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The Holy Spirit and the era of the Church

The coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost commenced the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise at the Last Supper. The description of the tongues of fire and strong driving wind draw us into that moment, creating awe and anticipation in heart and soul. Continuing our exploration of the encyclical of John Paul II on the Holy Spirit, let it satisfy the wonder of it all. Our journey back to the Father brought forth the presence of the Holy Spirit in a new way; the Lord of Light, Father of the poor, healer of our wounds and our soul’s most delightful Guest (cf. Sequence for the Solemnity of Pentecost).

In the encyclical Dominum et vivificantem, John Paul II continued: “Having accomplished the work that the Father had entrusted to the Son on earth (cf. Jn 17:4), on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was sent to sanctify the Church forever, so that believers might have access to the Father through Christ in one Spirit (cf. Eph 2:18). He is the Spirit of life, the fountain of water springing up to eternal life (cf. Jn 4:14; 7:38), the One through whom the Father restores life to those who are dead through sin, until one day he will raise in Christ their mortal bodies” (cf. Rm 8:10)

“The era of the Church began with the ‘coming,’ that is to say with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, together with Mary, the Lord’s Mother (cf. Acts 1:14). The time of the Church began at the moment when the promises and predictions that so explicitly referred to the Counselor, the Spirit of truth, began to be fulfilled in complete power and clarity upon the Apostles, thus determining the birth of the Church. The Acts of the Apostles speak of this at length and in many passages, which state that in the mind of the first community, whose convictions Luke expresses, the Holy Spirit assumed the invisible but in a certain way ‘perceptible’ guidance of those who, after the departure of the Lord Jesus, felt profoundly that they had been left orphans. With the coming of the Spirit they felt capable of fulfilling the mission entrusted to them. They felt full of strength. It is precisely this that the Holy Spirit worked in them and this is continually at work in the Church, through their successors” (Dominum et vivificantem).

“As the Council writes, ‘the Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful as in a temple (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). In them He prays and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons (cf. Gal 4:6; Rm 8:15-16:26). The Spirit guides the Church into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and gives her a unity of fellowship and service. He furnishes and directs her with various gifts, both hierarchical and charismatic, and adorns her with the fruits of His grace (cf Eph 4:11-12; 1 Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22). By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church grow, perpetually renews her and leads her to perfect union with her Spouse'” (Lumen gentium, n. 4).

The Paraclete

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13:13).

With these words, John Paul II explained the origin and inspiration of the first and second encyclicals of his pontificate: Redemptor hominis and Dives in misericordia, “celebrating as they do the event of our salvation accomplished in the Son, sent by the Father into the world, that the world might be saved through him (Jn 3:17) . . . [and] every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11). In his encyclical on the Holy Spirit Dominum vivificantem, John Paul continued: “From this (same) exhortation now comes the present encyclical on the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son; with the Father and the Son he is adored and glorified: a divine Person, he is at the center of the Christian faith and is the source and dynamic power of the Church’s renewal.”

Thus in the Great Circle of Love, we come to the place whereby we meditate on the mission of the Holy Spirit and His Life in the Body of Christ. We have already seen the centrality of His role in the lives of Jesus, the Son of God, and the Virgin Mary. As with them, we need to understand His place in our own lives.

John Paul II added: “In our own age, then, we are called anew by the ever ancient and ever new faith of the Church, to draw near to the Holy Spirit as the giver of life….The Church is also responding to certain deep desires which she believes she can discern in people’s hearts today: a fresh discovery of God in his transcendent reality as the infinite Spirit, just as Jesus presents him to the Samaritan woman; the need to adore him ‘in spirit and truth’ (cf. Jn 4:24,) the hope of finding in him the secret of love and the power of a ‘new creation'(cf. Rm 8:22; Gal 6:15): yes, precisely the giver of life.”

Let us internalize these thoughts and ponder them, as we begin our reflections on the role of the Holy Spirit in our journey to the Father’s House. Much has been contemplated already, simply because of the relationship of the Holy Spirit with Jesus and Mary, but we need to ponder and take seriously the mission of the Holy Spirit in the context of our own restoration and rehabilitation. Jesus confirmed this when He told the Apostles: “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you…when  he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you (Jn 16:7-15).” Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit! Amen.

Immaculata

St Maximilian Kolbe is the second Marian teacher referred to in a previous blog post, the other being St Louis de Montfort. Kolbe is stunning in his approach to Mariology. While neither one of these great saints is exclusive with regard to the following topics, Kolbe explores the depths of the gifts given to Mary, whereas de Montfort focuses more on showing us the way and gives us the reasons why to give ourselves to Mary. Thus we continue to expand our understanding of Mary’s relationship with the Holy Trinity and Her participation in salvation history.

In his last writings before being imprisoned at Auschwitz, we find the quintessence of Kolbe’s Marian teachings. It is the consequence of his perennial question: “Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?” A question best understood from his own answer: “The path of creation goes from the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit; this return trail goes from the Spirit, through the Son back to the Father. In other words, by the Spirit, the Son becomes incarnate in the womb of the Immaculata and through the Son, love returns to the Father. And She (the Immaculata), grafted into the love of the Blessed Trinity, becomes from the first moment of Her existence forever thereafter the ‘complement of the Blessed Trinity'” (Sketch, 1941, Feb. 17).

This is why when we describe the Great Circle of Love, Mary is included in the way back to the Father, not as a devotional reality but in Her very essence; that is, as the Immaculate Conception. It is admitted that such a concept can be rather overwhelming to our understanding, so it is fitting that it becomes the continuous subject in our contemplation of Mary, as it was for Kolbe. We need to keep bringing back these truths into our heart of hearts, in order not to dilute our veneration of Mary as “only a stepping stone” or to practical devotions, as valuable as the latter are. Kolbe, in fact, superlatively plumbs the depths of Mary’s union with the Holy Spirit – astonishingly so – by explaining the Holy Spirit as the “uncreated eternal conception” and His relationship with Mary as the “created Immaculate Conception” (ibid.). Through the action of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, with her divine Son, becomes an integral reality towards our return jouney to the Father.

This same Holy Spirit is active in our lives, which will be our next consideration in understanding the journey back to the Father: that is, the Great Circle of Love. In an article written before his election to the papacy, Benedict XVI said: “The Holy Spirit is recognizable in the way in which He forms human life. A life formed from faith is in turn a sign of the Holy Spirit. To speak of ‘Christian spirituality’ means to speak about the Holy Spirit. He makes himself recognizable by gaining a new center for human life. Speaking about the Holy Spirit includes looking at Him in man, to whom He has given himself” (Ratzinger, J. 1998. Communio [Summer ed.]).

A Mother’s place

The words “ocean” and “boundless” are often used by the saints and scholars in describing the graces Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ and our mother, has received from God. With that in mind, it is daunting to try to attempt to write about Her without going directly to their writings. With such a solid foundation, we can grow in our knowledge and understanding of Mary’s place in both salvation history and our personal lives. Hence such an undertaking must start with proper perspective, in order to thoroughly set forth and serve the truth about Mary.

St Louis-Marie de Montfort begins the first chapter of his Treatise True Devotion to Mary with these words: “With the whole Church I acknowledge that Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to His infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing, since He alone can say, ‘I am He who is.’ Consequently, this great Lord, who is ever independent and self-sufficient, never had and does not now have any absolute need of the Blessed Virgin for the accomplishment of His will and the manifestation of His glory. To do all things He has only to will them. However, I declare that, considering things as they are, because God has decided to begin and accomplish His greatest works through the Blessed Virgin ever since He created her, we can safely believe that He will not change His plan in the time to come, for He is God and therefore does not change in His thoughts or His way of acting.”

“God the Father gave His only Son to the world only through Mary. Whatever desires the patriarchs may have cherished, whatever entreaties the prophets and saints of the Old Law may have had for 4,000 years to obtain that treasure, it was Mary alone who merited it and found grace before God by the power of her prayers and the perfection of her virtues. ‘The world being unworthy,’ said Saint Augustine, ‘to receive the Son of God directly from the hands of the Father, he gave His Son to Mary for the world to receive Him from her.’ The Son of God became man for our salvation but only in Mary and through Mary. God the Holy Spirit formed Jesus Christ in Mary but only after having asked her consent through one of the chief ministers of His court.”

“God the Father imparted to Mary His fruitfulness as far as a mere creature was capable of receiving it, to enable her to bring forth His Son and all the members of His mystical body. The plan adopted by the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity in the Incarnation, the first coming of Jesus Christ, is adhered to each day in an invisible manner throughout the Church and they will pursue it to the end of time until the last coming of Jesus Christ.”

“God the Father gathered all the waters together and called them the seas maria. He gathered all His graces together and called them Mary Maria. The great God has a treasury or storehouse full of riches in which He has enclosed all that is beautiful, resplendent, rare and precious, even His own Son. This immense treasury is none other than Mary whom the saints call the ‘treasury of the Lord.’ From her fullness all men are made rich.”

“God the Son imparted to His mother all that He gained by His life and death, namely, His infinite merits and His eminent virtues. He made her the treasurer of all His Father had given Him as heritage. Through her He applies His merits to His members and through her He transmits His virtues and distributes His graces. She is His mystical channel, His aqueduct, through which He causes His mercies to flow gently and abundantly.”

“God the Holy Spirit entrusted His wondrous gifts to Mary, His faithful spouse, and chose her as the dispenser of all He possesses, so that she distributes all His gifts and graces to whom she wills, as much as she wills, how she wills and when she wills. No heavenly gift is given to men which does not pass through her virginal hands. Such indeed is the will of God, who has decreed that we should have all things through Mary, so that, making herself poor and lowly, and hiding herself in the depths of nothingness during her whole life, she might be enriched, exalted and honoured by Almighty God. Such are the views of the Church and the early Fathers.”

Thus begins the inspired teachings of St Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. A prayerful study in the link provided will greatly enhance one’s own personal journey towards the Father’s house. As De Montfort stated: “God has decided to begin and accomplish His greatest works through the Blessed Virgin.”  This is especially true in regards to each individual in the Mystical Body of Christ.

Magnificat anima mea Dominum

“I will put enmity between you and the woman.” (Gen. 3:15)

“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Rev 12:1)

Holy Mother the Church has much to say about the above scripture quotes in reference to the mother of Jesus. As mentioned in earlier entries regarding the Father’s merciful promise to our first parents, the woman referred to is the Virgin Mary. On December 8, 1854 Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception ~ her first prerogative towards her destiny as the mother of God. Between this and the image brought forth in the book of Revelation, i.e. “the woman clothed with the sun,” we see in Mary the unique place she holds in Salvation History, leading us to understand that through her fidelity in obedience, she is indeed “Janua Coeli ~ Gate of Heaven.

Jesus is our redeemer! Our salvation was accomplished by His obedience: “…He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 7,8) This needs to be said and emphasized, in regards to the “order” of Salvation History. Jesus is the God-man, our Mediator; but he became so in time through the cooperation of Mary when she pronounced her “Fiat.” Through her cooperation, he received the body which he immolated on the Cross. So it is from this aspect that we focus on the role of our Blessed Mother in our journey within the “Circle of Love.” That is, in the perspective of time, cooperation and preparation. In any case we need not fear of putting her before her Divine Son in importance, because she herself does not do this. Before giving her answer to the Angel Gabriel, she said with all her heart: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord…” On the other hand we must recognize the centrality of Mary’s role in Salvation History, in order that we may follow her example and implore her help during our journey of “homeward bound.” We must remember, too,  that it is God himself who has “exalted her lowliness.” (cf. Lk 1:49) We can take counsel from the words of Saint Josemaria Escriva regarding the place of Mary in our lives: “There is no danger of exaggerating. We can never hope to fathom this inexpressible mystery, nor will we ever be able to give sufficient thanks to our Mother for bringing us into such intimacy with the Blessed Trinity. And it is this intimacy with the Trinity we have been called.

What are we to learn and take heed when approaching Mary? As St. Josemaria said, we can never fully understand the mystery of Mary, but we can expand our understanding by searching the writings of the holy promoters of Mariology. Examples of these are two great “apostles” of Marian spirituality: St. Louis-Marie Gringion DeMontfort, and nearer to our own time, St. Maximillian Kolbe. This will be the subject of the next blog entries, as we continue our contemplation of the role of Mary in Salvation History and more personally in our own lives. Fiat!

Upward turn

The Old Testament is filled with “Divine rescues.” God intervening to save his people or individuals. The covenants he made with the human race during this era demonstrates his powerful protection done so with mighty strength and authority. Even when chastising Israel, it was in order to correct and bring them back into right relationship. This was always done in view of delivering his children from the clutches of  evil. Yes, God is seen as the powerful Creator and deliverer, but also fatherly in  dealing with the people he formed,  fulfilling his promise to Abraham: “Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars of heaven…the sands of the seashore.” Gen 22:17)

When they were in Egypt, He powerfully brought them out of bondage in order to further form them into a family. “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son…it was I who taught Ephaim to walk, who took them in my arms, but they did not know that I cared for them. I drew them with human cords, with bands of love. I fostered them like those who raise an infant to their cheeks, I bent down to feed them.” ( Hosea 11: 1, 3-4)
God’s love is not cheap, and it is so because it is a covenent love. By its very nature it is reciprocal. Israel consistantly fell short of the expectations of their covenant with God, but even then, what is the divine and paternal response? “How could I give you up, Ephraim, or deliver you up, Israel….My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred….For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you. (Hosea 11: 8-9)

And so it was throughout the entire Old Testament era. God’s call, the initial response of more or less faithfulness, followed by a falling away. This in turn brought about the need for correction by way of tribulations, usually being  conquered by neighboring peoples. Israel becomes desolate and repentant, with God restoring them in their plight. The pattern is consistant.

Throughout these continuous defections, the Father sent messengers to the people. They were duly warned, but the Prophets went unheeded. And so, we are  given to understand that God is sovereign and yet always ready to bend down to return righteousness to his people…even if it included severe chastisement. As for any parent, it was meeted out as a last resort as shown in the stories of the various prophets.

Finally the time comes when the journey back to the Father is to take, you might say, a definitive turn for the better. Although externally the situation remains vacillating on the part of his “Family,” nevertheless, the time has come to fulfill the Promise given in the Garden of Eden: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel. (Gen. 3:15 NAB). We see this confirmed in the letter of St. Paul to the Galations: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’  So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Gal 4: 4- 7) And so the “Great Circle of Love” takes a definitive turn upwards to its beginning with the fulfillment of the promise made to Adam and Eve. Jesus the “new Adam” born of Mary, restores our filial relationship with the Father. (cf. Rom 5 15-21) Having taught us how, we dare to say: “Our Father, who art in Heaven;” and we do this while looking forward, with hope, to our total transformation in Christ as we await His full appearance in glory. (cf. Titus 2:13)

Circle of Love revisited

The subtitle of this blog is “The Great Circle of Love,” a subtitle that denotes a very defined movement – that is, a moment in which the start and the finish points become fused into a single point. Such fusion is even illustrated in our own weekly timeline, when Sunday to Sunday is seen in a cyclical aspect, with every eighth day being the beginning and end of the circle. This is one of the reasons why the Judeo-Christian tradition employs this ‘journey’ in both worship and liturgy; that is, that major feasts are prolonged into eight-day celebrations in order to make a deeper penetration into the event or mystery celebrated. In the Roman Catholic Church, a Great Octave is observed when celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter, which culminates eight days later with Divine Mercy Sunday, is accompanied by very special graces.

We could look at our return to the Father in the light of this circular fashion. The downward curve denotes the beginning of the journey from our creation in time, with the rest of the arching circle showing the movement back towards the beginning. Such a circle, coupled with the sequence of what is salvation history, creates a way of illustrating the saving plan of our Heavenly Father, namely the Incarnation of His only-begotten Son for our redemption.

Therefore, all of the above is about beginnings and endings: “Thus says the Lord, Israel’s king, its redeemer, the Lord of hosts. I am the first, I am the last” (Is 44:6). So what about our own beginning and ending? Perhaps we could think of it as the ‘divine roundabout;’ that is, our own existence starting from the Father and our return to Him – the Great Circle of Love.

Order is Heaven’s first law

The title above is taken from a poem by Alxander Pope and it embodies the subject that follows in this post. Yes, our God is a God of order.  What may seem disorder stems from the permisseve will of God to bring about a greater good, including human choices. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and lost their “original intimacy” with the Father, another course had to be set in order for the needed restoration.  This time the human choices were going to be enacted in a “fallen state.”  The human condition was now in the framework of  a darkened intellect and  weakened will.

As soon as Adam sinned and consequently experienced the effects of his decision, the first thing recorded was that he was afraid. (cf Gen 3:10) Perhaps Adam’s answer of “being naked” also included his loss of the closeness  he had with God, without the reignment of the gifts he had before his sin.

At that point God made a promise ~ His response and remedy for this catastrophe. Without getting into the controversy in the translation of this verse, the Father’s response and remedy was: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Gen 3:15)

This brings us to the what is called the “Protoevangelion” (Greek for First Gospel) The above account begs for attention to the fact that our Father’s initial response to the betrayal of our first Parents was Merciful Love! Before Justice was meeted out, Mercy was extended by the promise of a Savior. The “order” was set in place. That we may return to the Father, a new pathway was created.  Although God is one in Nature, certain works are attributed to each Person of the Trinity, namely Creation, Redemption and Sanctification.  Regarding the Father, besides the creation of the world and our first parents, we read accounts of his major interventions in what is commonly called the Old Testament era.  And thus, the beginning of the journey we now call Salvation History.

In Eternal Splendor

“When all things were wrapt in a profound silence, and night in her swift course was half spent, Thy almighty Word, O Lord, leapt down from  your Throne in Heaven.” (Christmas liturgy)

Before time began there was an eternal voice of Father and Son. The Father speaking his Word and the Son returning His Fiat in filial love. This total self-giving is the essence of  union of wills. “I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me You are my Son, today I have become your Father.” (Ps 2:7)  The Son in turn speaks back: 

 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come. It is written about me in the scroll:
 I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” (ps 40:7-9)

One of the definitions of consecration is: “to dedicate our life or time, etc. to a specific purpose.”  This certainly is true and done divinely in what the Greek Fathers call “the round dance of the Trinity.” The total self-giving in mutual love and dedication. Jesus’ whole mission was to show us the Father and that we join and enter into  His consecration before all ages. The Father’s promise of a Savior given in Eden will be totally complete, when the Holy Spirit forms Christ in us and we join Him in crying out “Abba Father” and join in the Dance!

 

Jesus the first consecrated to the Father

At the Last Supper Jesus prays to the Father on behalf of his apostles as recorded in the Gospel of John 17:19-21: “Holy Father, keep them in Your name….Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself, so that they also may be consecrated in truth. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

This prayer was directed to the Father on the night before Jesus died. In the face of death a persons last words carry a weight of importance, exposing their innermost thought. As Jesus spent his whole public ministry “showing us the Father,” so now on the evening before he dies, he seals it with this priestly prayer.

Jesus, thus, has included all of us and should this not compel us to personally live our consecration by dedicating ourselves formally to this Perfect Plan of the Father? The next few posts will pursue a way that is steeped in Salvation History to help us understand the immense  love of the Father, showing us the “great Circle of Love” which is our  return to  the Father’s Heart and Home.