Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Aelred of Rievaulx
As the Father sent me, so I send you: Receive the Holy Spirit. (Jn 20:21)
Today’s holy solemnity puts new heart into us, for not only do we revere its dignity, we also experience it as delightful. On this feast it is love that we specially honor, and among human beings there is no word pleasanter to the ear, no thought more tenderly dwelt on, than love.
The love we celebrate is nothing other than the goodness, kindness, and charity of God; for God himself is goodness, kindness, and charity. His goodness is identical with his Spirit, with God himself.
In his work of disposing all things “the Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world” from the beginning, “reaching from end to end of the earth in strength, and delicately disposing everything; but as sanctifier the Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world” since Pentecost, for on this day the gracious Spirit himself was sent by the Father and the Son on a new mission, in a new mode, by a new manifestation of his mighty power, for the sanctification of every creature.
Before this day “the Spirit had not been given, for Jesus was not yet glorified,” but today he came forth from his heavenly throne to give himself in all his abundant riches to the human race, so that the divine outpouring might pervade the whole wide world and be manifested in a variety of spiritual endowments.
It is surely right that this overflowing delight should come down to us from heaven, since it was heaven that a few days earlier received from our fertile earth a fruit of wonderful sweetness. When has our land ever yielded a fruit more pleasant, sweeter, holier, or more delectable? Indeed, “faithfulness has sprung up from the earth.”
A few days ago we sent Christ on ahead to the heavenly kingdom, so that in all fairness we might have in return whatever heaven held that should be sweet to our desire.
The full sweetness of earth is Christ’s humanity, the full sweetness of heaven Christ’s Spirit. Thus a more profitable bargain was struck: Christ’s human nature ascended from us to heaven, and on us today Christ’s Spirit has come down.
Now indeed “the Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole earth,” and all creation recognizes his voice. Everywhere the Spirit is at work, everywhere he speaks.
To be sure, the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples before our Lord’s ascension when he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive anyone’s sins they are forgiven; if you declare them unforgiven, unforgiven they remain,” but before the day of Pentecost the Spirit’s voice was still in a sense unheard.
His power had not yet leaped forth, nor had the disciples truly come to know him, for they were not yet confirmed by his might; they were still in the grip of fear, cowering behind closed doors.
From this day onward, however, “the voice of the Lord has resounded over the waters; the God of majesty has thundered and the Lord makes his voice echo over the flood.”
From now on the voice of “the Lord speaks with strength, the voice of the Lord in majesty, the voice of the Lord fells the cedars, the voice of the Lord strikes flaring fire, the voice of the Lord shakes the desert, stirring the wilderness of Kadesh, the voice of the Lord strips the forest bare, and all will cry out, 'Glory!'”
Talbot 1, 112-14
Aelred of Rievaulx (1109-67), a native of Yorkshire, spent part of his youth at the court of King David of Scotland. About the year 1133 he entered the Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx of which he later became abbot. His writings, which combine mystical and speculative theology, earned him the title, “The Bernard of the North.” The most important works of this master of the spiritual life are The Mirror of Charity and Spiritual Friendship.
**From Saint Louis University