Saturday, May 22, 2010


The word spirit occurs hundreds of times in the Bible. On the other hand, Holy Spirit occurs only two times in the Old Testament, although Spirit (of God) certainly recurs there often. The Holy Spirit, as a distinct person, does not come clearly into focus until after the resurrection of Jesus.

Pentecost was originally an Old Testament Jewish celebration, but it was transformed in Christian history when the Holy Spirit came in the special way promised by Jesus. Today we think of Pentecost as the visible birth of the Church.... but do we comprehend what the coming of the Holy Spirit means for us?

When God first created Man he had a specific intention. We find this in the creation story where the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Gen 2:7). The Hebrew word for “breath” is also the word for “spirit.” The subsequent development of the Scriptures shows that, for the human creation, this breath was not merely physical life. God made Man in his image, and the primary way he did that was through the interface of his Spirit with the human spirit. Humans were made to be "alive" in a far different capacity than we can observe today.

Have you ever seen an alcoholic horse? [It could be that some perverted human has abused an animal this way.] Have you ever seen a dog sauntering down the street smoking a cigarette? Do you ever watch geese migrate south in the fall and then north in the spring? Do animals need umpteen sex manuals to tell them how to propagate? The point here is instinct, at least for the animals, and the lack of it for humans. Animals instinctively know what to do to survive; it would not occur to them merely to do something for a "buzz," the way we humans try to get meaning and purpose out of things never intended for that purpose. In contrast to what we call animal instinct, the "control mechanism” for humans was meant to be the life of God's Spirit within us. God's Spirit in us would have been true life, guiding us to true pleasure in a context of real meaning. God's intention for humanity was true life through his indwelling Spirit.

Obviously something went wrong. The man and woman disobeyed, they stepped outside the control of God's Spirit. If that was the end of the story there would be no preaching of the gospel.... no good news.... no hope for humanity cut off from God's Spirit and his presence. But God chose to love his human creation anyway, to work on our behalf and bring us back to the relationship he originally intended.

The way God did it ― the way his Spirit again came to be fully present on this earth ― was through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the bearer of the Spirit. The Lord Jesus Christ is

the one person on earth who has totally and perfectly borne the Spirit of God. As Jesus ministered on earth, he did so "in the Spirit."

But Jesus was not only the bearer of the Spirit, he came to be the releaser of the Spirit so that people could have the kind of relationship with God that was intended from the beginning. Jesus first had to bring the Spirit, and then make a way for the Spirit to take residence in human beings. Here is what Jesus told his disciples before his death and resurrection: I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever ― the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you (Jn 14:16,17).

How does this happen? It is a gracious act of God that in our baptism Jesus’ death becomes our death and his resurrection becomes our resurrection so that our sins are forgiven and we are “made spiritually alive” (regenerated). But it is also meant to happen in us experientially, and we find this in Romans 8 where the attention is on the role of the Holy Spirit, the Father’s agent, in joining us to Christ. St. Paul says that if we do not have the Spirit of Christ (another term for the Holy Spirit), then we do not belong to Jesus. One way to think of this is: What the Father does he does through the Son, and what the Son does he does through the Spirit.

The life of the Spirit must be nurtured. It is like a tender plant that needs just the right amount of sun and water and nutrients. Like a plant, it can be starved by neglect, choked to death by weeds, or over-exposed to deadly forces. This is one way to understand our need to feed on the Eucharist, our need for personal prayer and Bible study (and even spiritual direction), as well as the sacrament of reconciliation. Like a plant, we need to be both nurtured and cleansed of weeds and parasites. And like a healthy plant, the Holy Spirit flourishes in us when we welcome him. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the only way we can produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22).

In our celebration of Pentecost we are reminded that God gives us his Spirit through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the way we are alive to God. The Holy Spirit is the way we discern right and wrong. The Holy Spirit is our source of power to obey Jesus. The Holy Spirit is meant to function as our spiritual “instinct.”

Are you giving the proper care to the life of the Spirit that is God’s gift to you? How we respond affects our eternal salvation.

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