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Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Whit-Sunday (B) Pentecost 2018


 (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 was the Spirit to 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.

Notice, People of God, how careful Jesus is to confirm the oneness of divine witness: the Spirit of Truth will not speak of Himself but, taking from what the Father has, He will glorify Jesus:

He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears; He will glorify Me, because 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 and subsequent ages to claim personal and 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 all and only what Jesus had taught them in word and deed, and whatever the Father would reveal.  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 Mother Church on faith and morals is divine, both in its authority and, ultimately, in its origin, being the mysterious truth about God’s intimate nature, and His divine will for the progress and fulfilment of human life on earth and for mankind’s eternal destiny:  it is something to be received most gratefully as an incomparable pearl of great price; to be admired beyond all ordinary human measure, and indeed, to be adored and  treasured more than life itself, never in any way to be polluted for human pride or earthly satisfactions of whatever sort.

How does the Spirit move the faithful in the Church?  Since He guides the Apostles into all truth, correspondingly, He guides those who are faithful in Mother Church to appreciate all truth, by both learning to recognize it and lovingly respond to it.  This He does by informing our obedient lives in such a way that we gradually develop an affinity with divine truth, able to rejoice ever more and more in its beauty and draw ever greater strength from its truth.   It was of such guidance of the Church by the Spirit that St. Paul spoke in the second reading:

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.   If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Those words might indeed make ‘walking in the Spirit’ sound most attractive for modern men and women who do not want to be obliged to live under any law.  But yet, on the other hand, another part of our second reading from St. Paul tells us:

            Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Now, that ‘crucifying the flesh’ does not sound quite so attractive for modern ears!  What therefore are half-hearted inquirers and faltering Catholics to think about ‘walking in the Spirit’ if it seems both to promise freedom from oppressive and constraining law while yet involving them in a crucifying of the flesh?  I suppose many, perhaps most, nominal Catholics and Christians in our modern society have already 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 freedom …  If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law … in order to avoid a definite and uncompromising prospect of moral discipline and religious observance … Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Such a decision, however, is not made easier or less regretful when these words of Jesus Himself are called to mind (Matthew 11:29-12:1):

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;  

or again when 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 seem then, that either there is some confusion in the Gospel or else many people today are wrong in their understanding of St. Paul, personally chosen and sent by the Risen Lord  Jesus to suffer and serve as Doctor of the Nations and Apostle of the Gentiles, yet commonly regarded as being harsh, unfeeling, and 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.

However, in most cases, that pseudo-reason is more truly to be regarded as an excuse attempting to justify their rejection, not of what is impossible, but of whatever they fear they would find too restrictive and less pleasurable.  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 are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

And he follows that immediately with the words:

            If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

We should, therefore, understand Paul in this way:

Those who are Christ’s, who live by the Spirit and walk in the Spirit, have crucified the flesh.

There all of us are afforded hope, since it is by our living and walking in the Spirit, Paul says, that the Spirit will crucify for us ‘the flesh with its passions and desires’.  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 one’s own bat so to speak, crucifying our human flesh.  For the fact is that, of ourselves, we cannot crucify our flesh in any saving way, as 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. (Colossians 2:22-23)

The great fault of lapsing, faint-hearted, Catholics and Christians today, the great mistake of the voluble critics of Mother Church’s moral teaching today, is the fact that they neglect, indeed they know nothing about, the presence, the active presence and power, of the Holy Spirit of Truth and Love in the lives of Jesus’ true disciples and faithful children of Mother Church today.

We, of ourselves, can do nothing that leads to salvation, and God does not in any way command that we should presume -- of ourselves -- to try to do anything of that nature.  Jesus, the Risen and Ascended Lord, sends the Spirit from the Father precisely to enable us to do what He commands in order that we might be raised up, in Him, to ultimately take our place, in Him and with Him, at the right hand of the Father. 

This is exemplified for us by the Apostles who had received a commission and a command from the risen Jesus to proclaim His Good News to the whole world, but they first went back to their fishing, awaiting Jesus’ promised Power from on High, only beginning 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 themselves could do nothing until He, the Gift of God, came into their lives, enabling them to live in the power and holiness of the Risen Lord Jesus for the glorification of His name: He will glorify Me.

People of God, we should -- on this wonderful day of celebration and hope -- beg the Holy Spirit to come down upon us; we should whole-heartedly beseech Jesus to send His most Holy Spirit from heaven into our lives ever more and more, for He alone is our sure strength and our true joy in this shallow world of promises cum lies and disillusionment, of beauty cum emptiness and dismay.

First of all, we need to learn from the Spirit how to love Jesus aright; for, only by truly loving Him and not ourselves will we be enabled -- in the Spirit -- both to obey His commands with a measure of sweetness, and to walk in His ways with due perseverance.   In that way, we will gradually find Jesus more and more truly lovable, because of our growing conformity, likeness, to Him; and thus, appreciating Him more, we will be able to hear more clearly His Spirit speaking intimately in our hearts and guiding us along ways that are increasingly personal to our relationship with Jesus.  We will, of course never be led to desert the common way of His commandments for all, but we will also have the great delight of finding ourselves growing in personal intimacy with the Lord and heart-felt responsiveness to His Spirit.  Indeed, we will gradually become aware of the presence of the Father Himself in our lives, for Jesus did indeed promise that supreme delight and joy as St. John (14:23) tells us:

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.

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 and of 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 our very own Lord and Saviour, and such a destiny also promises us an unutterably beautiful personal fulfilment in Jesus by the Spirit, for ultimate glory of Him Who is the Father, Lord of heaven and earth (Luke 10:21).