Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Scripture Readings: Pentecost

First Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

Second Reading: Romans 8: 8-17

Brothers and sisters: Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you. Consequently, brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!”The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Gospel: John 20: 19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”


And so, at long last, we come to Pentecost and the return of Ordinary Time.

Today I’d like to focus on St. Paul’s difficult, complex passage from Romans (excuse my redundancy: his passage from Romans).  

Right off the bat we get Paul’s favorite theme in Romans: the fact that you can’t just work your way into Salvation. This isn’t a quid-pro-quo situation, in which you do something and you earn an equal and proportional reward (not to say that merit and reward are not involved, but they aren’t the fundamentals of the thing). That is, there is nothing we can do on Earth to ‘earn’ our salvation purely as a matter of ‘this for that.’ Those who can’t see beyond the idea of exchange, who ‘are in the Flesh,’ cannot see God. Lewis had a good example of this sort of person in The Great Divorce in the form of a factor owner who, upon getting to Heaven, angrily demands his rights and rejects the idea of ‘bloody charity.’ The spirit who has come to greet him – a repentant murderer – warns him that his ‘rights’ aren’t what he thinks they are and that no one gets their rights in Heaven, but only charity. The foreman, who lives according to the flesh, declares that he would rather be damned and so returns to Hell.

But moving on, Paul then goes on to describe his readers as being “in the Spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” In the following sentences, he seems to use ‘the Spirit’ synonymously with both “the spirit of Christ” and simply “Christ.” The Spirit of God, then, is the same as Christ’s Spirit, which is also the Spirit that raised Christ, and the Spirit that dwells in the follower of Christ: the Holy Spirit.

So, the Holy Spirit, we may say, is both what raised Christ from the dead, and that which gives us life in Christ. Also remember that Mary conceived Jesus “by the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, the Spirit is both what brought Jesus into His human, earthly life and what raised Him into His glorified, resurrected life. This also, according to Paul, is the role he plays in our lives; the Spirit is what elevates us out of our ‘dead,’ fleshy lives and allows us to truly live the Gospel.

This, then, is the ‘counterpoint’ to the life of the flesh, as described above. Christians don’t seek to earn our way into Heaven, but to work as far as possible on the way to perfection by means of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, then, is the means by which we become virtuous and acquire Heaven.

This is what balances the ‘reward vs. freely given’ conundrum; that we ‘put to death’ our sinful lives by means of the Spirit. It both allows us to ‘merit’ our rewards (since it involves our choices and actions) but also prevents it from being a simple matter of ‘rights,’ since it’s the Holy Spirit, and not our own fleshy selves that perfects us and brings us to Salvation.

Vive Christus Rex!

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