Sunday, 8 June 2014

'The Great Unknown' or 'The Great Friend'? Pentecost, Shaftesbury

Today we keep the feast of Pentecost, when we recall how the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles in the Upper Room.
To a lot of us, however, the Holy Spirit can seem a little vague. As Pope Benedict put it in 2007, "There are many Christians for whom he [the Holy Spirit] remains the 'great unknown.’” This echoed a sermon of the same title by St Josemaria Escriva (in the mid-20th century).

Let me make a comparison with the other two persons of the Trinity:
If we ask, “What is Jesus like?” We can turn to the Gospels to see Him described. We see Him acting, hear Him feeling things etc
If we ask, “What is the Father like?” We can, by extension, know what He looks like too. Not because He is seen in Himself, for “No one has seen the Father” (Jn 6:46), but because He is seen in His Son Jesus Christ, who is the “image” of the Father (c.f. Col 1:15; Jn 1:18; Jn 14:9, 2 Cor 4:4).
But, if we ask, “What is the Holy Spirit like?” It would be very understandable for someone to say, He’s “the Great Unknown”!

And yet, St Josemaria also taught that, while He seems unknown to many, He is, in truth, “The Great Friend”.
How is He our “friend”? By all that He DOES for us.
Think about it this way:
We can answer the question, “What is the Holy Spirit like?” by pointing to what He does:
He CHANGES us –just as He changed the Apostles from timid men hiding in the Upper Room to BOLD men who rushed out and preached, and added three thousand to the numbers of believers that very day (Acts 2:41).
More generally, we can consider what the Holy Spirit does by saying:
He sanctifies us;
He conforms us to the image of Christ the Son (2 Cor 3:18);
He gives us the power to do what we cannot do alone.


He DOES things. Now, I need to clarify this slightly and acknowledge that all divine action is “the common work of [all] the three divine persons”, with the one divine nature having one operation. And yet, Scripture and tradition ‘appropriate’ certain particular activities to certain persons of the Trinity (Summa Theologica I q 37 a7), with “each divine person performing the common work according to his unique personal property” (CCC 258). And we can see a lot that is ‘attributed’ to the Holy Spirit:
Consider the sacraments: It is by HIS action that the sacraments are effective:
In the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest stretches out his hands over the bread and wine, a gesture CALLING down the Holy Spirit in ‘the epiclesis’, to change bread and wine into Jesus’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Similarly, in Confession, the priest stretches out His hand as His says the words of absolution –so that by the Divine power forgiveness is effected.
The Holy Spirit DOES things!

How else does He “do”?
He is the one who apportions different gifts to the different members of Christ’s Body (c.f. 1 Cor 12:3-13 -second reading of the morning Mass);
He is the one who gives the ‘7 Gifts’ of the Holy Spirit –empowering us to do what we cannot do alone.

To conclude, a good friend seeks our good, our well-being. The Holy Spirit is “The GREAT Friend” because He seeks that ULTIMATE good for us -to make us like unto God.
And, if we would have Him be not ‘The Great Unknown” but “The Great Friend” then, very simply, we need to relate to Him, talk to Him, pray to Him, call upon Him, “Come Holy Spirit..” –a prayer to be on our lips all year!

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