THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE OBVIOUS
Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
Throughout His life on earth Jesus spoke of the Father who had sent Him, who was always with Him, and whose will He came to do. It was not until the end of his life that He began to speak about the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth whom He would ask the Father to send in His name. Before He ascended into heaven He told His apostles to go to Jerusalem to wait and pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit entered spectacularly and powerfully into the affairs and fortunes of the apostles and into the life of the Church.
From the beginning the Holy Spirit has been a mysterious presence and power in the Church that is little understood. Aside from the memorizing of the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, many have little understanding and awareness of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and in their own lives.
Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation and led His whole life under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When He began His public life with baptism in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon Him. Then He was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. By the power of the Holy Spirit He returned to Galilee where He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath. He stood up and read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” Rolling up the scroll, He handed it back to the attendant and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” By the power of the Holy Spirit He expelled demons, healed the sick, forgave sinners and raised the dead to life. At the Last Supper He promised to send the Holy Spirit to His apostles. And before He died on the cross He said, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.”
The Mystical Body of Jesus, the Church, was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and lives its life under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. St. Augustine called the Holy Spirit the soul of the Church. Just as the human soul is the principle of life of the human body, so too, the Holy Spirit is the principle of life of the Mystical Body of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the principle of unity in the Church. It is also the principle of endurance and stability, enabling it to withstand diabolical attacks from without and corrupting influences from within.
Just as Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation, and lived His whole life under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and just as the Mystical Body of Jesus, the Church, was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and lives its whole life under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so too, each Christian is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit at Baptism, and lives his life under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” without the Holy Spirit and that when we cannot pray ourselves, the Holy Spirit prays for us. What is called the spiritual life is the life of the Holy Spirit within us.
The Holy Spirit is the Giver of gifts. At Baptism we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and fortitude, knowledge an piety, and the fear of the Lord. Like giant TV dish antennae, these gifts make us more receptive to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. These gifts are given primarily for the up building of the individual. Secondarily, of course, they help to build up the Church, because the greater the number of healthy members there are in he Church, the healthier the Church.
In addition to these gifts there are the charismatic gifts: prophecy, healing, interpretation, discernment and tongues. These gifts are primarily for the up building of the Church. Secondarily they also assist the up building of the individual. We are grateful for these charismatic gifts and we should be open and receptive of them.
At the same time we should heed the advice of St. Paul, “Do not quench the Spirit, test everything, hold fast to that which is good.” In other words, we should avoid two extremes. First, “Do not quench the Spirit.” That is, do not a priori write it off. On the other hand, “Test everything, hold fast to that which is good.” That is, do not be gullible. We are all subject to illusions and delusions. And there is another spirit, often disguised as an angel of light, waiting and eager to deceive us.
How can we test the Spirit? One of the most efficacious tests is our attitude to the Church. These charismatic gifts are given primarily for the up building of the Church. Do these gifts help us to grow in love of the Church? Or do they lead us away from the Church? The Spirit of Truth cannot be a source of contradiction and division. Our Lord said that we can know a tree by its fruits. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness and self-control. All of these we can experience for ourselves.
Paul exhorts us to be ambitious for the greater gifts. “And I am going to show you a way that is better than any of them. If I have the eloquence of men and angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understand all they mysteries there are, and know everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all.” The greatest gift of all is the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us. To be a Christian is to accept this love, let it permeate our whole being and overflow to others.
Not every operation of the Holy Spirit is spectacular. Much of the work of the Holy Spirit is done in an ordinary manner. It is not only the mighty wind of Pentecost but also the gentle breezes that constantly refreshes and renews the Church and its members. The winds of the Holy Spirit are constantly blowing. All we have to do is to put up the sails. The Holy Spirit operates in the Church ordinarily through the Sacraments, initially and fundamentally through the Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist
And not every operation of the Holy Spirit is instantaneous; most of the time it is gradual and progressive. As the Gospel tells us, “It is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land, and would sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow he knows not how.”
It is most unfortunate that some Christians want to restrict the operation of the Holy Spirit to Pentecost. They picture the Holy Spirit appearing suddenly and dramatically in a mighty wind and tongues of fire and then just as suddenly and very quietly disappearing never to be heard from again. The truth is that the Holy Spirit has been at work from the very beginning and will continue that work until the end. The Church is not a museum of fossils and historical artifacts. The Church is a living, growing organism. And the principle of that life is the Holy Spirit.
Since Pope John XXIII’s prayer for a new Pentecost at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the Church has been experiencing the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in a new and exciting way. We are realizing more and more that the experience of love, joy, peace and the power of the Holy Spirit is not the hallmark of the mystic but the birthright of the baptized.
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