Holy Spirit’s breath gives birth to the Church

From The Catholic Register, May 1, 2017; http://www.catholicregister.org)

By Glen Argan

By now, the thrill of the Paschal Triduum has receded from the foreground of our memory. We live in the season of Easter, but we may not feel so full of new life as we did when we emerged from the Easter Vigil. Now, the grand spectacle of Pentecost approaches, the day we label the birthday of the Church.

Yet, I am not convinced that calling Pentecost the birthday of the Church is correct; it may even be part of the problem in conveying the Gospel in today’s world.

Christians in the Western world face a situation in which God and the Church are presented as products of a repressive ideology. That ideology has allegedly enslaved people to the Church and to the superstitious belief in a judging God whose existence was constructed to suck the joy out of life.

The secular response has been to assert autonomy from external impositions, such as Christian moral norms. Human dignity is realized when we stand on our own two feet without relying on God.

Of course, Christians don’t believe this, but we ought to take it seriously when we hear others say it. It’s the water in which we swim, and if we don’t want to drown, we had best accept it as a challenge to be met.

Accepting the challenge takes us back to the question: Does God exist? In order to respond adequately, we must ask a further question: What God are we talking about? If God is understood as an all-powerful, unchanging Being who stands apart from human existence, well, society has already rejected that God.

Is God a total mystery? If so, we had better leave him out of public life because my interpretation of the mystery is likely to be different than yours, and dialogue will be fruitless.

Instead, we ought to accept the God been revealed in Jesus Christ. Christ did not claim the privilege of being divine, but shared in the human condition and revealed its utter powerlessness. His death on Calvary is the ultimate expression of his life, a life he breathed forth on the world when he died and again on the disciples after his resurrection.

It is the breathing forth of the Holy Spirit on Good Friday and at Easter which gives birth to the Church. It is in the celebration of the Eucharist — of Christ’s presence in a fragile piece of unleavened bread and in his frail, but holy people — that the Church continually breathes out the Spirit.

The Church, it should be noted, has been most fruitful in times of persecution, times when its powerlessness was unveiled. When the Church was wedded to earthly power, its spiritual power waned.

We worship God through and in the broken and risen Jesus Christ. His Spirit is always with us, touching us with his gentle, often undetectable power and breathing Jesus through the world, the Church and our hearts.

This Spirit is the bond of love between Father and Son, and the product of the always greater, overflowing love between Father and Son.

The Spirit dwells within us in a power which is witnessed through love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5.22). The Spirit’s power leads us into deeper participation in the life of the Trinity.

Our “knowledge” of God is found when we live lives of contemplation and action. Contemplation on God’s word and his activity in our lives and action which is grounded in that contemplation. Contemplation alone leads one only to a privatized faith; action alone, however morally righteous, is action rooted more in me than in God.

The Holy Spirit is the God of freedom, a freedom which accepts God’s will and enacts it with creative inspiration. While obedient to God, we are not his slaves. Nor is he the great commander in the sky.

The passing thrill of Easter celebrations evaporates with time, but our faith is always rooted in Easter. It is found in the powerlessness of Jesus and the subtle breath of the Holy Spirit. It is there we celebrate the birthday of the Church.

(Glen Argan is an Edmonton-based writer.)

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