Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pentecost 2006

The Experience of Being Christ Himself: the Work of the Spirit

The text of the second reading from today’s Mass is 1 Cor. 12, 1-16. In a presentation on the nature and function of theology given in Toronto in 1986, then-Cardinal Ratzinger centered on 1 Cor. 12, 12 that reads: “For as the body is one and has many members and all the members of the body, many as they are, form one body, so also is it with Christ.” Ratzinger fixed with astonishment on the epistemological transition working in St. Paul’s understanding of the Church. The obvious analogate to the human body would be the Church as a sociological phenomenon. But Paul does not say, “For as the body is one and has many members, so also is it with the Church." No. Paul says, “For as the body is one and has many members, so also is it with Christ.” The meaning imparted is that the Church is not a sociological phenomenon, but Christ Himself – as His body, He himself being the Head. The body and the head form the “Whole Christ” as a single person with the same form of self-gift.

The coming of the Holy Spirit is the act of “re-creation” into the One Christ. As the Holy Spirit came down on our Lady at the Annunciation, so also He comes down on the Apostles gathered around her giving them the experience of being “other Christs.” This is the experience that Peter speaks from on that first Pentecost.

Benedict XVI: “But let us come at last to the man question. What is the real Christian message of Pentecost? What is this `Holy Spirit’ of which it speaks? The Acts of the Apostles gives us an answer in the form of an image; perhaps there is no other way of doing it, since the reality of the Spirit largely escapes our grasp. As the story is told, the disciples were touched by fiery tongues and found themselves speaking in a manner which some (the `positivists’) regarded as drunken stammering, a meaningless, useless babbling, while others, from all parts of the then known world, each heard the disciples speaking in his own tongue.

“In the background of this text is the Old Testament story of the tower of Babel; the two stories, taken together, provide us with a penetrating insight into the theology of history. The Old Testament account tells us that human beings, their sense of independence augmented by the progress they had made, attempted to build a tower that would reach heaven. That is, they believed that by their own powers of planning and constructing they could even build a bridge to heaven, make heaven accessible to themselves by their own efforts, and turn human beings into gods. The result of their effort was the confusion of tongues. The human race, which sought only itself and looked for salvation in the satisfaction of a ruthless egoism by means of economic power, suffered instead the consequence of egoism, which is the radical hostility of each to his fellows, so that no one can understand anyone else and therefore even egoism inevitably remains unsatisfied.

“The New Testament account of Pentecost picks of these same ideas. It implies the conviction that contemporary mankind is sundered to its very roots; that it is characterized by a superficial coexistence and a hostility which are based on self-divinization. As a result, everything is seen in a false perspective; human beings understand neither God nor the world nor their fellows nor themselves. The `Holy Spirit’ creates such an understanding because he is the Love that flows from the cross or self-renunciation of Jesus Christ.

“We need not attempt here to reflect on the various dogmatic connections that are implied in such a description. For our purpose it is enough to recall the way Augustine tried to sum up the essential point of the Pentecost narrative. World history, he says, is a struggle between two kinds of love: self-love to the point of hatred for God, and love of God to the point of self-renunciation. This second love brings the redemption of the world and the self.

“In my opinion it would already be a giant step forward if during the days of Pentecost we were to turn from the thoughtless use of our leisure to a reflection on our responsibility; if these days were to become the occasion for moving beyond purely rational thinking, beyond the kind of knowledge that issued in planning and can be stored up, to a discovery of `spirit,’ of the responsibility truth brings, and of the values of conscience and love.”

What Happened At Pentecost?

The Apostles received the Person of the Holy Spirit who empowered them – Himself the Personification of the mutual Self-Gift that is the Father and the Son – to make the gift of themselves. John Paul II said:

“In his intimate life, God `is love,’ the essential love shared by three divine persons: personal love is the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Therefore, he `searches even the depths of God,’ as uncreated love-gift. It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine persons, and that through the Holy Spirit God exists in the mode of gift. It is the Holy Spirit who is the personal expression of this self-giving, of this being-love. He is person-love. He is person –gift. Here we have an inexhaustible treasure of the reality and an inexpressible deepening of the concept of person in God, which only divine revelation makes known to us.”[2]

The Result

“There stands Peter before the excited crowd that has gathered around Mark’s house to learn what has happened on this first Pentecost (Act 2, 14). To hear him speak one would think it was an entirely different person. Not only has he become enlightened, courageous, but his attitude towards Jesus is now that of one bearing witness to ultimate truth personally experienced and proclaimed wit h authority. Peter does not speak about Jesus, but from him. Because his relationship to the Lord is different from what it was, he himself is different. The questioning, self-surrendering seeker has become the proclaiming believer. How? Not by reflection, or private experience; not because after days fo confusion and terror he has himself again under control, but because the Holy Spirit prophesied by Christ has literally received 1of what is mine’ and declared it `to you’(John 16, 15).

“How does recognition generally come? Who understands, for example, the mystery at once so vital and so moribund, so powerful and so questionable known as nature? Only he who lives in nature. He who has no immediate contact with her will never grasp her meaning. He may be a master in the natural sciences, of nature herself he will know nothing. Who understands music? He who has music in him. It is the same, only more so, with Christ. Only he can understand Christ who lives in that which comes from Christ.

“Where does Christ come from? What does he live from? From what power does he draw his strength? From the Holy Spirit, by whom he was conceived in a Virgin’s womb, and whose plenitude was poured over him at the baptism in the Jordan (Matt. 3, 16-17). Time and again the mysterious power of the Spirit of God streamed overwhelmingly from Jesus’ words and acts. The same power must also exist in a person, closely linking him to Christ, before he can believe. The Holy Spirit is he who makes faith possible.”

[1] Josef Ratzinger, “Mind, Spirit and Love: A Meditation on Pentecost,” Dogma and Preaching , Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 69-70.
[2] John Paul II, “Dominum et Vivificantem” #10.
[3] Romano Guardini, “The Lord,” Regnery (1950) 436-437.


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