diverse and pluralist society, the voice of the Spirit may come to us in ways and from sources that we do not expect. The spirit is not just a comforter in the sense of making us feel good. The Spirit sets our hearts ablaze and our minds electrified with questioning and curiosity so that we bring the gifts of the Spirit into a dialogue of creativity for what is good and true and caring.
The second reading reminds us however that the Spirit is likewise the one who creates an atmosphere in which the variety of gifts are to be harmonised for the good of the body.
Our society speaks much about pluralism. Pluralism is not given as a well-wrapped package. Pluralism must be constructed. Pluralism can be sought in a climate of respect and difference. It can also be a negative force for division and antagonism. We need a sense of national purpose. We need to learn anew a language and conversation of civility that constructs and is not simply negative and insensitive. We need to criticise but we also need to recognise and even rejoice in the success of others
We need unequivocally to reject a culture of violence: the violence of criminal drug gangs, the exploitation by gangland criminals of fragile young people who have fallen victim to their business of death. We have to overcome the violence of moneylenders. We need openly to address violence in the home, violence against children, sexual violence and violence against people because of their sexuality, violence and hate-talk about immigrants. We need to address violence and character assassination perpetrated under the anonymity of social media.
Violence is not just physical violence. There is the violence of exclusion and the frustration of not being able to exercise one’s basic rights and achieve basic aspirations and hopes. There is the violence of homelessness and the violence against the hopes of those who seek asylum from violence.
The hymn to the Spirit begins with the affirmation that the Spirit is the “Father of the poor”. Public policy must always have a special focus on those who are poorest. A special focus on the needs of those who live in poverty and are victims of exploitation is a foundational dimension of the administration of justice. The formulation and the application of principles of law must always be focussed on curbing the arrogance of the powerful and protecting and fostering the rights of those who are on the margins of society and cannot speak for themselves.
Pope Francis likes to speak of a Church that reaches out to “the periphery”. It is not just that he asks us to go out directly with concrete help to those who are poor or marginalised.
He is telling us that it is in the periphery that we encounter Jesus. We will never encounter Jesus if we live isolated in our own security and comfort. The more we reach out to the periphery, the more we will realise that Jesus is there. Jesus is there in those who suffer, in those who are ostracised, in those who fail and fall into sin, in those who seek the meaning of life, and it is in the periphery that we learn at times the weakness and the false certainties of many of our own ideas of faith.
At Pentecost, the Apostles went out into the streets of Jerusalem, preaching the Good News to people who came from every part of the then known world and they all understood the words of the Apostles in their own language.
The sign of the presence of the spirit in any community is precisely how well we communicate in the deepest sense of that word. A Spirit-filled people will always be a people of respect and love and care and support for each other, especially the poorest and the abandoned, the forgotten and those who society considers on its margins.
How do we attain this culture of humanism of the Spirit? We return to the Spirit himself. Our hymn to the Spirit reminds us that it is the Spirit himself who changes and purifies the thoughts of our hearts. “Lord, wash our sinful stains away, refresh from heaven our barren clay, our wounds and bruises heal”.