TUESDAY HOMILY: Better than Jesus?
Jesus' shocking words in today's Gospel about the importance of the Holy Spirit should impress all Catholics with a desire to live more according to the Holy Spirit in this Year of Faith. .
Jesus is basically saying that if we have a choice between Him and the Holy Spirit, we should choose the latter. That's how important he says the Holy Spirit is.
The great joy is that we don't have to have to choose between the two! But it is crucial for us during this Year of Faith to ponder the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life and to examine whether we're docile to the help He wants to give us to live by faith.
The reality, however, is that the Holy Spirit remains the "great unknown" not just in the life of the faithful as a whole, but also in the life of Church communicators.
There's a well-known scene in the Acts of the Apostles when St. Paul came to Ephesus and met some disciples. He asked, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?" They responded, "We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
Pope-emeritus Benedict, at World Youth Day in Australia in 2008, said, "The Holy Spirit has been in some ways the neglected person of the Blessed Trinity," and confessed that it was only as a young priest teaching theology that he began not only to recognize the importance that the Holy Spirit should play in his life as a priest and professor but that he came to know him intimately.
He added, "It is not enough to know the Spirit; we must welcome Him as the guide of our souls, as the 'Teacher of the interior life' who introduces us to the Mystery of the Trinity, because He alone can open us up to faith and allow us to live it each day to the full."
If we wish to understand the faith, if we wish to live it, if we wish to pass it on, we must allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, even if we, like Joseph Ratzinger, are beginning as adults. For us, the "great unknown" must become the "great known," the teacher, the leader, the consoler, the advocate.
The importance of the Holy Spirit in our life as Catholics cannot be overstated. Jesus tells us this in today's Gospel when he emphasized that it was good that he left us because in comparison with the gift of His presence, the gift of the Holy Spirit's presence in our life is more important. That's how crucial the Holy Spirit is meant to be in our life as disciples and apostles. Benedict told the Church down under, "The Holy Spirit is the highest gift of God to humankind."
As Catholics, how should we be seeking to grow in our docility to this highest gift of God?
The first is in our prayer. St. Paul tells us, "The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray. He does this not principally by putting words in our minds and mouths to say, but changing who we are as we pray, helping us to be conscious of our reality as sons and daughters so that we can cry out "Abba, Father!" "Daddy!"
Second, we also need to be guided by the Holy Spirit in our speaking about and giving witness to the faith.
Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit he would send would teach us all things, lead us to all truth, remind us of everything he had taught us, and prove the world wrong about sin, holiness and judgment. He had said that when we are dragged before governors, and synagogues and courts, or into television and radio studios and into debates, or before cantankerous relatives or coworkers, "Do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given to you in that hour, for it is not you who pray but the Holy Spirit."
We see the miracle that occurred in the life of the apostles with the help of the Holy Spirit. The same apostles who 53 days before Pentecost had left the Upper Room only to scatter like frightened children in the Garden now left the same Upper Room to gather God's children together for Christ. The same Peter who denied even knowing Jesus in order to keep himself warm by the courtyard fire, was now on fire confessing that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of the Living God. The disciples who were too ashamed to appear at the foot of the Cross now boldly and proudly proclaimed God's love seen by Christ's death on that Cross. It was the Holy Spirit that had effected the transformation from apostates to apostles, from cowards to courageous witnesses, from chickens to shepherds.
The Holy Spirit wants to work that same inner transformation in all of us.
Third, the Holy Spirit wants to help us to live according to the Holy Spirit. This is the definition of a Christian life of faith. St. Paul in his letters to the Romans and Galatians contrasts the life according to the Spirit and the life according to the flesh. That's the biggest choice we make in life.
The Holy Spirit wants to help us to seek the things of the Spirit, what God wants, rather than worldly desires. He wants to help us walk by the Spirit by strengthening us to crucify our flesh with its passions and desires so that we may be able to be other Christs. That is authentic Christian "spirituality."
One means by the Holy Spirit does this is through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, by which the Holy Spirit helps us in the concrete circumstances of our daily life to act in conformity with what God wants and others need.
The gift of wisdom helps us to evaluate all things in the light of the truth, from God's own perspective, so that in seeing things clearly, we may help others to see.
The gift of knowledge helps us to come to know not only the truths of the faith but other truths, to remember them, to recall what the Lord Jesus, the great saints, said or did.
The gift of understanding fosters in us a deeper insight into the truth, so that, in seeing the connections between things, we can stimulate others to enter into the real, real world.
The gift of counsel or prudence helps us to order our path toward the good and to choose among various goods, and to help others to do the same.
The gift of courage sustains us in hardship, helping us to move onward despite our natural human fears and to be bold because of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It helps us to grasp that the victory has been won and we are the heralds of the one who has conquered even sin and death and therefore have nothing to fear in trying to bring to people the medicine of immortality.
The gift of reverence revives in us the relationship of intimate communion with God and of trusting surrender to his Providence. It is key so that we become a more compelling message, someone whose existence and way of life reminds one of God, someone who sees in others "no mere mortal" to use CS Lewis' phrase, but someone infinitely loved by God, someone who sees in creation and even in suffering a mystery that can unite us to the divine, opening up our eyes and through us the eyes and hearts of others to grasp that the world is charged with the grandeur of God.
The gift of fear - or better translated awe - of the Lord gives us a greater sense of our human weakness and therefore of the indispensable role of divine grace.
When we live by the Spirit, we receive the fruits of the Spirit, which will obviously make our Christian life of faith come alive and help us to be far more capable of communicating the truth, communicating a glimpse of divine reality, communicating God more attractively and compellingly to others. Just think about the life that would be ours if we lived with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control.
Benedict told the young people of the world five years ago words that he would also want us to ponder during this Year of Faith: "Test the quality of your faith in the Holy Spirit, rediscover it if it is lost, strengthen it if it has become weak, savor it as fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, brought about by the indispensable working of the Holy Spirit."
St. Paul in his first letter to Thessalonians said, "Do not quench the Spirit!," because in some sense they obviously were limiting his work in them.
To the Ephesians he said something even more powerful, imploring them, "Do not grieve the Spirit of God." How much believers grieve the Holy Spirit by their treating him as an unknown, or merely a theological concept! How much richer would their life be, how much effective would their task of witness be, how much stronger would the Church be, if we didn't grieve or quench the Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit for whom we need to pray with insistence as we prepare for the annual ecclesial novena that occurs when Jesus "goes away" at the Ascension and the Church then huddles around Mary praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost comes to us each day at Mass.
Just as he overshadowed Mary at the Annunciation, so he overshadows the altar and the priest at the consecration to transform bread and wine into the eternal Son of God incarnate. And so he overshadows the Church to make us one body, one Spirit in Christ.
Benedict said, "The Eucharist is a 'perpetual Pentecost' since every time we celebrate Mass we receive the Holy Spirit who unites us more deeply with Christ and transforms us into Him."
Today we turn to the Holy Spirit, the "better part," and pray: "Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love!" Amen!
Father Roger Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Fall River, MA and national chaplain of Catholic Voices USA. His homilies and articles are found on catholicpreaching.com
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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