Sunday, June 8, 2014

Some reflections on Pentecost and the Holy Spirit

Pentecost, which has it origins as the Jewish celebration of God's giving the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, is the Christian celebration and commemoration of the Father and the Son sending the Holy Spirit upon the Blessed Mother, the apostles, and other disciples who were assembled together fifty days after Christ's resurrection. We mark this event as the beginning of the Church, which remains, even now, as a Spirit-gathered assembly, or, to use transliterated Greek, ekkleisa. The airburst detonation of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts 2 bears more than a passing resemblance to what happened immediately after our Lord was baptized by John in the Jordan, when the Spirit descended on Him in the form of dove, thus anointing Him and confirming His messiahship. In like manner, the Holy Spirit descended upon, formed, and has remained with the Church, thus confirming that She, like Her Bridegroom, is simultaneously human and divine. One final observation along scriptural lines is that just as "a mighty wind" swept "over the waters" (Gen 1:2) at the dawn of creation bringing forth new life, so the Spirit exploding over the gathered disciples brings forth new life. The takeaway here is that, contrary to what many believe, Christians are not fundamentally "people of the book." Christians are the Spirit-filled people of the resurrected and living Lord. As Luke Timothy Johnson wrote in Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel- the Spirit is mode of Christ's resurrection presence in us and among us. In other words, the Holy Spirit is the way that Jesus Christ fulfills His promise to always to be with us, to never abandon us.

As the apostle wrote, "we were all given to drink of one Spirit" ( 1 Cor 12:13). The Holy Spirit is God's life-giving breath. Receiving our Lord in communion happens by the power of the Holy Spirit. Being forgiven our sins in confession is effected by the power of the Holy Spirit. Marriages are not just made sacramental, but become sacraments, that is, visible and tangible signs of Christ's presence in and for the world, by the Spirit's power. Too often we take our cue from the world, seeing the gifts of the Spirit only in those who stand out in some way, who are good singers, good preachers, good teachers, gifted painters, able to write well, articulate, good looking, etc. This is to be mislead and often leads to being deceived and results in many leaving the faith. Being drawn this way builds up the egos of the ones who possess these things and usually has bad results.

Pentecost, by István Dorffmaister, 1782

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. The fruits these gifts bear in the lives of Spirit-filled people are not necessarily things like speaking in tongues, prophesying, healing, etc., etc. The fruits of the Spirit are laid out by St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians: "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (5:22-23). While it is possible to utter the words "Jesus is Lord" in an insincere, or even joking and mocking manner, it is impossible to truly profess Him as Lord except by the power of the Holy Spirit. The evidence that Jesus is Lord of your life is your manner of living, whether the Spirit is bearing fruit in you. Jesus said,
By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them (Matt 7:16-20)
I want to end with a few stanzas from the Sequence for Mass During the Day on Pentecost, the Veni, Sancte Spiritus:

O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!

Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

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