Sunday, May 19, 2013

Who Is the Spirit And Why Does He Matter?

Readings for Sunday, May 19/ Pentecost:Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

As we come to this great feast of Pentecost, the conclusion to the Easter Season, we rejoice at the anniversary of the birth of the Church as the Apostles received the fullness of power from on high as the Holy Spirit descended upon them. While there are many things that could be spoken of, it seems that the most important is the person of the Holy Spirit. Often times in our world today there seems to be a lack of understanding of the Holy Spirit. We all know something of the person and story of Jesus and can conjure up a relatable image of God the Father in our heads. It’s easy then to pray to both of them because we can relate. The problem, though, is that we often struggle to really relate with the Holy Spirit. After all, in the Scriptures alone the Spirit is made manifest in tongues of fire as we hear today, in a breeze on the waters in Genesis, as a dove at Jesus’ baptism, as living water in Jesus’ preaching, and as a defender after Jesus ascends to Heaven. So what to make of all this and how can we relate with it? So we return to our original question: Who is the Holy Spirit? And from there we must ask also why is He important and how do we draw closer to Him?

So Who is the Holy Spirit? We could start with the basics and note that He is the third person of the Trinity – He is God just the same as the Father and Son are God. But even more personally for us, the Nicene Creed reminds us that He is “the Lord, the Giver of Life.” The Giver of Life – that one little statement really sums up the whole personality of the Spirit in relation to the world. The Spirit is life and where He is there is life. From the story of creation and making of Adam, to the ancient prophets pointing toward Jesus, to the Apostles, disciples, and ourselves today, anywhere we see the Spirit we see life. Pope Francis this past week even said that we could simply say that the Spirit is “God active in us.” When we go throughout our days the Spirit dwells in our heart to lead, direct, protect, strength, sustain, encourage, challenge, and enlighten us. It is only because we have the Spirit dwelling in us that we are able to do any good thing.

Now we can see the importance of the Spirit’s presence in our lives – with Him we have the life of God in us. Without Him, though we may be alive in the flesh, our soul is dead. And if our soul is dead we have no hope of eternal life. Sadly, this latter statement describes too many of us. Any of us that commits a mortal sin separates himself from God and the Spirit is not active in him. Skipping Sunday Mass, using pornography, sexual activity outside a blessed marriage, marrying outside the Church, drunkenness, and receiving Holy Communion after committing one of those sins without prior confession, to name a few, are the things that happen all too often and are the direct cause of the Spirit being quenched in our hearts, unable to work because we have rejected Him. And yet we walk around unaware because we can’t see this reality. Like the character played by Bruce Willis in the movie The Sixth Sense from 15 or so years back – he was dead all along but was unaware of it, thinking himself alive and well. For many in our world, and even in our community, the story is the same. We are dead but simply unaware. And when we are dead, we are unable to carry out fully the mission entrusted to us by God. In our second reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, he reminds us that there are “different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit” and that “to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” In short, God created all of us for a purpose and has given us spiritual gifts to help us fulfill that purpose. But if we fail to let God be active in us, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, we cannot fulfill our purpose and we impact not only ourselves but others as well. After all, we are one body in Christ, and if one part suffers that whole thing suffers. So it is important and necessary for us to have the Spirit active in us not only for our good, but for the good of others and the whole Church!

So if the Spirit is so necessary for us, how can we draw closer to Him and let Him be active in our lives? The good news is that we receive the Spirit in Baptism and are sealed with His gifts at Confirmation. But we can’t stop there. In those sacraments He is poured into our souls, if you will, but we must have Him stirred up in us the same as chocolate syrup must be stirred up in a glass of milk to change it. That stirring comes in a number of ways, but the most important is the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Gospel passage today is the first appearance of the Lord Jesus to the disciples after the Resurrection and in that He gives them the Spirit and commends them to begin the ministry of forgiveness. If we have separated ourselves by some mortal sin, then the first place to go is the confessional. We have confession available everyday and we priests are always willing to meet at another time if necessary. That is the first and most important place where the Spirit is stirred up to allow God to become truly active in us. From there we must also be people of prayer. To be able to hear the Spirit speaking we must be people of daily prayer. One particularly effective mode of prayer is to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit and His activity in our lives. There are any number of specific prayers, but picking one of them and praying it regularly is guaranteed to be an effective means of drawing closer to the Spirit and allowing Him to guide us in the journey of faith. After all, it was the Lord Jesus Himself who said “Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it will be opened to you.” Our God is a God of faithfulness and if we make the true effort to seek His face, He will show Himself to us and we will rejoice in Him throughout this life and forever in the next.