26th May, 2021

Fr Abbot's Homily for Pentecost

Ampleforth Abbey


For many days, now I have heard the brethren either introduce Mass, or in bidding prayers, speak of the upcoming feast of Pentecost – to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Holy Spirit. A question has been forming in my mind.

What difference will this Solemnity of Pentecost make to your life? How will you be different? How do you want the Spirit of God to anoint you and change you?

The problem is of course is that our liturgy and indeed our faith, of which the liturgy is a living expression can become a collection of pious phrases – comfortable expressions that really end up meaning nothing!

St John of the Cross is reported to have said, ‘We pray expecting little to happen and of course we are never disappointed because, little does happen”.

So, if the prayer we say today was to be effective what would be different?  In asking that question I am reminded of the well-known and often quoted words of St Leo the Great: ‘Christian recognize your dignity now that you share in God’s nature’.

There is a story of a Jewish Rabbi, Isaac son of Jakel, who lived in the city of Katowice, Poland. He had a dream, a recurring dream that there was in fact buried treasure the other side of the bridge that leads into the beautiful city of Krakow. So persistent was this dream that he decided to walk the long distance to the city to look for the treasure. It is a long journey on foot and as he approached the City, he could see to his horror that the bridge was blocked by soldiers who were preventing people from crossing into the City. Getting as close as he could he then collapsed exhausted and began to weep. Seeing him cry a young soldier came and asked why he was so upset. The old man wiped his eyes and explained that he had a dream that there was buried treasure the other side the bridge and that he had taken a long and tiring journey to find it. Only to find the bridge blocked.  The soldier laughed when he heard the old man’s tale and said: “Old man you should never pay attention to dreams, why only last night I dreamed of a city I had never been to and an old Rabbi I had never met who was sitting on buried treasure in Katowice! Imagine if I believed in this!!”  Hearing the soldier’s words, Issac son of Jakel rose bowed gracefully and made the return journey only to discover that the treasure he was looking for he was already in passion of!

This powerful liturgy today is a sacred key that seeks to unlock within each one of us, who has been baptized and confirmed, the power, the treasure that we are searching for. Because of our immersion into Christ we are sharers already of the gift of heaven.

God has entrusted the Holy Spirit to us and lavished upon us every gift necessary for us to grow into the dignity which he has inscribed within us.

YOU ARE GIFTED! Do you believe this? Do you hear this? Do you live this? You are gifted in a way far beyond your wildest dreams. I think of words that St Pope Paul the VI spoke in 1972: He said:

‘More than once we have been asked what the greatest needs of the Church are…what is the primary and ultimate need of our Church? We must say this…her need is the Spirit…the Church needs her eternal Pentecost; she needs the fire in her heart, words on her lips, a glance that is prophetic’.

A new Pentecost – an outpouring of that empowering gift that we heard about once more that emboldened the apostles in the first reading today – men who were locked behind closed doors because of fear – who then  preached fearlessly ‘the marvels of God’.

We heard a call to manifest the presence of the Spirit within us by the integrity of our lives. As Paul says: ‘Since the Spirit is our life, let us be directed by the Spirit’.

To receive the Spirit of truth that allows us to reveal the beauty of the father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed, I wonder how often we pray for that Spirit of truth as we open the Scriptures? Do we pray to be led by the Spirit of truth as we listening to the Word of God at Mass? Do we prayer for that Spirit of truth for the person who is preaching and for ourselves?

We need this openness and challenge of the Spirit as a monastic community, as Christian’s living in a World that proclaims the absence of God.

We have good news – no, we are good news – and we can change the world, but we won’t if we remain unsure and unconvinced, playing safe – God’s frozen people. If you want to know where the Catholic Church is alive and growing, then the answer is very clear. It is alive and growing in those parts of the world alive to the power and truth of the Gospel, that take the Gospel as truth and life transforming rather than an intellectual philosophy to entertain us comfort us.

The story of Isaac son of Jakel was a story but it holds a great truth. The story I will end with is a fact – but will sound too incredible to be true. But then so is the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Dubai Airport is, I think, one of the most beautiful airports in the world and I have been in a few. Some of the most extraordinary encounters that I have had have in fact been in airports. On this occasion I was siting quietly when a very tall man came and sat next to me. He introduced himself as coming from New York. He began to tell me his story. He was a very successful businessman with homes in three different parts of the world. There was a price to be paid for his success. The price was his family. Working much of the time away his wife took consolation in drink and drugs and had to be hospitalized for her own safety. His children one by one left home and hated him the way he had treated their mother. Then on his way to work in Manhattan one day he felt a terrible pain in his chest and shortness of breath he thought he was having a heart attack. Thankfully he pulled in and needed to get out of the car for air. He opened the car door and stepped out and that was the last he remembered he must have passed out. The next thing he knew was waking up in ICU with many wires etc.

Now comes the amazing bit of the story. He learnt subsequently that on arrival at the hospital the paramedics were lifting him onto the bed when his heart stopped. They began CPR and for close to eight minutes there was no sign of life. While ‘dead’ he found himself in a room where there were two doors. While he was pondering the doors a young man seemed to appear and so my friend asked him what’s with the doors? The young man said one led to heaven and the other to hell. Simple enough and so was my American friends’ response. He said I know exactly which door I will go through. I have long since left behind belief in God – God has done nothing for me – everything I have I have achieved through my own efforts. I’ll go through the door that leads to hell. My life has been like that anyway!

He took a step forward and put his hand on the door handle. Just as he was about to open the door a voice behind him said: ‘Are you really sure that you want to go through that door?’ He turned and there was a young woman. ‘What do you mean am I sure?’ He then launched again into a long list of reasons he hated God. ‘Anyway, he said what has this to do with you?’  The woman smiled and said, ‘You have forgotten that as a little boy you visited your grandmother and you prayed with her a prayer that said: ‘pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death’, I’m here because you asked me to be here. ‘Are you trying to tell me that you are...’ ‘All I am saying is that I am answering the prayer you prayed’.   ‘Can I change my choice’ the man asked. ‘The choice is yours’, the young woman said. The man turned to the door that would lead to heaven and as he pushed – it must have corresponded to the final push on his chest that set his heart beating again. Slowly as he recovered what he had experienced played in his mind. One day he shared with a nurse who he learnt was a Christian. ‘I don’t know what to do’ he said. ‘Then you must still be dead’ she responded, ‘you have been given a great gift use it’.

Eventually, leaving the hospital he decided to bring his wife out of hospital and to visit each of his children and ask for forgiveness.

If the Spirit of truth, the advocate, was to awaken and explode in you today, what would be different?

Abbot Robert Igo, OSB
Ampleforth Abbey 23 May 2021