Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

The Spirit Works in Green Time

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Green is the liturgy’s color for ordinary time. Not white, the bright light of Eastertime, or red the color of blood and fire. or purple the color of penance. Green is earth’s color, color of slow growing trees and grasses, of ordinary time.

An unknown 4th century spiritual writer describes the ordinary ways the Holy Spirit works in us. “In varied and different ways” invisible grace leads us. Ordinary time doesn’t mean that every day’s the same.  Sometimes we find ourselves sad at the state of things; sometimes we joyfully hold the whole world in our arms. Sometimes we feel helpless; sometimes we think there’s nothing we can’t do. Sometimes we’re brave; sometimes we escape into the supposed safety of ourselves looking for peace.

“… The soul becomes like any other human being.” Which means, I guess, that we don’t feel spiritual at all.

Far from taking us away from the human condition, the Spirit leads us by human steps in human time. Ordinary time is the natural roller-coaster of life, all right, but the Spirit leads us on.

That’s why the psalms are such wonderful prayers. They’re the great prayers of ordinary time. They take us from one human experience to another. If you don’t experience what a certain psalm describes, wait awhile–you will.

Green is the Season

Green is the season after Pentecost.
The Holy Ghost in an abstracted place
spreads out the languid summer of His peace,
unrolls His hot July.
O leaves of love, O chlorophyll of grace.
Native to all is this contemplative summer.
The soul that finds its way through Pentecost
knows this green solitude at once as homeland.
Only the heart, earth held and time engrossed,
dazed by this unforeknown and blossoming nowhere,
troubles itself with adjectives like “lost.”

Jessica Powers, 1954

Paul’s Conversion: January 25th

Caravaggio, Conversion of Paul

Saints are examples of how far we can rise, from the depths to the heights. Today the church celebrates the Conversion of St. Paul, who never forgot that God’s grace raised him from the dust to become  a powerful force in his church and in the world.

The dramatic conversion of Paul is recalled in today’s first reading at Mass from the Acts of the Apostles. Luke describes this event three times, a way of acknowledging Paul’s special  role in the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome.

 Paul’s conversion and ministry was a work of God, who used the apostle for his own divine purposes. It’s not Paul’s genius or imagination that achieved so much. God’s grace brought him to the ground on his way to Damascus and God’s grace sent him on his mission.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Jesus says to him. From that meeting Paul gained the conviction that faith is a gift that justifies us and that the church is the body of Christ. He did not come to those beliefs on his own.

Paul’s great conversion story in Acts leads to the conversion of the gentiles. Paul has a prominent part in these stories; he’s  an agent whom God sends and constantly empowers. But he never forgot the moment he was blinded by a light that made him see.  

“Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue a human being is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardour and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead. When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them… ” ( St. John Chrysostom)                                                                                             

Like a Dove

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The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism in the form of a dove, the gospels say. Scholars like Luke Timothy Johnson in his commentary on St. Luke’s gospel seem puzzled by the description. What’s the explanation?  “Such is the nature of symbols–all are possible,” Johnson writes.

May I hazard an explanation? Doves are regular visitors at my window and at our bird-feeder outside. I notice how confident and unafraid they seem to be, so different from the nervous sparrows flitting from place to place. As far as I can see, the doves are without the usual signs of power, sharp talons and strong wings. What’s their secret?

St. Gregory of Nyssa seems to point to a fearless love in his Commentary on the Song of Songs:

“When love has entirely cast out fear, and fear has been transformed into love, then the unity brought by our Savior will be realized, for all will be united with one another through their union with the supreme Good. They will possess the perfection ascribed to the dove, according to our interpretation of the text “one alone is my dove, my perfect one.”

A fearless, humble love, unafraid of chaos, brings peace. Is that why Noah chose the dove to go into the world engulfed by the flood and not a lion or an eagle? Such is the nature of symbols–all explanations are possible. We could use that kind of fearlessness today, couldn’t we?

Behind the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica in Rome, the artist Bernini created a beautiful alabaster window where a steady light pours into the dark church through the image of the Holy Spirit, in the hovering form of a dove. Light is also a favorite sign of the Holy Spirit.

Day by day, the light comes quietly through the window. Day by day, the Holy Spirit dispenses light for the moment, graces for the world that is now. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit dwells with us, his final gift.

The Feast of Pentecost is this Sunday.

The Spring Rains Come

 April showers. Spring rains.

Cyril of Jerusalem has a wonderful sermon on water that he preached to catechumens centuries ago. Here are a couple of lines:

“Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.”

The saint goes on to say that just as water adapts itself to every creature, the Holy Spirit gives life to each one according to its needs and to benefit the common good. The Spirit’s coming is gentle, not felt as a burden, with tenderness, as a true friend, to save, heal, counsel, strengthen and console.

So back to spring rains. Will they come this year?  The magnolia trees outside my room testify they’ve come, and the other trees and plants in our garden testify too. The rain falling on the earth does what it always does. Like the Spirit of God, water brings life.

And it brings life to all the varied plants, all shapes, all sizes, even some we might think useless or poisonous. Might we learn from the spring rains?

Send the spring rains, Lord, on our varied earth and human family.

Children of the Father

Mosaic of the Sermon on the Mount (Ravenna, Italy)

23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Luke 6:27-38

Jesus said to his disciples: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.”

The Father sent his Son into the world to transform it by union with himself, energizing the very dust of the cosmos with the breath of the Holy Spirit. The second person of the Trinity became an individual among individuals to lead us beyond the empirical boundaries of individuation to the authentic freedom of personhood. 

Christ’s forgiveness of his enemies from the Cross tore down dividing walls and invited reconciliation with himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Love overcame the fear of death, for other persons were his very life. Jesus’ whole being cried out for the restoration of a divided, ego-centered humanity. 

The permeable communion of persons in communion infinitely surpasses the society of bounded egos. One’s own good and the good of others is one and the same good. Persons conceived in the Womb of the Father are selfless like himself and good “to the bone.” When we see other persons as one with us in the same Immaculate Womb, “enemies” become children of the Father. 

The Holy Spirit alone can divinize our nature so that love becomes first nature and first impulse. Confidence in the Holy Spirit’s transforming power is a first step to cooperating with divine grace.

-GMC

The Law Incarnate

Divine Mercy Icon

22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Luke 6:1-5

While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath, his disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. Some Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Have you not read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry? How he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering, which only the priests could lawfully eat, ate of it, and shared it with his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

With hawk-eyed precision, the restless experts in the law spent their Sabbath “rest” measuring the Immeasurable and his disciples. Walking through a field was unobjectionable, but picking, rubbing, and eating grain amounted to the forbidden labor of reaping, threshing, winnowing, and meal preparation on the Sabbath.

David, Jesus pointed out, received divine sanction to consume the holy bread of the tabernacle and share it with his starving companions (I Samuel 21:1-6). Not one iota of the law was transgressed, for mercy is the spirit of the law. Without mercy, the letter of the law is dead (Hosea 6:6). 

Jesus, the giver of the Sabbath, could not contradict himself by transgressing the law. By his merciful actions on the Sabbath, he demonstrated the heart and spirit of the law. What appeared to be transgression was the fulfillment of the law. 

“For the just man there is no law, he is a law unto himself,” St. John of the Cross discovered in his mystical Ascent of Mount Carmel. The deified person no longer operates on the earthly plane alone, but moves in synergy with the Holy Spirit. Divine and human action are virtually indistinguishable at the top of the mount, where self-emptying and detachment have given way to radical transformation by divine grace. 

As long as the law remains external, it judges and condemns persons. But when “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” true freedom becomes possible (Galatians 2:20). Deification is complete identification with the law who is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

“The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath,” declared Jesus, the Law Incarnate and gate to the deification of humankind. The person who has become one with the law “can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone” (I Corinthians 2:15).

-GMC

Related post: Another Point of View

Kingdom of the Little Ones

Fra Angelico, Coronazione delle Vergine (1435)

Deuteronomy 7:6-11, 1 John 4:7-16, Matthew 11:25-30

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

“God is Love.”

Like an owl squinting in sunlight, the eyes of humankind open gradually to the truth of who we are as a people and who God is. “You are a people sacred to the Lord,” Moses told the Israelites. Bending to the weakness of human mistrust, God made an “oath,” a covenant with his people, though Jesus would later exhort them not to swear at all. No gap lies between a divine word and its fulfillment, after all. The oath was for Israel, not for God.

The engagement between God and his people was also very fuzzy, like a picture out of focus. The “I AM” of the burning bush was personal, but faceless. “No one has ever seen God,” and yet, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said (John 1:18; 14:9). 

The identity of the mysterious YHWH began to focus a little bit more as Jesus shared with his disciples the heart of the Father, and promised to send them the Advocate, the Spirit of truth. 

As God’s identity was revealed, Israel’s began to sharpen into some clarity. God is not only One, but Three. Israel, the precursor of the Church, is not only a people, but persons. 

Moses consecrated Israel as a “sacred people,” a nation set apart. The Holy Spirit consecrated the disciples as unique persons when he descended upon each one with a distinct tongue of fire.

“Love” is not an abstraction, but a concrete reality with concrete faces—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each unique person baptized by the Spirit in one Body of Christ. The finite and the infinite, the created and the uncreated are united in communion in a way beyond conceptual grasp.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Anne, St. Joachim, the Holy Innocents, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. John, St. James (son of Zebedee), St. James (son of Alpheus), St. Andrew, St. Philip, St. Bartholomew, St. Thomas, St. Matthew, St. Simon, St. Jude, St. Matthias, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Paul, St. Barnabas, St. Timothy, St. Titus, St. Priscilla, St. Aquila and all the saints to the present day each shine with unique splendor in heavenly communion.

The eternally young, ever-begotten Son of the Father who became the microscopically small son of Mary with a tiny beating heart invites us to become little with him. Mysteries that elude the “wise and the learned” are revealed to “little ones.” 

-GMC

A Summary of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

When the Holy Spirit descends,
Fearful fishermen
Become fearless preachers.
Tongues of fire
Replace the babble of Babel,
Uniting in Christ
What Adam fragmentized.

No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,”
Except by the Spirit,
And it is the Spirit who cries out,
“Abba, Father!”

One Spirit,
Many gifts.
One Body,
Many parts.
One Christ,
Many brethren.
One Father, 
Many children.
One communion,
Many persons.

Locked doors 
And fearful hearts
Cannot bar Love
With pierced hands and side
Bringing peace, joy,
And life eternal.

“As the Father has sent me,
So I send you.”
With the breath of the Spirit
Bring back to life
Those dead in sin.
With the power of the keys
Comes great responsibilities.

-GMC

The Eyes of the Heart

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Acts 1:1-11, Ephesians 1:17-23,  Matthew 28:16-20

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Both at the empty tomb and at the Ascension in Luke’s writings, two men dressed in white suddenly appear and ask, “Why?” Heaven seems to be amused in these scenarios. 

Jesus defies death and now gravity as well. In the forty days between these two astonishing events he also popped in and out of spaces, walked through walls, and effected a miraculous catch of fish. In the face of such wonders, it is rather amusing that the disciples’ parting words are, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

With infinite patience Jesus redirects them to the source of true power and authority. In the space of a novena, they will receive “the promise of the Father” when the Holy Spirit will come upon them, giving them grace and strength to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” 

The fire of the Holy Spirit is necessary because seeing is not always believing. In the Gospel of Matthew today, the eleven disciples gathered at the mountain in Galilee saw Jesus but doubted

Empirical evidence is apparently weak when it comes to matters of the spirit. Spirit must ignite spirit to open the eyes of the heart. 

“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,” St. Paul prays for the Ephesians, “that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call…”

Jesus will return in the same way as he ascended, we are told by the heavenly visitors. They leave us in suspense.

-GMC

One Day at a Time

6th Week of Easter, Wednesday

John 16:12-15

“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”

With the coming of the Messiah, Israel has been stretched far beyond its comfort zone. What words can express the mystery of God’s hidden, inner communion now being manifested to the chosen people? 

The “Spirit of truth… will take from what is mine and declare it to you… Everything that the Father has is mine.” In these enigmatic statements, Jesus intimates that the Three Divine Persons are of one mind. The truth that the Spirit imparts is one and the same truth possessed by the Father and the Son.

Thus, the Spirit “will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.”

All time is present to the Spirit, for whom a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The new Israel, like the old, will continue its pilgrimage with the Lord one day at a time. With the gentle and patient guidance of the Holy Spirit, the mysteries possessed by the Triune Lord will be revealed in gradual steps. 

-GMC