Saturday, June 11, 2011

Vigil of Pentecost

Acts 19:1-8 / John 14:15-21

Quite a few years ago, I taught a course at the University of Notre Dame, and one day a young men in the class approached me to ask why we should believe that what the Scriptures said about Jesus was true. He asked, I could see, not so much as a challenge nor as a protest, nor for that matter out of idle curiosity. He was a believer, but was beginning to wonder, now that he was being exposed in his studies to views and claims quite contrary to his own, whether what he had taken to be true really was as he thought it to be. When I told him that the New Testament was written either by the Apostles themselves who had walked with and been taught by Jesus, or at least recorded what these same Apostles had handed on to the communities they had founded, the young man was not satisfied. Why is it, he wanted to know, that we should trust the Apostles? Suppose they had misunderstood Jesus? Suppose that had gotten him and his message wrong?

In reply, I told the student that the Holy Spirit had descended upon them, the Paraclete, the Comforter whom Jesus had promised at the Last Supper. This Spirit, as Jesus promised, reminded them of all he had taught them and brought them to the fulness of truth, and because we share in baptism by this same Spirit, we too can recognize by faith that the Apostles and their successors give a faithful witness to Jesus. We have, with the Spirit as our friend, a supernatural motive, the grace of God, which permits us to give credence to what the world could only regard as credulity: that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh, that he died upon the Cross, and in that death we were freed from our sins, and rising on the third day to everlasting life, he opened the way to all who would believe and receive the Holy Spirit to be conformed not only to his death, but also to his endless life of glory and joy in the Kingdom of God. The young man paused, and he looked at once relieved and amazed. It was as though he had never heard this before, and yet it was to him the answer he had long hoped to be true, namely that his faith was neither a leap in the dark nor was it up to him alone. He believed because God was within him.

We often find ourselves tasked with defending the Christian faith in the public square, and occasionally even to our fellow Christians. In this, of course, we stand in a holy tradition with the likes of St Paul, who, arriving in Ephesus, spoke boldly for the space of three months, disputing, and exhorting concerning the kingdom of God to those in the synagogue. Disputation and exhortation, then, are noble and proper tasks. All the same, we ought to remember the sober reminder of Jesus that the Spirit of truth, the Paraclete whom he sent to abide with us for ever, is such that the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, nor knoweth Him. That we shall know Him, on the other hand, comes neither from any special merit of ours nor from some keen and able insight nor from some arbitrary leap in the dark. Indeed, it does not come from us at all. We are able to know the Spirit because He shall abide with us and shall be in us.

This is why our evangelization, our apologetics, our public disputation and exhortation concerning the Kingdom of God must always be tempered with a special kind of humility. As the basis of our confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ arises from nothing other than the personal presence of the Spirit of the same Christ dwelling within us, we know that only insofar as we introduce others to our divine Friend and Comforter do we offer them a motive to know as we know, to see as we see, to believe as we believe. If the world does not see Christ risen from the dead even today, this is because it has not been made alive by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit: Yet a little while, and the world seeth Me no more. But you see Me: because I live, and you shall live.

If, then, we want to invite others to embrace the Friendship of the Holy Spirit, if we, like Paul, would speak convincingly to those who have not so much as heard whether there be a Holy Ghost, then we need to live out, clearly, publicly, unambiguously, the kind of life to which the Spirit's friendship has called us. We must, in other words, keep the commandments we have received from Jesus Christ, and chief among these is the commandment of love. It is in our love of the brethren in the faith, it is our love in the face of opposition, indifference, or scorn, it is our love seen in unconquerable joy even in the face of a society determined to reshape itself in ways alien and hostile to the Gospel, and most of all it is our love of those to whom we witness and from whom we seek nothing apart from offering them a share in the life we have in the Spirit of the risen Christ, that will not only manifest the Gospel to the world, but will open our eyes to the love we are called to share in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

Send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth. May the glory of the Lord endure for ever, alleluia!

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