Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost Homily by Fr. Matthias Neuman, OSB

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Gal 5:16-25; Jn 15:26-27, 16:12-15

At first glance it would seem to be a fair assessment to say that the Holy Spirit played practically no role in my religious upbringing or my learning and understanding of the Catholic faith. (Of course, the Holy Spirit did play a huge roll; I just wasn’t aware of it.) In those days in the 1950s and early 60s not much was said about the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church. For some verification of that I checked in the Baltimore Catechism. The Holy Spirit is never mentioned in the entire booklet. You might say, "Well, we used Holy Ghost back then." Unfortunately the Holy Ghost only appears one time and that’s in the text of the Apostles Creed. No, as far as we Catholics were concerned in those days the Holy Spirit was blissfully inactive.

What happened? Like so many things within the Church the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s was a watershed in a new appreciation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in personal spirituality. In the previous centuries the Western Latin church had placed the Holy Spirit within very narrow confines. About the only place the Spirit worked was through the bishops in the administration of the sacraments and practically nowhere else. But at the Council the Western Latin bishops encountered the Eastern Catholic churches as well as the Orthodox churches; for all these churches the Holy Spirit was front and center in almost everything. They not only challenged the Latin bishops; they had the supporting evidence from church history to back up their own views. The Western Latin bishops had to face up to that. And so a new appreciation of the Holy Spirit began to appear in the Council documents.

For reasons too complicated to explain in a homily, the Western Latin church had emphasized more the Oneness of God, while the Eastern Christian churches stressed more the Trinity and the continual interaction between Father, Son and Spirit. In the Eastern view the whole of the Christian life was understood to be in the Spirit, through Christ the Son, to the Father. Sometimes Eastern church fathers would refer to the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ as the two arms of the Father. Above all Eastern Christians sang the prominence of the Holy Spirit regularly in the celebration of the Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy. God’s Holy Spirit pervades the whole Church.

The Council documents introduced Western Christians to dimensions of the Holy Spirit they had never heard of. One of the most powerful passages is in the Constitution on the Church: "It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the People, leads them and enriches them with His virtues. Alloting His gifts as he wills, the Spirit also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. ... Whether these charisms be remarkable....or more simple they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation."(# 12) With those words the bishops affirmed that the Holy Spirit acts directly in every believer in the Church. These were shocking words to Latin Christians, but just taken for granted among Eastern Christians.

I personally like that image of the Son and Spirit as two arms of the Father. The Son in Jesus Christ shows us the mystery of God in an external way that we can relate to with our senses; we can see, hear and relate to Jesus of Nazareth. The Spirit is the Mystery of God within us internally, bubbling to the surface in gifts and charisms, transforming us from the inside out. One of the Church Fathers favorite sayings was that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. If so, then God’s Holy Spirit is in the soul of each one of us. Let’s celebrate that this feast of Pentecost!

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