Monday, November 10, 2008

A New Defence: Hope in the Holy Spirit

Well, actually, it's not a "new" defence at all, it's nearly 2000 years old. The martyrs used it in ancient Roma. Benedict and Scholastica used it. Basil and Gregory used it. Francis and Dominic and Ignatius used it. Aquinas and Bernard and Bonaventure and Bellarmine used it. Doctors like Teresa and Therese used it. Even Chesterton used it. It's the gift we were given, first on Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem in those who received the flames in that upper room, but even to us individually, though far less spectacularly.

What gift? The Gift. The Holy Spirit.

What do we face at present? Darkness. Weakness. Doubt. Fear. Hate. Does this sound like the evil villain in some fantasy: the galactic bad guy, or the wicked witch in a fairy tale? Oh, no, it's all too real. We have an enemy, a Fallen and evil Spirit, who was tossed out of heaven, and hasn't ceased to prowl about the world with his minions, seeking souls to wreck.

Have no fear!

The Holy Spirit brings light, brings strength, brings love - and certainty and fortitude and the great power called Wisdom... He is no mere wand-wielding wise old man in a robe, or a fairy-godmother who makes coaches out of pumpkins - He's most real, and most close - He is also called the Paraclete, the Greek tech-legal term which means consoler, comforter, the advocate, the defending councillor Who pleads for us.

One of the best books I have about Him is The Sanctifier by Archbishop Martinez. But maybe you don't have time for that, even though it is not a very large book, and it has nice byte-size chapters. Then let us take up something a bit easier to carry - the hymns for Pentecost, and explore them a little. I will use Father Britt's The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal to start with, and link in whatever else seems suitable. We'll start with Veni, Sancte Spiritus, and see how it goes, bearing in mind that Advent is not all that far off. How suitable it is to ponder the Holy Spirit in preparation will perhaps come to light as we proceed.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus - probably by Pope Innocent III (1161-1216); there are about 40 transslations. This is the liturgical "Sequence" for Pentecost and its octave, and was called "The Golden Sequence" in medieval times. "In the opinion of critics it is justly regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of sacred Latin poetry." [Britt 160]

1. Veni, Sancte Spiritus,
Et emitte coelitus
Lucis tuae radium.
Veni pater pauperum,
Veni dator munerum,
Veni lumen cordium.

Come Holy Spirit,
and send forth from heaven
the ray of Thy light.
Come, Father of the poor,
Come, giver of gifts,
Come, light of hearts. [Britt's translation]
Radium! Now, as a scientist, my heart leaps at the sheer coincidence of a Latin word with an English word, even though far distant is the relation between them. But it may be the hook on which I, like Chesterton, hang my comments.

What is the Latin word radium? A staff or rod. (Yes, so the wizard's wand also appears here! More on this another time; see GKC if you need a starting point.) Yes, more specifically, it is the SPOKE OF A WHEEL. There is a famous inside joke among Chestertonians, taken from GKC's The Ball and the Cross, concerning an apparent lunatic who delights in a certain thing because "it sticks out". Ah HA! That's exactly what a ray is - it is something that sticks out from its source, whether it be the hub of a wheel, a beam (another word for a rod!) of light, or something else - even a radio signal, which radiates from an antenna!

Ah - then what is the English "radium"? A dangerous metal, highly radioactive - as it decays, it constantly sends forth "rays" which are actually alpha particles (helium nuclei). It glows in the dark, which was a constant delight to the Curies, who worked for years to purify a tiny amount (about a milligram) from literal TONS of waste ores. Talk about a pearl of great price! But the Holy Spirit emits far more powerful rays, and they are not damaging, but healing.

But that's not the only tech word here. Emitte is from ex+mitto = "send forth, send out". Radium is an "alpha emitter" - the various radioactive elements are classed according to what they emit when they decay. But an emitter is also one of the three "legs" of a transistor, corresponding vaguely to the old "cathode" of vacuum tubes, which emitted electrons. Huh? Does anyone even know what a transistor is any more? I have seen power amps for rock musicians which have them, so they are still around even in this age of integrated circuit "chips", which may contain thousands or millions of transistors. A transistor is the most common "active" component of these "chips": it performs amplification of signals and other related functions. A clever arrangement of two transistors makes possible the elementary form of computer memory called a flip-flop, which is the "bit" - it retains its state as either "ON" or "OFF", which we usually write as "1" or "0". One translation of Luke 2:51 reads "Mary kept all these things in memory". I wonder: because she was the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, was she an emitter too?

But let us hear a little more from Father Britt:
The introductory and thrice repeated Veni in the first stanza is expressive of the intense longing of a wold-buffeted, sin-harried soul for the advent of the "best consoler".
[emphasis added]
I told you there was a connection to Advent - don't you also hear that "Veni veni Emmanuel" here - "O come O come Emmanuel"? It's the same Latin verb.
Pater pauperum = "father of the poor": refers to the "poor in spirit" [Mt 5:3] who may either be destitute of the goods of this world, or detached from them, "as having nothing, and possessing all things" (2Cor 6:10)
Dator munerum = "giver of gifts": The Holy Spirit is the dispenser of the countless gifts or graces which Christ has merited for us.

What was it that urged the writer of the "E.T." story to give him a "heart-light"? Was it the frequent use of the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, on fire with love for poor sinful Man? Was it the line from the Litany of the Sacred Heart:
Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity, have mercy on us.
Or was it, perhaps, this verse?

Why is the heart in need of light? Because of the darkness of the Fall. One might wonder why it is not the brain or mind which needs the light, when the heart is only the pump which sends life to the brain - but we are not going into anatomy or even mystical histology today. No, I will put it more bluntly. Once you've been in love, you will have no doubt about this image. It's not the brain - nor is it (shall we say) some lower organ, but the heart which steers, pulls, directs - it's the heart which flames.

So - what must we do if the fire goes out? If the heart is cold, dark, empty?

Then we must call for the Advocate: Veni. Come.

And He will, Who is far more powerful than radium. And He give us poor children His mighty gifts.


At 14 November, 2008 22:02, Blogger Sheila said...

Wonderful! I love this chant.

Do you remember my translation and post on this from years ago?


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