Photo Credit: Jean II Restout [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By F. K. Bartels
20 May, 2013
The celebration of Pentecost reminds us that right now, here in the present, the Spirit actively and constantly seeks human hearts that thirst for divine love and a new way of life, which he finds as an irresistible invitation to enter into the depths of the soul, take possession of it that it too may possess him, and thus experience his warm, regenerative and healing embrace. It is a mutual kiss of love, one delighting in the Other; the Other delighting in the one. Oh, the love of the Spirit!
At the Vigil Mass of Pentecost, the Church prays in her divine liturgy: “Grant, we pray, almighty God, that the splendor of your glory may shine forth upon us and that, by the bright rays of the Holy Spirit, the light of your light may confirm the hearts of those born again by your grace” (Collect).
Recall that on the day of Pentecost after the completion of the seven weeks of Easter, “Christ’s Passover is fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, manifested, given and communicated as a divine person” (CCC 731) to the apostles who were “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).
Let us go back for a moment to the eve of Christ’s Passion. Although Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), he informed them that they could not yet bear all the many things he had to say to them (Jn 16:12). In effect, the intimate friends of Jesus, who walked and slept, ate and drank with him, could not yet grasp the fullness of who Jesus is; that is, they could not yet comprehend the fullness of the revelation of the Father.
At Pentecost, the Risen Christ lovingly and mercifully pours forth his Spirit of truth upon the apostles in order to confirm their hearts in the truth that is itself constituted by his divine and human Person. The Spirit of truth, belonging to both the Father and the Son, is sent to glorify Jesus and declare the things to come (cf Jn 16:13-15). He will remain with the apostles, their successors and the Church always because Christ is with his Church always (Mt 28:20).
This gift of the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon the apostolic leadership of the Church in order to insure that these men, united together in prayer as one (Acts 2:1), and indeed the whole Church in union with them, will be guided into all truth (Jn 16:13). Truth is necessary for the apostles, the entire Church in communion with them, and all of humanity since it is an indispensable component in communicating the gospel and therefore of authentic human development. It is ordinarily necessary to relate properly and freely to God, live a life of love for God’s sake, and to attain to the destiny the Father planned from the beginning. The Church is, then, by divine commission, made the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15), who offers to all people the beauty and sublimity of the fullness of the truth and the fullest means of salvation.
Divinely aided by the Holy Spirit, the Church continues the mission of Christ in the world: she goes forth and teaches whatsoever Jesus has commanded (Mt 28:20) but for one purpose: the salvation of humankind. With the gift of the Spirit, who is the soul and guiding principle of the Church, the People of God receive and then transmit the fullness of truth to all people and all nations in order that humankind may attain to the sublime and salvific plan of the Father: the permanent reception of divine love.
Christ sends his Spirit not only upon the leadership of the Church, but also upon the individual members of the faithful as well, since the Church is a living community of faith and each member is a member of the one body of Christ (Rom 12:5). This gift of the Spirit ordinarily occurs through the reception of the sacrament of Baptism, bestowed on even infants because of its great importance (see CCC 1257-1261), in which the doorway to eternal life is thrown wide as we are incorporated into Christ, the Church, and infused with the indwelling Spirit of God (CCC 1262-1270; Rom 6:3; 1 Pet 3:21; Acts 2:37-38).
Here we recall the collect prayer of Pentecost written above, which speaks of the Holy Spirit as the light of God and the splendor of his glory.
Think for a moment about what it means to be Christian. If you love Christ, sincerely and truly, yearning to make your life become as his life, he pours forth his Spirit upon you in order to re-create, transform, and sanctify you. The Holy Spirit, then, “fulfills the vocation of man” (CCC 1699). You are given the gift of the indwelling Spirit so that, by the delicate yet constant work of the divine in the depths of your soul, Christ crucified may be reproduced in you, re-making you to be like God.
That sublime destiny, one in which we are not only called to everlasting communion with Love Itself but lovingly re-created by the Spirit so as to be enabled to live out such a reality, seems so stupendous and astonishing as to be impossible; it is not, however, for it is indeed the plan of love the Father has revealed through his Son and through his Church; it is the salvific plan for which Christ gave his life on the cross; it is the design of God for which the Holy Spirit unceasingly thirsts.
Understand that you are not simply offered a heavenly promise or the promise of heaven, but, provided openness and docility to the Spirit governs your heart, given the free and unmerited gift of the indwelling Spirit in the present, who then becomes your indispensable and loving companion, guide, and sanctifier. The Spirit’s intent is the accomplishment of your salvation, not only by leading you to Christ but by reproducing in you his image. It can be said that the Holy Spirit, with divine and efficacious tools of indescribable love, labors with the tenderness of God to shape you into a “little christ.” That is why the sure sign of possession of the Spirit is a Christ-like life lived out in accordance with the Gospel.
God sends the Paraclete upon those he “chose from the beginning to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (1 Thes 2:13). We see, then, that belief in the truth transmitted in its fullness by the Church is indispensable, for to search for the truth and then fully assent to it when found, is to turn one’s gaze upon the Spirit whose words are truth. Stated in the negative, those who intentionally and willfully reject the truth of the Church also reject the Spirit who is the guiding principle and soul of the Church.
Further, even before you were conceived in your mother’s womb, God decreed to pour forth an unimaginable gift of love upon you: the Spirit who is Lord and Giver of Life. With the gift of the indwelling Spirit, you receive what human nature cannot possibly attain for itself: a share in the supernatural life of God.
Also, we see that the Spirit is given for the purposes of sanctification and salvation. The Spirit comes to you on a mission of divine love, one which is ordered toward a definite purpose and specific end: to re-create you into a new person whose destiny is everlasting life with Christ. The Spirit’s aspiration is to love you, not partially but completely and forever, for that is what salvation and love is; his longing is to possess you that you may also truly possess him, for to love truly is to truly enter into the perpetual, forever gift of self. In this mutual embrace, an endless kiss of love, both the divine and the human give and receive; and, all the while, the delicate yet consistent and transformative work of the Spirit quietly takes place.
All of this stands in stark opposition to the view some hold of the Spirit as an “impersonal thing” that remains hidden, unrecognized and unknown within us, secretly moving its subjects by an unfelt power. While it is true that the action of the Spirit within the soul is tender and delicate, since he refuses to resort to force, it is a mistake to think it impossible to feel his presence and take real delight in his divine and ineffable movements.
In a relationship with the Spirit, there is a real exchange of love, communication, feeling, consolation, and encouragement that takes place on a personal level, as one Person to the other. The Holy Spirit communicates to us personally, relates to us personally, touches us personally, and thus can make us feel as if we are alone with him in the universe as the sole object of his complete love and desire. With his touch, the Spirit whispers: “It is you I love.” In return, the human heart groans with indescribable longing, mirroring the same feeling: “It is you I love.” While the exchange is never superficial but profoundly real, deep and meaningful, rising from light into Light, there always remains mystery, darkness even. The Spirit is the divine, infinite Other who transcends our complete grasp, remains beyond our full understanding.
In such a life of docility, beauty and depth, there is no tiring of the indwelling presence of the Spirit. He does not wear us down, nor do we ever feel as if we would like to depart from him—not even momentarily. His transformative caresses are not overpowering, regardless of how much shaping of the soul and heart in which he is engaged, nor does he prevent the accomplishment of human activities. The more we busy ourselves with other things, the more he recedes softly into the background, allowing us our time and concentration, thirsting all the while, however, that we should once again turn our eyes upon him and be drawn upward onto his infinite, fiery gaze.
Therefore it is important to continually foster this relationship of love, remaining constantly attentive to the Spirit, allowing him to carry us by his love and direct our life as a feather is lifted to the heights by the Divine Wind.
In the end, all words fall short of describing what it means to give oneself to the Spirit and enjoy his divine and refreshing touch. It is something we each have to discover and experience for ourselves along the road to perfection as we live out the sacramental, Christian life in the womb of mother Church.
That this journey into ineffable Light can often be a rather long and arduous one is true. If we should think it easy, we have not yet given adequate reflection to the difficult and painful life of Christ. Nevertheless, Christ first sends us his Spirit as leader, guide, consoler, and sanctifier along the way of life, that we may not simply stay the course but be nourished and transformed into a new person as we walk. It is in this very thing, this transformation and renewal, that the path itself is changed; then, we find it is no longer strewn with thorns but covered over with sweet and colorful roses.
Paradoxically, held in the loving embrace of the Spirit, the soul may even throw itself upon these thorns, desiring to suffer as did the Beloved, for the more it does so the sweeter its life becomes and the more deeply it drinks of the indescribable, heavenly delights of the Giver of Life.
Let us live out Pentecost! Its celebration in the Church reminds us that right now, here in the present, the Spirit actively and constantly seeks human hearts that thirst for divine love and a new way of life, which he finds as an irresistible invitation to enter into the depths of the soul, take possession of it that it too may possess him, and thus experience his warm, regenerative and healing embrace. It is a mutual kiss of love, one delighting in the Other; the Other delighting in the one. Oh, the love of the Spirit!
Praise be to the Spirit of God forever and ever! Amen.
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