Saturday, June 03, 2006

Fire and Water

The account we read in the Acts of the Apostles of the first Pentecost is also the introduction to the first preaching of the gospel by them. It starts by saying that when the day of Pentecost had come the disciples and holy women were all in one place. This is one reason this feast is a considered the inauguration of the mission of the Church—the Spirit was given to the disciples collectively as they gathered together in one place. Pentecost is not the patronal feast of individualistic pietists or quietists.

There was a rushing of wind and a manifestation of fire—reminiscent of the Sinai phenomena that announced the presence of God. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues—this doesn’t mean the apostles got out their guitars and charismatic songbooks and began to sing and pray in tongues. It means they all spoke in languages they hadn’t known before, so that the people from many different nations who had come to Jerusalem for the feast could hear the Gospel of Christ in their own languages. This is a sign that the Gospel is a universal proclamation of repentance unto salvation, that Christ is the only Savior of all mankind.

As the reading from Acts continues, we hear St Peter’s very first homily, the first apostolic preaching of the Gospel. First, he notes that the extraordinary phenomena were manifestations of the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel. This outpouring of the Spirit was in service of this news: Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet and wonderworker, who was crucified, has now risen from the dead, manifesting that He is the Son of God and Savior of the world. He has ascended to the Father’s right hand, and has promised this same Holy Spirit to all who will repent and be baptized. This promise, St Peter said, is for every one whom the Lord our God calls to Himself. That, in a nutshell, is the beginning of the proclamation of the gospel of salvation.

This promise, this offer of the gift of the Spirit is made today as well. We too are called to repent, to open ourselves to the renewal of our baptismal grace, and to receive anew the Gift and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But how do we open ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit? For the answer we have to look to the Gospel that is read in the Byzantine Churches on this day.

“If anyone thirst,” cried Jesus, “let him come to Me and drink… Scripture says that out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). Then the evangelist explains that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit, whom believers would receive after Jesus was glorified. Notice that Jesus’ offer of the Living Water, the Grace of the Holy Spirit, is conditional: “If anyone thirst…” And this is the indispensable condition for receiving the Holy Spirit: You will only receive the Holy Spirit if you thirst for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is given only to those who thirst for Him, who desire to be healed, enlightened, purified, and awakened out of spiritual lethargy and sterility. The grace of God must be as important to us as the very water we need to live; his every word should command our undivided attention; his beauty and glory should draw us like a divine magnet. We have to want to follow Him wholeheartedly.

So the preparation for receiving the Spirit has to be taken to a higher, more personal level. We don’t merely say prayers to prepare; we don’t merely go through certain spiritual or ritual motions so that we can say we’ve done something to prepare for the Spirit. No, we have to be eagerly watching and waiting for the Spirit, longing for that Holy Fire to enkindle our cold hearts, thirsting for that Living Water which alone can bring us to life in God and make the fruit of the Spirit grow in us. By your fruits you shall be known, said the Lord. So this is the way it will be known if you are in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is in you. You will manifest love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you are not manifesting these, or doing so only in a mediocre or sporadic way, then now is the moment to begin thirsting for the Holy Spirit, so that you may receive his grace. This grace comes most powerfully in the Holy Eucharist, the bread and wine which the Spirit transforms into the divinely-energized and life-giving Body and Blood of Jesus Christ the Lord.

When He was dying on the Cross, Jesus said, “I thirst.” He was thirsting for souls as He poured out his precious blood for us. So let us thirst for his precious blood as we pour out our souls in faith and love and longing to be wholly transformed by his grace. No more halfway measures; no more getting by with the minimum; no more mediocrity—the Holy Spirit is ready to make saints out of all those who thirst for the Living Water of his grace. When the Lord Jesus died, pouring out the love, the blood of his heart at the point of a sinner’s lance, He also poured out his Spirit. At the moment of his death, He didn’t merely give up the ghost, as modern translations suggest. The Greek text reads literally: “He handed over the Spirit.” The Scripture isn’t giving a mere euphemism for dying, but is telling us that as Christ forgave our sins by his sacrificial and self-emptying passion and death, He also gave us the means by which—or rather by Whom—we are to live the abundant life He died to give us.

So as we celebrate this great mystery, the completion of the revelation of the All-holy Trinity, the Gift of the grace of new life in Christ, from whose heart Living Waters ceaselessly flow, let us thirst for the Spirit and then come to Him who alone can give this divine Gift. Let us hold nothing back, hide nothing from Him who sees all and loves us still, and who wants to perfect in us his image, unto deification and everlasting joy. Now is the acceptable time and the day of salvation. The Holy Spirit is waiting to descend upon us in flaming, unquenchable love, and a lavish outpouring of grace and enlightenment. Come, Holy Spirit!