The liturgy today recalls the Descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles; and the Church extends the commemoration of it over eight days. Originally, the feast of Pentecost brought to an end in Rome the fifty days of the Easter celebrations and introduced the fast of the Ember Days of the summer quarter. Afterwards, it became customary to continue the festivity for two more days, the Monday and the Tuesday, and, finally—after the time of Pope St. Leo the Great—it was extended, like the Octave of Easter, through the entire week. The station was at St. Peter in Chains to avoid having two successive stations at the Vatican, and to remind the faithful of the fortitude wherewith the Apostles were endowed by the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. Also, Peter, who once trembled at being questioned about Jesus by a woman, now that he has received the gift of the Holy Ghost, rejoices at being bound with chains for Jesus’ sake.
In the Epistle, several gentiles are touched with grace on hearing Peter’s preaching, and they profess themselves believers in Jesus, the Son of God. The moment is thus come for the Apostle to throw the Church open to the Gentile world. Today’s Gospel shows the immense contrast between God and man. God so loves the world that, in order to save it, He sacrifices His only-begotten Son, while mankind repays this supreme love with utter ingratitude and obstinately chooses darkness rather than light.
The Gift of Piety, or Godliness
The gift of the Fear of God is intended as a cure for our pride; the gift of Godliness (or Piety) is infused into our souls by the Holy Ghost, in order that we may resist self-love, which is one of the passions of our fallen nature, and the second hindrance to our union with God. The heart of a Christian is not made to be either cold or indifferent; it must be affectionate and devoted, otherwise it can never attain the perfection for which God, who is Love, has graciously created it.
The Holy Ghost, therefore, puts the Gift of Godliness into the soul, by inspiring it with a filian affection for her Creator. You have received, says the Apostle, the Spirit of adoption of Sons, whereby we cry to our God, Abba! Father! This disposition enables man to nourish within him a sorrow for his sins, in consideration of the divine mercy which has borne with and forgiven him, and of the Sufferings and Death of his Redeemer. It makes him thirst for God’s glory to spread, and eventually his greatest joy is to see others grow in their love and devotedness in the service of the sovereign Good. He is filled with filial submission to his Heavenly Father, whose every will he is most ready to do.
This devotion to God, which results from the gift of Godliness, and unites the soul to her Creator by filial love, makes her love all God’s creatures, inasmuch as they are the work of his hands and belong to him. His love is not limited to the citizens of heaven; it is extended also to his fellow creatures here on earth, for the gift of Godliness makes him find Jesus in them. He is kind to everyone, without exception. He forgives injuries, bears with the imperfections of others, and where an excuse is possible for his neighbor, he makes it. He has compassion on the poor, and is attentive to the sick. He weeps with those who weep, and rejoices with those who rejoice.
All this is found in those who use the gift of Godliness.