Receive the Holy Spirit
- Today in Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
- 9 June 2019
The feast of Pentecost is the traditional Birthday of the Church. The word “church” is taken from a Greek term that literally means “gathered community.” It is a community that is gathered by God for a particular purpose. The Church is composed of people who are united with one another and gathered by God in the name of Jesus Christ, and in communion with Him.
What this means essentially is that the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles is the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus: “I will be with you always, to the end of time.” Over the last two thousand years, the Church has struggled with the implications of this doctrine. Many of the questions were resolved in the early centuries, but it took hundreds of years to sort through other issues, and we are still working on some of them.
On the night before He died, Jesus prayed that we all might be in complete unity with Him, as He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. John’s gospel goes to great lengths describing the nature, purpose, and character of this unity, which Jesus extends to His Church. Ultimately, the existence and authority of the Church rests on one foundational belief…the doctrine of the Incarnation. God, who is completely and radically distinct from the natural universe, and from our own experience, is now “contained,” wholly and completely in the created world in the person of Jesus the man…“a man like us in all things, but sin.” Since it is logically impossible for the infinity of God to be specified in time and place, the incarnation of Jesus as the Son of God is a miracle! This is what Christmas is all about. In the choral music of Handel’s Messiah, Jesus is named: “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.” From the perspective of Christianity, the prophetic writings of the Hebrew Scriptures are linked with the promised Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ. The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the rest of humanity is the binding force that unites us with Christ, and through Christ, we are united in communion with God.
In the language of the Nicene Creed, which we recite together every Sunday, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus becomes a man. The divine person of the Holy Spirit, who spoke through the Prophets, now gives the indelible imprint of holiness to the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” As a result, the Church is now the presence of Jesus in the world…who is the presence of God… and as His Body, carries the same authority to forgive sin. The big danger here is that many Christians have interpreted the promise of Jesus…“and I will be with you always”…in the singular. This gives the impression that the individual believer is the total presence of Christ and carries the total authority of Christ. This is a distortion of the truth and has been the cause of numerous heresies and divisions through the centuries. Since God, in God’s own being, is a community; we the Church are essentially a community as well… individual members, but one Body. All of the sacraments flow out of this understanding and belief. It is not possible to be a Chrisan alone. There must always be two or more gathered, in the power of the name, for the Church to be present.
In our current world, with our heavy emphasis on individualism and the importance of each person’s experience of reality, there is the prevalence of a universal belief that I, myself, am the arbitrator of the truth. In the West, we have come to know this perspective as “secular humanism,” and we have learned the hard way, that in order to live with one another we must adopt an attitude of “cultural relativism,” and accept the perspectives of others as completely valid and equal to our own. However, there is an important difference between accepting and embracing. Many Catholics have embraced the theories and pratices of “cultural relativism” and have consequently succumbed to “moral relativism” as a result. This is why the presence of the Church is so important and our participation in the life of the Church is so essential. We need the Church, and the Church needs us, to be the authentic presence of God in the world that we are meant to be by the commandment of Christ Himself. Keeping our focus on Christ instead of ourselves is the gift we bring to a broken world that longs for the Kingdom of God.