Europe today is held up by many as the model of a successful humanist secular society, driven mainly by rationalistic science, pragmatic technology and market-oriented capitalism. The principles of socialism move much of the social discourse and inspire many of the political decisions. Religion has been pretty much relegated into the background and peripheries of national decision-making.
And yet, the places we saw during our brief visit there were replete with signs of Europe’s Christian past. There were many magnificent churches, some of which are still in use as churches; but many have been converted to other uses like museums, art galleries, even pubs and restaurants. Punctually every hour, we would hear the bells of some distant church tolling the hours. We were in Copenhagen on Ascension Thursday and it was a national holiday. So are Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Pentecost in most of Europe.
It is kind of ironic that the continent that brought Christianity to the colonies during their heyday has practically shed off its Christian identity. Several years ago, as the European Union was planning a great jubilee to celebrate Europe and its history, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger lobbied that Europe acknowledged its Christian heritage. Its Graeco-Roman roots were honored but there was no mention of its Christian roots.
And yet, as I walked the streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, I felt the Spirit alive. In the openness and welcoming attitude of the Dutch. In the creativity and discipline of the Danes. Did I feel love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control while trying to feel and soaking in the zeitgeist of the place? Somehow, I did. I felt there was something about the places we went to that gave them these special character. And these are the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
I am a Filipino living now in the United States. To rephrase an old advertising jingle, you can me out of the Philippines but you can never take out the Philippines in me. Europe may have become secular but embedded deep in her DNA is the Christian gene.
Today is the feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Ratzinger once described the Holy Spirit “as the power through which the Risen Lord remains present in the history of the world.” I am thinking of the millions of people who have been inspired and have lived by the words of the Risen Lord. Throughout the ages. Doing good works out of love. Serving without asking for reward. Giving and not counting the cost.
Pentecost means that through the Holy Spirit, I/We remain under the influence. The influence of the one and only commandment of love. Under the influence of the Crucified Lord. Under the influence of the Risen Savior. Under the influence and care of a loving Father.
Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
~ Psalm 104
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”