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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Catching the Spirit

The Spirit of God descends upon Moses, and then as if contagious, upon the elders gathered in the tent, and even upon two who were not assembled with them (see Numbers 11:25-29). When some want to stop the two from prophesying, Moses cries that he would have them be a nation of prophets. This is precisely what Jesus seeks to make a reality. We are anointed in baptism as prophets of the Good News. The essential mission of the Church, in all her members, is to be a prophetic voice of Christ’s kingdom.

This prophetic role is utterly dependent upon the action of God. It is his word, and not our own, that moves the Christian disciple. Prophesy or the proclamation of the Gospel in our words and actions, is an expression of divine favor or grace. God gives his servants that which is necessary for the acquisition of our ultimate end, union with him. Toward this end, he infuses habits and/or virtues that assist us in our earthly pilgrimage. The Holy Spirit lives in us as in a temple, illumining our steps. We understand the significance of the Spirit’s presence as a participation in the divine nature. God extends something of himself. The one who is ALL HOLY sanctifies us. The one who is UTTERLY IMMACULATE washes us clean and grants us purity. The one who is ALMIGHTY makes the weakest of us into a soldier for Christ, a champion of faith. The genuine prophet surrenders himself into the loving hands of God. It is for this reason that Jesus seems to glorify poverty and the central role of charity. The widow’s mite is the secret to sanctity and to true prophecy. Everything we have is a gift. All must be surrendered, either to others in their need or by the strong hand of death and judgment. Jesus would have us opt for the former.

Nothing is ours. Like a burner on the stove, while the electricity courses through it, the ring radiates a red glow of heat. However, turn off the electricity, it quickly grows cold and dark again. Without the divine energy of the Spirit, we also grow cold and dark. Grace is like the electricity or a burning fire. It changes us and sets us aflame, but we are not consumed. We may put on Christ, but mortal men and women we remain. Sometimes we can be surprised by whom God chooses to move by his dynamic Spirit.

In terms of our relationship to the Holy Spirit, we all play the feminine role. Not taking the analogy too far, as a daughter to God’s Spirit and as a bride to Christ, we are refashioned as members of Christ’s Church. The prophet rejoices in the wedding gown given by the Spirit as Isaiah did in days of old: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice. Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10). The gifts of the Holy Spirit adorn the soul. We are made pleasing to God and given fortification. We do not need Samson’s hair for strength, but the virtues that accompany the Spirit. God is our armor. Further, the actions– even mundane ones– of just men and women, bring merit, so long as sin is avoided. Christ’s whole life was a saving work. If Christ thoroughly lives in us then everything we do, not just extraordinary virtuous acts, become saving moments. Eating, drinking, sleeping, even taking care of the necessities of nature are viewed in the context of our Lord and know favor. They are part of the wondrous panorama of our lives. All is grace.

Christian prophets are adoptive children of God. Their names appear in the book of life and they are offered a share in eternal life. They proclaim the truth, not merely that others might be saved, but that they themselves might merit salvation.

The grace of God can bestow understanding just as the Spirit acted upon the elders and Moses. As Catholics such an illumination takes into consideration the public manner of revelation and lawful authority. The Holy Spirit inspires Scripture, making it truly the Word of God. As a guarantee of the authentic and accurate interpretation of revelation, this same Spirit guides our chief teachers of faith, the bishops in union with the Pope. It is in this context that the Spirit of God instructs us and makes us missionaries of the Gospel.

Except for Confirmations and the feast of Pentecost, we often neglect to speak about the Holy Spirit. It is an image hard for our minds to grasp. Certainly we are well accustomed to the theme of God as Father from the witness of our families. The figure of Christ on the Cross gives meat to our appreciation of the Son of God. But we struggle in appreciating the role of the Holy Spirit. People can relate easily to a notion of God as their heavenly Father and to Jesus as our elder Brother in faith who surrenders his life for us. But, look at the images of the Spirit. We use fire for light and warmth, but it is regarded as a thing. The dove, while beautiful and free in flight, is still just an animal. Wind might be felt against one’s face, but few of us would talk to it. The Holy Spirit is signified by non-personal elements, and yet, he is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity and a fundamental catalyst and source of our life, faith, and sanctification. It is true that since the Trinity is a single God, devotion and worship rendered to any one applies to all three. But this does not resolve the struggle in our psychology to embrace the Spirit. It is no wonder that the charismatic movement in the Church exhibits so many elements that speak of mystery: the tongues, prophecy, interpretation, faith healing, etc. However, ecstatic external expressions of being moved by the Spirit need not be present.

The men of ancient Israel felt a need to surrender themselves to the divine movement. Their chanting, dancing, and prophesying uncovered that need. Such actions were in harmony with the times and culture, paralleling the manifestations among the pagans. The one difference was not the external actions but the substance behind them: the true God had shown his face and will to Israel. The truth has prevailed in Israel and the Church while the so-called prophetic messages to others around them have disappeared. If it were not from God, it could not last. Within the family of God, the distinction between a good and a false prophet is noted in Psalm 19:7, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul; The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.” Such delineation is still valid today. Any voice that claims a divine mandate and yet violates the commandments is that of a false prophet.

We must be discerning so that we will not seek to silence the voice of God’s prophets and that we will not be led astray by false messengers. What are the false prophets saying today? We know all too well. “We love each other, how could something so wonderful be sinful? If we don’t live with each other, how can we know if we are sexually compatible or not? The Church is living in the dark ages; we have to use the pill! We can’t have this baby now; we have school and our careers to consider. Is it not better to get rid of it then to adopt it out to strangers? I am sure that if grandma were in her right mind she would tell us to pull the plug. Jim and Jack are sweet guys, why should they be punished for how God made them– especially since they use condoms? Everyone steals office supplies from work, it is expected. That was a great movie, even though they did take God’s name in vain a dozen times. These sexy dresses (what there is of them) will sure get Tom’s motor running. It doesn’t matter if you go to a Protestant or Catholic church– it’s the same thing– what matters is going. I’m not a bad person for sometimes missing Mass; it isn’t like I murdered someone. I only read Playboy for the articles. I wish the city would stop those beggars from annoying hardworking people like me. It would probably be best if their kind were sterilized. This is good stuff; take it, everyone’s doing it.”

Do you recognize any of these voiced statements? It is in the sea of lies that the true prophet raises his voice as a living sign of contradiction. He tells us to follow the commandments and the moral laws of the Church. He tells us to defend the dignity of all human life and the values that most respect human personhood and the family. He also tells us not to compromise the honor that is due to God alone. The true prophet encounters resistance, mockery, and sometimes even martyrdom. The New Testament acknowledges this eventuality: “The shouts of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You live in wanton luxury on the earth; you fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You condemned, even killed, the just man; he does not resist you” (James 5:4-6).

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

2 Responses

  1. Dear Fr Joe,

    Sadly, too few Priests and Catholics will risk saying just what you have. Jesus was willing to forgive, possibly even those who were not contrite (the Romans who drove the nails into His wounded body) but He would never compromise the Truth. The Apostles were lucky (not the ‘right’ word I know) that The Holy Spirit descended onto them and filled them with all that is lacking in me. I can’t fake it and I can’t make it but I do want to only do Gods will and ask, every day, for the Gifts of The Spirit.

    Those who deny the Trinity and claim exclusive personal understanding of Holy Scripture and not filled with The Spirit because they deny the spirit yet they claim that the Catholic Church IS the anitchrist. That they claim, thus, to know the mind of God and understand just what The Trinity is so that they can deny it, seems more like the Devil’s deception to me than any revelation from God Himself. We can never know the mind of God nor understand the Mystery of the Trinity.

    But I don’t subscribe to the theatrical mumbo-jumbo of falling down in the spirit nor the babbling and scrabbling of so called talking in tongues. St Paul certainly warns of doing anything that might turn others away from the Truth, and not seeking vainglory lest we become worthy of severe judgement even though some would argue that he promoted the practise of glossoglalialialialia, (onomatopaic ain’t it?)

    Good to read something definitive,
    With thanks, Paul

  2. It’s our heavenly father’s timing we live by not our own. It is when we adopt his timing, that we are in effect adopted by him. Patience is preached over and over in the word of God. Patience is attained by our joy in his son’s(Jesus Christ) love.

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