PENTECOST SUNDAY (B)
(Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11; Galatians 5:16-25; John 15:26-27; 16:12-15)
Jesus promised His Apostles:
When the Advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, He will testify to Me.
How would the Spirit testify, bear witness, to Jesus with regard to the Apostles?
He, the Spirit of truth, will guide you to all truth; He will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is Mine.
Here we should notice that the Spirit will not speak of Himself, as Jesus explicitly declares:
He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears.
And so we gather that the Spirit will speak to the Apostles about the things Jesus taught and did, as revealed by the Father. Notice also, People of God, how careful Jesus is to confirm the oneness of divine witness by explicitly declaring:
The Spirit will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears. He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is Mine.
Thus there will be no opportunity for individuals in later years to claim private revelations from the Spirit in imitation of pagan oracles and practices in Greek and Roman times: the Spirit leading Mother Church would inspire the Apostles to recall and proclaim, exclusively, all that Jesus had taught in word and deed as revealed by the Father:
He will testify to Me; and you also testify (He will testify so that you also may testify) because you have been with Me from the beginning.
In the Church of Christ, since the Holy Spirit of Truth Himself does not speak on His own authority, most certainly, private individuals cannot do so: the authentic teaching of the Church on faith and morals is divine, both in its authority and, ultimately, in its origin, being the truth about God’s intimate nature, and His Personal will for human life on earth and for mankind’s eternal destiny.
How does the Spirit move the faithful in the Church? Since He guides the Apostles into all truth, correspondingly He guides the faithful in Mother Church to appreciate all truth, clearly recognizing it and lovingly responding to it. And this He does by informing our lives in such a way that we gradually develop an affinity with divine truth and beauty, love and strength. It was of such guidance of the Church by the Spirit that St. Paul spoke in the second reading:
I say then: Live by the Spirit, and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Those words do indeed make living by the Spirit sound most attractive for many modern men and women who do not want to be obliged by any law that might interfere with or intrude upon their personal choice of life style.
On the other hand however, further on in our second reading St. Paul reveals what many consider to be the true, and most objectionable, aspect of his character when he says:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.
Now such crucifying of the flesh does not sound quite so attractive to modern sensitivities! What therefore are we to think of living (walking) by the Spirit which seems first of all to promise freedom from oppressive and constraining law but yet involves us in crucifying the flesh?
I suppose many, perhaps most, nominal Christians in our modern society have shown, by the fact of declining church attendances and the lowering of public morals, that they have, in fact, decided to ignore what they consider a somewhat vague and uncertain promise of spiritual freedom in order to avoid an uncompromisingly physical prospect of moral discipline and observance.
Such a decision is not made easier or more comfortable, however, when those words of Jesus are called to mind:
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matt 11:29-12:1)
And again, St. John tells us in the name of Jesus:
This is the love of God: that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)
It would appear then that either there is some confusion in the Gospel or else many people today are wrong in their understanding of St. Paul whom they regard as being both harsh and unfeeling, indeed even exclusive, as exemplified by what they consider to be his teaching in our second reading today: ‘no one can belong to Christ Jesus unless he crucifies all self-indulgent passions and desires’ … a teaching which many say leads them to reject Christianity.
Perhaps, however, in many cases, that reason is more truly an excuse, proffered by those attempting to justify their rejection -- not of what is impossible, but -- of something they would consider to be unattractive, restrictive or difficult. For St. Paul does not use those exclusive words ‘you cannot belong to Christ Jesus’ and no modern bible attributes such words to Him; in fact he actually says:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
And he follows that up immediately with the words:
If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.
We should, therefore, understand Paul in this way:
Those who are Christ’s, who live by the Spirit and follow the Spirit, have crucified the flesh.
There all of us are afforded hope, because it is by our living and walking in the Spirit, Paul says, that the Spirit will be able to crucify in us and for us ‘the flesh with its passions and desires’; whereby the ultimate aim and purpose of the Christian revelation and life may be attained, which is the supreme glory of God and the salvation of mankind, together with our individual, personal, fulfilment in knowledge of, commitment to, and love for the One God revealed in Himself by Jesus as a Trinity of Persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit, while in us and for us as my Father and yours; the Brother, Lord, and Saviour of each and every one of us; mankind’s Advocate and our individual Comforter and Help. Of course we have to co-operate with the Spirit by following His lead, but that is a far different prospect from having to set about, ‘off our own bat’ or ‘under our own steam’ so to speak, crucifying the flesh. The fact is that we cannot, of ourselves, crucify our flesh in any saving way, for St. Paul himself tells us:
Things done according to the commandments and doctrines of men indeed have (at times) an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but (such practices) are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (Col 2:22-23)
The great fault of lapsing, faint-hearted, Christians today, the great mistake of the critics of Mother Church’s moral teaching today, is the fact that they neglect or ignore the presence -- the active presence and power -- of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We, of ourselves, can do nothing that leads to salvation, and God does not in any way command that we should, of ourselves, try to do anything of that nature. Jesus, the risen and ascended Lord, sends the Spirit promised by the Father to enable us to do what He, Jesus, commands in order that we might be raised up, in Him, ultimately to take our place -- in Him and with Him -- at the right hand of the Father.
The Apostles had received a commission and a command from the risen Lord to proclaim the Good News to the whole world, but they first went back to their fishing, awaiting Jesus’ promise of ‘power from on high’, and only began their task of evangelisation after they had received that Gift of God, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of holiness and power, on His very first outpouring upon the Church, as we heard in the first reading. The Apostles could do nothing until He came into their lives to enable them to live in the power and holiness of the Risen Lord.
People of God, we should, on this wonderful day of celebration and hope, beg the Holy Spirit to come upon us, beseech Jesus to send His Spirit into our lives, ever more and more, for He is, indeed, our strength, our joy, and above all -- being the Bond of Love between Father and Son -- our ‘new-life love’ as St. Paul tells us:
God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)
Now, all activities of whatever sort in the Christian life are to be related to His loving, Personal purpose. And so, first of all we must learn from the Spirit to love Jesus; for, by loving Him we will be enabled, in the Spirit, both to obey His commands with a measure of sweetness and to walk in His ways with due reverence and perseverance. In that way, we will gradually find Him more and more lovable, because of our growing likeness to Him; and thus appreciating Him more we will be able to hear His Spirit speaking ever more intimately in our hearts and guiding us along ways that are increasingly personal to our relationship with Jesus. We will never, of course, desert or set aside the common way of His commandments for all; but experiencing the great delight of finding ourselves growing in intimacy with the Lord and in responsiveness to His Spirit, we will, indeed, gradually become aware of the Person of the Father Himself in our lives. For Jesus did promise that supreme delight and joy as St. John tells us in his Gospel:
Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (14:23)
People of God, this day is the birthday of the Church, it is the day which commemorates and renews the birth of hope in our hearts, purpose and power in our lives: for the Spirit offers us a common goal and an eternal destiny of glory and joy as children of God in the Body of Christ, and such a destiny also promises us an unutterably beautiful personal fulfilment, in Jesus, by the Spirit, with the Father.