By Donna Orsuto
Rome - An important annual tradition, since The Lay Centre’s founding in 1986, is the Pentecost Novena prayed for the intention of our benefactors and friends, for the unity of all Christians, for a greater sense of dialogue among all believers in God, and for past, present and future members of The Lay Centre. This year, we will include a special intention for those who have been affected by the pandemic and we extend an invitation to all to join us in prayer, each evening, starting May 22.
During this season in the Church, it is edifying to contemplate along with our Orthodox friends the Icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Icons are windows into the divine, and this icon can help us reflect on how we can be open to the coming of the Holy Spirit, especially during this time of pandemic. Today, we need to stand together with Mary and with the whole Church to implore the Father to send us again the gift of the Holy Spirit. As St. Bonaventure says, “The Holy Spirit,” goes “to where He is loved, where He is invited, where He is awaited.” It is important to remember that we are gathered in the cenacle, not just to enjoy one another’s company, but to be sent on mission.
Getting too comfortable in the upper room, or anywhere, is one of the biggest obstacles for communicating our faith to others. In another context, St. John Henry Newman warns about the dangers of getting too comfortable: “Nothing is so likely to corrupt our hearts, and to seduce us from God, as to surround ourselves with comforts — to have things our own way — to be the centre of a sort of world, whether of things animate or inanimate, which minister to us.”
The task before us is challenging and, without the Holy Spirit, we cannot go on. With Mary, our Mother, teaching us docility to God’s call, and the help of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to share the Good News with others, also in these days that are paradoxically both difficult and full of hope.
Gather in Community
The icon reminds us that, first of all, we need Christian community: the Holy Spirit comes when the disciples are gathered in prayer. Notice in this icon how the disciples are not chatting with one another; they are together in community and they are all listening. “Community is first of all a gift of the Spirit. It is not built upon mutual compatibility, shared affection or common interest, but upon having received the same divine breath, having been given a heart set aflame by the same divine fire and having been embraced by the same divine love.” It is God who brings us together in community and who makes us one.
The icon emphasizes a second point: that unity does not require uniformity. We can thank God for the diverse ways of living the Christian life. This is depicted beautifully in this icon by the unique manner and gestures of the gathered Apostles — their diverse clothing, hair, eyes, posture. You see their individual characteristics. Notice also the beautiful harmony. No colour dominates, yet each figure is distinct. We need to create spaces that allow the gifts of each person to flourish, but where unity always prevails.
Share the Good News
We know from tradition that the Holy Spirit at Pentecost descended not only on the twelve, but on all who were there. This is emphasized by the openness at the bottom of the row of Apostles. As Léonid Ouspensky notes, “The Church is not restricted either by the apostolic circle, or by the apostleship in general, or by the hierarchy.... The unclosed structure of the icon at the top and bottom is this very openness of the Church: at the top, the communion with the Uncreated Trinitarian Being through the Holy Spirit, and on the bottom, the communion with the whole world through us. We continue those rows of apostles and shall continue them until the end of the ages.”
This community of love is not fashioned to sit around and enjoy one another’s company. There is a mission involved. When the Spirit draws people into community, he sends them out into the world to bring the Good News of God’s love to all.
Invoke the Holy Spirit
This Pentecost, let’s have the courage to wait together in the cenacle, after the pattern of Mary and the Apostles. Let’s trust that the Holy Spirit will come, with all the graces that we need right now in this moment of pandemic, giving us the courage to face the future without fear.
Blessed Spirit of WISDOM, help us to seek God as the centre of our lives and order our lives according to his will, so that love and harmony may reign in our hearts.
Blessed Spirit of UNDERSTANDING, enlighten our minds, that we may know and love the truths of faith and make them truly our own.
Blessed Spirit of COUNSEL, enlighten and guide us in all our ways that we might always know and do Your holy will. Make us prudent and courageous.
Blessed Spirit of FORTITUDE, uphold us in every time of trouble or adversity. Make us loyal and confident.
Blessed Spirit of KNOWLEDGE, help us to know good from evil. Teach us to do what is right in the sight of God. Give us clear vision and firmness in decision.
Blessed Spirit of PIETY, possess our hearts, incline them to a true faith in You, to a holy love of You, our God, that with our whole being we may seek You, and find You, our best, our truest joy.
Blessed Spirit of HOLY FEAR, penetrate our inmost heart that we may ever be mindful of Your presence. Make us flee from sin, and give us intense reverence for God and for our brothers and sisters who are made in God’s image. Amen.
Regina Caeli, laetare, Alleluia.
Quia quem meruisti portare, Alleluia.
Resurexit, sicut dixit, Alleluia.
Ora pro nobis Deum, Alleluia.
 St. Bonaventure, Sermon for the IV Sunday after Easter, 2. This quote was mentioned in Father Raniero Cantalamessa’s Third Advent Mediation for the Papal Household on 16 December 2011. For an English translation, see https://zenit.org/articles/father-cantalamessa-s-3rd-advent-sermon-3/
 John Henry Newman, “The Duty of Self-Denial”, in Parochial and Plain Sermons, volume VII, sermon 7 in http://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume7/sermon7.html
 Henri Nouwen, Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2007, Revised Edition), p. 98.
 Ibid., pp. 87-107.
 Léonid Ouspensky, “Iconography of the Descent of the Holy Spirit”, St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 31 (1987), pp. 330-331.
Photo: Wikimedia: A large 18th-century Russian icon depicting Pentecost. Egg tempera on wood panel.