Today the church brings to a close the annual celebration of the Lenten and Easter seasons. Beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with today’s feast of Pentecost, the Catholic community has reflected and celebrated the great moments in the life of Jesus that point to him as our redeemer and savior. This is the heart of our faith.
Today’s feast is a celebration of the birthday of the church and a celebration of the spirit of God in our midst. That spirit is most surely with us. The Christian vision of the Holy Spirit is captured in the beautiful image of breath, the breath of God. Jesus breathed on his disciples just as God breathed on creation in genesis. For the spirit brings to life, empowers, enables, refreshes and renews.
The symbols of wind, fire and speaking in tongues, which we find in the readings, are used to enhance our understanding of God’s spirit. The Holy Spirit is an incomparable dynamic force in the life of the church, in the life of the individual believer, and in human affairs.
Let us take a quick look at these three spheres of the spirits activity: the church, the believer, and the world.
St. Ambrose tells us that ‘the church has been built by the spirit...and the work of the spirit is to build the church in unity.’ for this great theologian the Holy Spirit is the life and the light of the church, the guide and the animator of the church.
The spirit as Jesus promised, makes clear to his followers what he came to reveal to us. Through the power of the spirit, Christians can see human living with the eyes of Christ.
It is the spirit who guides and safeguards the beliefs of the church’s rich deposit of faith. for those are beliefs that transcend human knowing: a trinity alive within us, a God-made- man dying for us and rising up, a grace that is a share of God’s very life. moreover, the church hopes for what seems beyond hope: life with God, days without end and without tears.
We believe in a church that is animated by the spirit; a church that is all inclusive; knows no territorial borders or language barriers; a church that has no economic or social criteria for membership. This is the church reflected in the first reading from acts where “each hears the apostles in his own language speaking about the marvels God has accomplished.” the spirit unites, and the church is missioned to the whole world, for God’s love and salvation have claimed everyone!
As St. Irenaeus wrote: “where there is the church there is also the spirit of God.”
It is that spirit of God who guides the church through the challenges of the present scandals and helps the church face issues of an expanded participation of lay women and men in the decisions of the church, restore creditability in church leadership and begin the healing process for all.
As Vatican II noted: ‘Christ summons the church as she journeys across the centuries to continual reform and renewal of which she always has need insofar as she is an human institution here on earth.” in our hearts we hope we are presently experiencing such reform and renewal in the church.
As our psalm noted: “come holy spirit, renew the face of the earth.” therefore, do not dispair, good will come from this tragic mess.
However, it is individual Christians who make up the church—you and me. so how and where is the sprit active in our lives? a second point.
It is the spirit who enables you and me to hear and understand the words of salvation, those words of grace that make their way into our hearts and into our actions.
For each of us the spirit is the source of one’s spirituality, however well developed or not. For as St. Paul tells us, spirituality is a life guided and directed by the Holy Spirit.
The spirit is also a prod. It tells us that it is not enough to follow our conscience, if our conscience simply reflects what society accepts and rejects.
It is the Holy Spirit who opens our ears to the words of judgment in scripture and in the church and causes us to re-evaluate our lives, giving us informed consciences.
Moral conscience urges one to the right action; it judges particular choices; it bears witness to the truth; it enables one to assume responsibility for one’s decisions.
The dignity of the human person implies and requires uprightness of moral conscience. This is especially true today as we seek to find a balance between individual rights and the common good; religious liberty and government policy. There is a place for an informed conscience and right judgment.
Spirit filled and spirit animated Christians are women and men *who live biblical justice; who honor fidelity in relationships; who use their gifts for self and for the common good; who are faithful to their responsibilities.
As Paul reminds us “if you are guided by the spirit, you are not under the law.” The spirit is about love and communion.
Finally, the spirit of God remains busy in the world of human affairs. God’s spirit is never far from shaping human history. Not that the spirit masterminds a surge in the Dow Jones or Nasdeq, a supreme court decision, a national election or a packer/giant football game.
But the spirit is the primary source of human conversion, the changing of minds, the softening of hearts and the turning away from sin; turning:
from selfishness to self-lessness; from individualism to community; from animosity to forgiveness; from cowardness to herorism; from fear to love.
It is God’s spirit hovering over us that makes these conversions for the good possible. These conversions become the building blocks of a more just, humane society, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, the spirit is the empowering and creative gift of God. Not only does the spirit move the community outward in mission, it forms a church that is inclusive. That same dynamic is present today as God’s spirit hovers over human affairs.
If, in the words of today’s psalm, we truly want the spirit of God to ‘renew the face of the earth’ then we, as individuals and as church, must be free and open and welcome the spirit of God into our lives; to seek that openness and freedom is our prayer this Pentecost day.
To conclude: one of the symbols of this liturgy is the extinguishing of the great Easter candle. This candle has been our companion in liturgy and prayer since the Easter vigil some 50 days ago. There is an Irish saying: ‘you extinguish the light when the dawn comes.” today our Easter candle will go dark.
The dawn has come. The lord is risen and ascended. The spirit of God has come and continues to come to each of us. That spirit comes to heal, to make whole and to renew the face of the earth. Indeed, the spirit comes to renew our hearts and to open the horizons of our minds. “Where the church is, there is he spirit of God.
John P. Schlegel, S.J.
May 27, 2012