“Invoke the Holy Spirit!”
I recently heard these words offered at a symposium on the priesthood and they ring true – not just in the life of the priest but in all of what it means to be Christian and to be Church.
If there is a “theme” in my own spiritual journey over the past few years it is that of a growing awareness of the Holy Spirit and relationship with the Holy Spirit – trust in the Spirit, awareness of the Spirit, crying out to the Holy Spirit, delight in the Holy Spirit, fear of wounding my relationship with the Holy Spirit, awe and wonder at the movement of the Holy Spirit, learning to rejoice in that which the Spirit rejoices in and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead me into truth.
I love the Holy Spirit.
The days between Ascension and Pentecost are a privileged time to receive the Holy Spirit as a welcome guest in our hearts. The words, “welcome guest,” are key here I believe. The Holy Spirit is not an automatic in the life of the Christian and should never be thought of in such a manner. Nor is the Spirit passive. The Holy Spirit chooses and is active. Although the Holy Spirit can and does work through very limited means (I use myself in my priesthood as an example here), the Spirit chooses how to move, where to move and where to abide and in what degree of fullness. The Holy Spirit will not abide in fullness with neither sin nor duplicity.
In grace we must always strive to make of our hearts a worthy place to receive this “welcome guest”. How so? Striving to keep our will and actions sincere, honest, pure and humble. Remaining focused on Christ as Lord and Savior and showing reverence to the image and likeness of God found in every person.
A sure way to experience the withdrawal of the Holy Spirit is to try to use another person in any way, shape or form. This was an abiding sin of the rich man in the parable that our Lord gave us of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus. Even in the torment of afterlife; the unnamed rich man, rather than rejoicing in seeing the poor beggar Lazarus resting now in the bosom of Abraham, wanted to use the very one whom he had ignored and stepped over during his life to be sent on an errand for him to warn his brothers. The rich man is denied. One wonders what would have happened if the rich man had rather said, “I rejoice in seeing Lazarus, whom I now recognize as a brother and who knew such pain in life, now resting in the peace of God’s love.” Some scholars suggest that the sin of Judas (who believed Jesus was the Messiah but who felt Jesus wasn’t acting swift or sure enough in his view) was to try to force the hand of Jesus to show his messiahship, in other words – use him, by handing him over to the authorities. In John’s account of the Last Supper, we are told that Satan enters into the heart of Judas and that he departs into the darkness of night. To use another while neither respecting nor reverencing the image of God in which that person is made is a sin that God will not abide.
In all things, we must continually strive, by avoiding that which grieves the Holy Spirit and doing that which pleases the Holy Spirit, to make of our hearts truly a place of welcome for this most honored of guests!
I want to end this post by sharing a reflection by Cardinal Cantalamessa given in his book, “The Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus’. The quote is long but I share it because these words helped to enliven my heart to a deeper awareness of the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Cantalamessa writes,
But an unbidden question springs to mind: why the long interval between the moments when Jesus received his anointing in the Jordan and when, on the cross and at Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit occurred? And why does St. John the Evangelist say that the Holy Spirit could not be given while Jesus “had not yet been glorified”? St. Irenaeus gives the answer: the Holy Spirit had first to become accustomed to dwelling among human beings; he had, so to speak, to be humanized and historicized in Jesus, so as to be able, one day, to sanctify all human beings from within their human condition while respecting the times and modes of human behavior and suffering. “The Holy Spirit,” he writes, “descended upon the Son of God, made the Son of man, becoming accustomed (adsuescens) in him to dwell and rest among the human race, so as to be able to work the Father’s will in them and renew them from their old habits into the newness of Christ.” Through Jesus, the Spirit is able to make grace “take root” in human nature; in Jesus who has not sinned, the Spirit can “come down and remain” (John 1:33), and get used to staying among us, unlike in the Old Testament where his presence in the world was only occasional. In a sense, the Holy Spirit becomes incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, even if in the case of “becomes incarnate” means something different, i.e., “comes to dwell in a physical body.” “Between us and the Spirit of God,” writes Cabasilas, “there was a double wall of separation: that of nature and that of the will corrupted by evil; the former was taken away by the Savior with his incarnation (and, we may add, with his anointing) and the latter with his crucifixion, since the cross destroyed sin. Both obstacles being removed, nothing further can now impede the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh.”
The same author explains how the wall of separation constituted by nature, that is, by the fact that God is “spirit” and we are “flesh,” came to be removed. The Savior’s human nature, he says, was like an alabaster vessel which in one way contained the fullness of the Spirit, but in another way prevented this perfume from spreading abroad. Only if, by some miracle, the alabaster vessel were itself transformed into perfume would the perfume inside no longer be separated from the outside air and no longer stay shut up in the only vessel to contain it. Now, this was exactly what took place during Jesus’ life on earth: the alabaster vessel, which was the pure human nature of the Savior, was itself changed into perfume; in other words, by virtue of his full and total assent to the Father’s will, the flesh of Christ gradually became spiritualized, until at the resurrection it became “a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44), the “Christ according to the Spirit” (cf. Rom. 1:4). The cross was the moment when the last barrier fell; the alabaster vessel was then shattered, as at the anointing at Bethany, and the Spirit poured out, filling, “the whole house,” that is to say the entire Church, with perfume. The Holy Spirit is the trail of perfume Jesus left behind when he walked the earth! The martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch admirably combines the two moments we have been considering – that of the anointing and that of the outpouring of the Spirit – where he writes: “The Lord received a perfumed (myron) ointment on his head, so that he could breathe incorruptibility on the Church.”
Come, Holy Spirit! Please be our welcome guest!