Thursday, May 16, 2013

In the Holy Spirit there is Church

Pentecost Sunday – Year C

The past few weeks have been hectic. On a personal side, I’ve just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I’m quite sure you’ve heard this before: whenever you go on a long holiday, be prepared to take another long holiday to recover from the former. However, I did not have the luxury of a second break. I guess it’s true what they say, ‘there’s no rest for the wicked.’ On a another level, we had just come out from a period of frenzied electoral campaigning, everyone had caught the election fever – we were literally ‘discussing election’, ‘eating election’, ‘watching election’, ‘facebooking election’, ‘arguing over the election’, and ‘sleeping election’. The dust has not settled, and many are predicting another maelstrom not too far off in the horizon. In the midst of such busy-ness, I guess many would have missed or at least had been distracted from the most important part of our lives as Christians.

We have just passed through a great period of feasts, in fact, the most important feasts in the Church’s calendar. But our liturgical celebrations seem to have taken a backseat in the midst of seemingly more pressing worldly concerns. With the bad taste of the elections still lingering in our mouths, we can often forget that the season of Easter is full of thanksgivings. For many, the dark clouds of despair arising from the political scene seem to have eclipsed or blurred our vision of the dawning light of the resurrection. Thus our liturgical celebrations provide us with the renewed lenses of faith and hope to penetrate the gloom. They do not just commemorate past events but vividly bring to life what these events mean to us in this age and in all ages to come. The Church experiences again what those early Christians felt like when they realised that their Master was not dead but alive. And we have followed all that with the great celebration of the Ascension, and now the joys of Pentecost. If we had been paying attention, we will ultimately come to realise: What a time it has been!

Since Easter the first readings have been taken from the Acts of the Apostles. Those responsible for the arrangement and the content of our lectionary must have been truly inspired. We have been recalling the early days of the Church, its staggering growth, juxtaposed against a multitude of sufferings. All this was seen by St. Luke, the author of this remarkable book, as a direct result of that memorable day of Pentecost. We are told that the early Christians were ordered by Christ to do nothing until they had received the power of the Holy Spirit. So in the Acts we read of the fruit of that reception. All they did and said was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The secret of their resilience was not found in the noble human spirit, it sprang from the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Acts of the Apostles makes great reading, but it is not meant to be nostalgic and sentimental. Rather the stories of conversions, preachings, missionary journeys and rapid church growth are there to inspire us — for we too have received the same Holy Spirit. Our Holy Father Pope Francis, in a recent homily underlined the importance of the Holy Spirit in our lives by saying that without this presence, our Christian lives cannot be understood.

In 1968 Patriarch Ignatius, the Orthodox Metropolitan of Latakia, gave an address at the Assembly of the World Council of Churches. In it he spoke of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church in a striking and memorable way:

Without the Holy Spirit God is far away.
Christ stays in the past,
The Gospel is simply an organisation,
Authority is a matter of propaganda,
The Liturgy is no more than an evolution,
Christian loving a slave mentality.
But in the Holy Spirit
The cosmos is resurrected and grows with the birth pangs of the kingdom.
The Risen Christ is there,
The Gospel is the power of life,
The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
Authority is a liberating science,
Mission is a Pentecost,
The Liturgy is both renewal and anticipation,
Human action is deified.

Therefore, the Church without the Holy Spirit is not the Church. In the Holy Spirit the Church "lives and moves and has its being". It is sad, however, that so many individual believers live as if the Holy Spirit had never come. There is often a great temptation to be in the grips of two extremes that confuses the relationship between the Spirit and the Church. On the one hand, we have a humanism that excludes the activity of the Spirit from the Church, and on the other hand, we have a pietism that reduces the activity of the Spirit to some form of emotionalism.

In a world that has grown accustomed to defining every issue according the human categories, the members of the Church are tempted to follow suit with little discernment between being "in the Holy Spirit" and being "without the Holy Spirit". What we often do as a Church is often governed by principles of utility, expediency, efficiency, suitability, and marketability, rather than just being faithful to the voice of the Holy Spirit who continues to communicate the will of the Father through the revelation of the Son. In fact, anyone caught discussing the role of the Holy Spirit in the decision-making process risk being accused of over-simplification. On the other end of the spectrum, with the rise of Pentecostalism and its influence on mainline churches and ecclesial communities, the presence of Spirit is often mistaken for emotional hype. Here, reason is subjected to suspicion and those who caution prudence often find themselves accused of being faithless. We fail to remember and recognise that there is no opposition between faith and reason and that the presence of the Holy Spirit is discerned from the power of love, the strength of faith, and the experience of joy in the midst of hardship and persecution.

Many have often accused the Catholic Church of being indifferent or at least pays little attention to the Third Person of the Trinity. They would be surprised to learn that the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a central place for the Holy Spirit in relation to the Church. The Catechism, unequivocally teaches that: “The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit (CCC 668):
- in the Scriptures he inspired;
- in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses;
- in the Church's Magisterium, which he assists;
- in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ;
- in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us;
- in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up;
- in the signs of apostolic and missionary life;
- in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation.

Since he assumed his office, Pope Francis has preached - by word and deed - a dynamic Catholic faith and a Church that must be passionate with the mission of evangelisation. This is a Pope who believes that the Church is driven by the Holy Spirit and God's love, not by bureaucrats or militants. He calls us to remember this simple truth, a truth that is often forgotten when we place so much trust in our own cleverness and devices, that the power of the Holy Spirit is available today for all believers just as it was in the early Church. It is the same Holy Spirit who always calls the Church to authentic renewal. The Pope adds, that at times, 'the Holy Spirit upsets us because it moves us, it makes us walk, it pushes the Church forward.' But the problem is, according to him, we want to 'calm down the Holy Spirit, we want to tame it and this is wrong, because the Holy Spirit is the strength of God, it's what gives us the strength to go forward'.  Rather, our first reaction is never to resist the pull of the Holy Spirit but to 'submit to the Holy Spirit, which comes from within us and makes go forward along the path of holiness.'

Like the apostles who were gathered in continuous prayer together with Mary the Mother of the Lord and with the other disciples, we confidently hope and pray that we too will experience a new Pentecost, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and then we, like Peter and the first apostles, will be able to go out and share the gift of our faith and our hope with a world that needs to be reminded that God has not abandoned them, that he continues guide them, protect them, and strengthen them through the power of the Spirit. As the Rule of St Benedict reminds us, ‘let the mind and spirit be in harmony with the voice,” with one voice and heart, let us pray:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.