The Year of Saint Paul:
A 20-Part Series – Part 12: Living in the Holy Spirit
This series on Saint Paul was interrupted by the necessity of focusing on Bill #1098 raised by the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut State Legislature. As you recall, this legislation would have forced the Catholic Church to reorganize its parish corporations in a manner contrary to the teaching and discipline of the Church. I am deeply grateful for the outpouring of opposition to that patently unconstitutional bill which was an affront to religious liberty. Although many serious challenges to religious liberty and sound morality remain in this legislative session, let us resume our reflections on Saint Paul with "the glorious freedom of God's children" (Romans 8:21).
The last installment of this series focused on the role of the Holy Spirit in Christ's life and mission. This column will focus on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and in our lives as individual members of the Body of Christ. For that reason, I entitled it, "Living in the Holy Spirit." I offer these reflections as many men and women are preparing for Baptism and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil and also in the course of sharing the Sacrament of Confirmation with hundreds upon hundreds of young people throughout Fairfield County.
Through the lens of Paul's writings, I will try to show how the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, guiding her preaching and teaching, animating the celebration of the sacraments, and giving impetus to her missionary and pastoral life. It is the Holy Spirit who imparts to each of us the new life Christ won for us by His Cross and Resurrection; the Spirit who incorporates us into the Body of Christ and enables us to live as His disciples; and the Spirit who imparts to us gifts and vocations by which we can build up the Church, the Body of Christ.
We begin with the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church according to Saint Paul. The New Testament teaches that the Kingdom of God was inaugurated with the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ followed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (see, for example, Matthew 16:18; John 7:39; Acts 2:33). Indeed, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "By his coming, which never ceases, the Holy Spirit causes the world to enter into the 'last days,' the time of the Church, the Kingdom already inherited though not yet consummated" (no. 732). The epoch of the Church is the epoch of the Spirit who was given us by Christ. The Holy Spirit makes the Church the great sacrament of Christ until the end of the ages. The Spirit does so by making present to us the mystery of Christ and thus enables us to share in the redemption Christ won for us. Because of this, we look forward in hope to communion – eternal life and joy – with the Trinity.
The patron of our diocese, Saint Augustine, proclaimed in a sermon, "What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ which is the Church" (Sermon 267 quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 243). Like an invisible bond, the Holy Spirit joins together the members of the Church with their head who is Jesus Christ. The Spirit dwells in the Body of Christ as a whole as well as in the members of that body, that is to say, the baptized (Ibid., see also Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, DS 1608).
This profound understanding of the Church has its roots principally in the teaching of Saint Paul. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 we read, "As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit." Similarly, we find Saint Paul urging the Ephesians to live in humility, charity, and forbearance with one another, "striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:2-6). Thus, it is the Holy Spirit who unites and animates the Church though not without our cooperation.
Saint Paul teaches us the importance of working for the unity of the Church by placing the teaching and mission of the Church ahead of all merely personal considerations and by repenting of sinful behavior that attacks and undermines her oneness and apostolic vitality. In that spirit, Saint Paul writes: "Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21). \Saint Paul also compares the Church to a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells. Writing to the Corinthians both as individuals and as a localization of the Church (in modern terms, a diocese), Saint Paul asks: "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). Writing to the Ephesians, Saint Paul speaks of how the Church is being built up into "the household of God." In Christ, he says, "you are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22).
Again, we find this Pauline teaching on the Church reflected in the Catechism which states: "The Holy Spirit makes the Church 'the temple of the living God'" (no. 797; see 2 Corinthians 6:16). In the same paragraph, the Catechism reminds us of the famous words of Saint Irenaeus of Lyon (d. 200 A.D.) on the Holy Spirit and the Church: "For where the Church is, there also is God's Spirit; where God's Spirit is, there is the Church and every grace."
Membership in the Church, the Body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, is not merely a matter of being registered, important as that is. The invitation to membership is the preaching of the Word of God and the charity of those who are already members of the Church (Ephesians 4:16). The door is Baptism through which the Holy Spirit "forms Christ's Body" (see the Catechism, no. 798; 1 Corinthians 12:13). In addition, the baptized are "sealed" by the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul, in Ephesians 1:13, describes this "sealing" thusly: "In [Christ] you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit..." Later, in the same letter, Saint Paul will warn the Ephesians: "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30). Paul proceeds to describe the angry and malicious behavior which grieves the Holy Spirit, and urges them instead to be forgiving and compassionate (verses 31-32).
The Church continues to speak of being "sealed in the Spirit of God." In administering the Sacrament of Confirmation, the bishop anoints candidates about to complete his or her initiation into the Church and says: "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." In biblical terms this means that one's life is permanently consecrated to Christ by the Holy Spirit; it is a pact in which we surrender our lives to Christ and allow ourselves to be incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and thus into the new and everlasting covenant of his Blood. As we read in 2 Corinthians 1:22: "[Christ] has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment" (see, supra, Ephesians 1:13-14).
Thus Confirmation is not "graduation" from religious studies and the practice of the faith but, rather, the beginning of life-long participation in the life and mission of Christ's Body through the power of the Holy Spirit. In spite of the diligence and pastoral love of priests, deacons, and catechetical leaders, far too many of our young people do not return to Mass and the Sacraments following Confirmation, nor do they continue growing in prayer and knowledge of the faith. Sadly, many are not encouraged to do so by their parents. In some cases, this may amount to living "according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit" (see Romans 8:1-17; we shall treat this theme below).
This is a serious pastoral problem that demands our prayer, time, and attention. Among other things, we must focus on evangelizing and catechizing families, including many parents whose attachment to the faith is, at best, minimal.
To those who remain open to the Holy Spirit and allow him to work in their hearts, he also distributes many gifts. Saint Paul describes these gifts in several passages. An example is 1 Corinthians 12:4-13, often read at Confirmation. Here Saint Paul speaks of different gifts and ministries that are given by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of all. These include gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, miracles, and healing. In addition, the Spirit gives to some in the community gifts of prophecy and distinguishing one spirit from another, that is, discernment of spirits. To still others the gift of tongues and interpreting of tongues is given. Let's pause over this passage for a moment.
In Confirmation, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are bestowed. This list of gifts is taken from Isaiah 11: 1-3: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, right judgment, courage, reverence, and fear of the Lord or wonder and awe. The list(s) of the Spirit's gifts provided by Paul varies, though in his writings he refers extensively to all that is meant by the seven gifts listed in Isaiah.
By contrast, some of Paul's gifts may sound esoteric; yet these charisms are given to the sake of the unity, vitality, and mission of the Church – and never for the aggrandizement of the one who possesses them. For example, what could miracles and healing refer to? Some would say to physical cures and exorcism. What constitutes the gift of prophecy? These are words of truth and love the Spirit inspires for the encouragement and strengthening of the community of faith and for the sake of the Church's mission.
Discernment of spirits seems to refer to the ability to distinguish a true utterance from a false or misleading one. What Paul means by the gift of tongues is the subject of much discussion. Here it does not seem to be the ability to speak foreign languages but perhaps rather exuberant utterances of praise and thanks to God which defy ordinary human speech. The meaning and appropriateness of this form of prayer is also gauged by still another gift, namely, that of interpreting tongues, imparting to the community something of what those utterances mean. The Spirit can bring us into realms of prayer "too deep for words," including forms of contemplative prayer, but never in a fashion disconnected from the Church, her pastors, and the common good of the community (For a helpful discussion on the subject of "allotment of the Spirit's gifts" see, Raymond F. Collins, First Corinthians, Sacra Pagina 7, Collegeville, MN: 1999, pp. 448-456 and pp. 489 ff).
Next, and finally, let us ask how the Spirit operates in individual believers. In posing this question, we are not separating person from community but rather recognizing that every member who lives according to the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ contributes to building up of the Body and Christ; person and community are related inseparably. Thus, we are not surprised to discover that Saint Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit dwells as in a temple both in the Church herself and also in individual members of the Church (see 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Ephesians 2:22). This occurs because of incorporation into Christ through Baptism (see Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12) and involves a thorough-going transformation of the baptized person such that Paul describes him or her as "a new creation": "Whoever is in Christ is a new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17; see also Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24; Romans 15:16). Thus the Church's baptismal rites refer to the newly baptized as "a new creation"
Life as a new creation might be described as "life in the Spirit." Saint Paul refers to newly baptized Christians as having the "law of the Spirit" written on their hearts (see 2 Corinthians 3:2-11). Indeed, it is the Spirit who is the source of holiness (2 Thessalonians 2:13) which prompts believers to "set [their] heart(s) on what pertains to higher realms where Christ is seated at God's right hand" (Colossians 3:14). This means that they are to live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. Saint Paul expresses this idea various ways, especially in his letter to the Romans, Chapter 8.
In making the contrast between "spirit and flesh," Saint Paul is not condemning the body. In fact, Saint Paul has two Greek words for "body" – "soma" which is a more neutral word; and "sarx" (flesh) which refers to the body as the arena or locus of disordered human passions such as lust and anger. While still in our human bodies, however, we can truly live according to the Spirit. This includes a spirit of prayer (see, for example, Galatians 4:6 and Philippians 1:19; Romans 8:16). According to Paul, the spirit of love flows from the Risen Christ into the soul of the baptized: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5). That spirit of love seeks to build up the Church in love.
In Galatians 5:22, Saint Paul lists the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are "outcomes," the sure signs of whether or not one is living according to the Spirit. These include "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and selfcontrol." When those qualities are lacking, it is doubtful we are living "according to the Spirit." However, Saint Paul does not leave us in doubt. Previously, at verses 19 through 21, Saint Paul lists "the works of the flesh" and leaves little to the imagination. These include: "immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like."
So long as we live "according to the flesh," we truly cannot love one another; all we do is to tear down the Church as well as ourselves and our loved ones.
As Lent comes to its conclusion and we enter upon Holy Week, it is urgent that we reflect on the ways in which we may be living according to the flesh and then, even at the 11th hour, seek forgiveness of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, that mercy available to us in the Sacrament of Penance. Then, freed from sin and walking in the power of the Spirit we will welcome yet again into our hearts the mystery of the Lord's resurrection and truly embrace that newness of life His sacrificial love has made possible.
As we celebrate the Easter season we must open our hearts again and again to the Risen Lord and ask Him to breathe His Spirit ever more deeply into the depth our souls and the daily life and mission of our diocese. If enough of us do this, we will be living in the Spirit – not merely as individuals but indeed as a community of faith, worship, and service.