We are finally on the eve of Pentecost, that great outpouring of the Holy Spirit so often referred to as “the birthday of the Church”. If the descent of the Holy Spirit was the birthing of the Church then that means the great act of all consuming love of Christ on the cross was the consummation which, supernaturally speaking, brings about the conception of the Church. Yes at the very moment Jesus died He was at His most supernaturally fecund.
“Everyday the Church gives birth to the Church” wrote the Venerable Bede which is why we always celebrate the annual Mass of Thanksgiving for Matrimony on the eve of Pentecost in Westminster Cathedral. Once again, as every year, the Cardinal will affirm and invite over 1200 spouses to turn to each other and renew their matrimonial commitment. In that act of renewal, over 600 domestic churches, that is individual families, are significantly giving birth to themselves again, as do we all when we make a pledge, however small or brief, to love one another as Christ has loved us. This mystery is summed up beautifully in St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, ch 5.
This is why we cannot look across the water to Ireland today at a curious distance as if their voting in the referendum to redefine marriage in the Constitution doesn’t affect us. As Fr Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household says, this would be like looking at the ‘poor through double glazing’. So why does the decision of the Irish on marriage affect us all? Ireland is not just the only nation in the world to be voting on this issue constitutionally; it’s the only Constitution that actually mentions The Blessed Trinity at all! Why is this important? Because matrimony is the least inadequate sign of Gods love in the world. Lifelong union of man and woman open to life is the indisputable icon of the Blessed Trinity. To attempt to redefine it then in our culture is not just an anthropological heresy, it’s a theological heresy because it’s an assault on who God is. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his 2006 book; “Values in a time of upheaval” “Human dignity is particularly respected in the Christian understanding of marriage and the family and is never in conflictwith reverence for the Divine.”
So to say marriage isn’t …well… marriage…is effectively to say the Holy Trinity isn’t really the relationship the Church infallibly defines it to be – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So the attempt to change marriage in culture, language, education and even religious practice is very possibly part of that“sin against the Holy Spirit” of which Christ spoke and which is indeed in His eyes, the ‘unforgivable sin’. The sin of obstinacy in refusing to see anything wrong in what is objectively and obviously wrong.
But there’s always cause for hope!
I was told this week that the elderly and long forgotten daughter of the brutal dictator Joseph Stalin was received in to full communion with the Catholic Church quite some time ago in the chapel of Allen Hall, the Westminster diocesan seminary of priestly formation. It occurred to me that God always has the last word in the face of evil. Who would ever have predicted that the offspring of such an evil figure of human history would embrace Christ and His Church for her salvation? Furthermore, what a beautiful irony that such a spiritual event happened not just in any random parish church but in the place where the great English Saint and martyr for truth about matrimony, Thomas More, once lived and witnessed so tirelessly, in a cruel and brutal age, to fairest love in marriage and its place in God’s plan, despite the changes in the laws of his day. We must hope and pray too for such miraculous ironies for the people of God in Ireland too.
Heavenly Father, hear the prayers that we make in the name of your Son, and give us the Paraclete whom he promised you would send. Let the love of your Holy Spirit abound in our hearts, and help us to bear fruit in good works and generous service to our neighbour. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Director, Office of Marriage and Family Life – Diocese of Westminster