Monday, June 05, 2006

Walking in the Spirit

Since there is so much to celebrate in the feast of Pentecost (as in other great feasts), the Byzantine Churches celebrate the following day as a feast day as well (in addition to the extended post-feast throughout the week). Sometimes it is called “Holy Spirit Monday.” So perhaps today we ought to look not only at the event of Pentecost itself, but at the Person and work of the Holy Spirit—not merely celebrating what happened 2000 years ago, but how that event shapes our lives today, how we are to “walk” (biblical jargon for “live”) in the Holy Spirit.

We know that the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity, consubstantial and co-eternal and co-enthroned (just saw that one in our liturgy) with the Father and the Son. But the Spirit is the Divine Person about whom the least is revealed, for the Spirit’s work is to declare to us what is Christ’s, that is, what is the Father’s (see John 16:13-15). I’m not going to go into the profound, complicated, and controverted doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit and the inner life of the All-holy Trinity. I’m not one of those who profess to know the hidden and incomprehensible mysteries within the Divine Trinity—and who interminably expound on them, even to the point of violent arguments with others who profess to know something different about these same inscrutable mysteries. I’ll simply let God be God on this one and wait until that day when the blinders of earthly passions and limitations are removed.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us some indications of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and in our own souls. Here’s the list:

“The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit:
- 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.”

That’s plenty right there for our meditation, and books could be written to draw out the full truth of all these ways the Holy Spirit is alive and well today. According to this presentation, the Spirit is like the wind, which we know by its effects. Here it is said that we know the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, the Tradition, the Church, in prayer, in the saints, etc. Perhaps it can be reduced to saying that wherever the effect is holiness, in one manifestation or another, the Cause is the Holy Spirit.

But I don’t want to limit the understanding or experience of the Spirit to a cause and effect model. For the Holy Spirit, being a Divine Person, is personal and acts personally in the world and in the temples that He inhabits, that is, our souls and bodies. We are to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 25), to live every moment as a response to his grace and influence. St Paul, in the same chapter just quoted, tells us how not to walk by the Spirit (the list of the “works of the flesh”), and how to walk (the nine-fold “fruit of the Spirit”). The “flesh” must be crucified if we are to be free to walk in the Spirit, following his lead. This freedom is meant not “as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, be servants of one another.” Everything the Catechism lists above is somehow an expression of divine love, working in and through human beings, who are called to love as Jesus loved. The Holy Spirit is Love Personified, for God is love, and whoever lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him, as the Apostle says (1John 4:16).

We ought to continue our prayer to the Holy Spirit for the outpouring of his grace and gifts, and that our hearts may be sufficiently pure and open to receive them and bear much fruit. The feast of Pentecost isn’t over; it is just beginning. The whole Church is in desperate need of a thorough purging, cleansing, enlightening, healing, renewing—in short, the spread of an uncontainable wildfire of holiness, enkindled by the irrepressible Spirit of God. So, pick up the Scriptures, partake of the sacraments, pray, serve those who need you, and thus receive the Holy Spirit. Go on walking in the Spirit, and don’t stop until those heavenly gates welcome you in.