Though I’ve lived in the tropics most of the time since 1971 when I came to the Philippines, I grew up in the temperate climate of Ireland and still experience the four seasons every year at a psychological level. I’ve been able to go through them in reality a number of times since 1971. I discovered that in southern Canada and in the northern states of the USA the seasons are more sharply defined than in Ireland or Britain.
In the spring of 1982 I spent forty days on retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Guelph, Ontario. There’s beautiful countryside around and I went on many long walks. I could see the progress of the buds on the trees in a way I had never seen it in Ireland, though I was always struck by the beautiful beech trees in the grounds of St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, near Navan in Ireland during my seminary years. Every spring they came out in a glorious shade of green every May, except for one – an even more glorious copper beech.
When I was in Guelph we were all meditating on the Passion of Jesus as we followed the Exercises of St Ignatius. That part of the retreat, however, clashed with Pentecost Sunday, which fell on 30 May in 1982. So we observed Trinity Sunday that day and finished our retreat a week later with our celebration of Pentecost, a bit like the Newfoundland Time Zone, as one of the directors observed, which is thirty minutes ahead of the Atlantic Time Zone.
Pentecost for me is very much a spring or early summer feast. This year the Office of Readings for this great feast reinforced that, it includes the magnificent psalm of creation, Ps 104 (103):
From your dwelling you water the hills;
earth drinks its fill of your gift.
You make the grass grow for the cattle
and the plants to serve man’s needs . . .(Grail translation).
The antiphon before and after the third section of the psalm is ‘Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created; and you will renew the face of the earth, alleluia’. That is also the response for the psalm at Sunday’s Mass. (The Mass on Saturday evening is that of the Vigil of Pentecost, with different readings and prayers, though it fulfils the Sunday obligation. In three parishes in Britain where I did mission appeals on Pentecost weekend, the priests seemed to be unaware of that).
The Scripture reading that follows Psalm 104 is Romans 8:5-27, which includes these verses:
because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:21-23, RSV).
I could see something of that in Guelph in the Pentecost spring of 1982.
In secondary school we studied some of the poems of the Jesuit priest Fr Gerard Manley Hopkins, who had spent some unhappy years in my native city of Dublin where, like Molly Malone of the famous Dublin ballad, Cockles and Mussels, he ‘died of the fever’ and is buried in the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin, the cemetery where my parents are also buried. I didn’t particularly appreciate Hopkins’ poetry in school but I have long since come to love some of his work. His sonnet, Spring, is most appropriate, I think, for Pentecost. You can listen to 32 Sacred Poems by Hopkins, including Spring, read by Walter Rufus Eagles here. Click on the poem you want to listen to.
by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.