Dove of the Holy Spirit (ca. 1660, stained glass, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Photo by Dnalor 01. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Used under license CC-BY-SA 3.0.
This weekend, here in Canada we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. In most places around the world, it was celebrated last Thursday, which is exactly 40 days after Easter. Next Sunday is Pentecost – the birthday of the Church. Most of us just identify Pentecost as the Feast of the Holy Spirit.
And so, I’ve been thinking about the Holy Spirit.
I suspect that most of you don’t usually pray to the Holy Spirit. Most of us pray to God the Father: “Dear God”, “Father in Heaven”, or “Our Father”. Or we pray to Jesus: “Dear Jesus”. But how often do we pray to the Holy Spirit? “Dear Holy Spirit”? And when we pray to God or Jesus, how often do we ask for them to send us the Holy Spirit?
Unless we are Charismatic, we probably don’t usually do that.
But we should. Every day. Pray for the Holy Spirit, every day. Every day ask God to send you the Holy Spirit, to guide you, to inspire you, to move you. We need the Holy Spirit.
We’re almost at the end of the Easter season, and the focus has begun to shift from Jesus to the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells the disciples that He has to leave so that He can send us the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). This means that we are better off now with the Holy Spirit than we were with Jesus being here on earth with us.
Earlier He had told them that the Holy Spirit will “teach you everything and will remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:25). That was the Gospel from last Sunday. That means that Jesus didn’t teach us everything. That’s why the Holy Spirit will remind us of what Jesus taught us, and then He will teach us everything else.
Later on in chapter 16, Jesus tells the apostles: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you” (John 16:12-15).
That’s why the Catholic Church believes that even though God’s revelation stops with Jesus Christ, it has not been made completely explicit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in #66:
“Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.”
That’s why the teachings of the Catholic Church are not just based on Scripture but also on Tradition; because the Holy Spirit, who is God, continues to help us grasp the full significance of Revelation over the course of the centuries.
A great example of this is what we heard in last Sunday’s reading from the Book of Acts (see Acts 15:1-29).
It’s an example of how Jesus didn’t leave his Apostles a handbook.
He did make one thing clear: Go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). The Apostles took that to heart. Fast forward some 10 years and the Church is growing and everyone is making disciples, not just the Apostles. And you can imagine, there was no Catechism, no Bible, no official teaching, so of course there were slight differences in what was being taught.
And what happens? There’s a group of Jewish-Christians who were preaching Jesus Christ and teaching that in order to be a Christian, in order to be saved by Jesus Christ, you had to follow all the Jewish laws. For adult males, unfortunately, this included circumcision. This makes perfect sense. At this time, Christianity was still nothing more than a Jewish sect; Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish Scripture, and He was the Jewish Messiah. It made sense that salvation came through the Jews: In order to be saved by Jesus Christ, you had to be Jewish.
But Paul and Barnabas had some difficulty with this. Scripture tells us that they had a “not small dissension or debate” (Acts 15:2) with them – that means they had a big dissension and debate. Paul and Barnabas didn’t have the answer. Jesus didn’t tell them what to do in this situation, but it didn’t sit quite right with them. So what did they do? They didn’t have the authority to make a decision so they took it to the Church leadership. They returned to Jerusalem and took it to Peter and James and the Apostles.
This is so significant that the Church now refers to this meeting as the first Church council: the Council of Jerusalem.
And ever since then, when the Church encountered a matter which needed to be defined or clarified, she gathered in a council in order to define doctrine or teaching.
You’ve heard of Church councils like the Council of Trent, the Council of Nicaea, and Second Vatican Council. The Council of Trent was called as a response to Martin Luther and the Reformation; the Council of Nicaea defined the articles of the creed – that’s where we get the Nicaean Creed.
That’s how the Church defines doctrine. Whenever there is confusion or lack of clarity about an issue, the Church calls a council in order to define it. The last council was the Second Vatican Council, which gave us the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church and the Pastoral Constitution of the Church, as well as many other documents.
The first council was the Council of Jerusalem.
And how did the Apostles in Jerusalem decide? With the Holy Spirit. The letter that the Apostles sent back to Antioch says, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us…” (Acts 15:28). It doesn’t say they decided under the guidance of the Holy Spirit or that the Holy Spirit inspired them to decide. Instead, they decided together with the Holy Spirit.
And that’s the way the Church has been since then.
Together with the Holy Spirit, doctrine can be defined because the Church speaks with the authority of Jesus. Because of the Holy Spirit, the authority of the Church IS the authority of Jesus Christ.
This continues to this day. Of course Jesus didn’t teach us everything. Jesus didn’t tell us what to do in every situation. That’s why the “What Would Jesus Do?” movement doesn’t really help much. We need the Holy Spirit; we need the Church. Without the Church we don’t know what Jesus would do. Every time there is confusion or lack of clarity about something, every time there is crisis or division or disagreements (and there will be, believe me, there have been since there were 12 Apostles), we don’t go off and start our own church or publish a letter saying the pope is a heretic. We go back to Peter and the Apostles.
Everything we do has to be unitive. If it’s divisive, it is not of the Spirit.
The successor of Peter is the pope, his name is Francis, and the successors of the Apostles are the bishops. Bishops can disagree – and they do. If it’s a serious matter, they need to take it to Rome. Together with the Holy Spirit, in time, the Will of God will be done.
That’s basic. We must believe that the Holy Spirit is in charge of the Church. If we don’t believe this, we might as well not be Catholic. Two thousand years ago, the Church was founded under the power of the Holy Spirit. Today, the Holy Spirit continues animating the Church. I would add that everything good that happens, everywhere, is because of the Holy Spirit.
This Sunday we are airing a Mass for the Feast of the Ascension. It was presided over by Fr. Robert Foliot, SJ. In his homily, Fr. Bert said that the fact that Jesus has ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father means that He has power (the same power that will clothe us from on high. See Acts 24:49). He exercises this power to dispatch the Holy Spirit to continually animate everything we do. Everything that is good about us; everything that is beautiful, true, and just; everything that is love – everything that is Christ within us – is fanned into flame by the Spirit, with the power and authority of Jesus Christ (who is God), and comes alive within us.
That is the power of the Holy Spirit with which we are clothed.
Just think about the Liturgy. The very act of the Eucharist is made possible by the Holy Spirit. In fact, every Sacrament is made possible by the Holy Spirit. But we never even think about that. We only think of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost and during Confirmations.
As the Church continues to find situations that are new, we have to continue finding new ways of applying what Jesus taught. It’s possible that the Second Vatican Council will be the last council. The Church now addresses issues through synods. How do we care for young people or families given the realities and challenges of today? How do we preach the Word of God today in light of new developments in media, technology, and information? These have been topics of the synods in the last 8 years. The next synod will deal specifically with issues concerning the Amazon and the Pan-Amazon region. There are issues pertaining to that region of the world that concern all of us. The Church is concerned about those issues, and the Church has something to say about those issues.
The Holy Spirit certainly has something to say about everything that concerns human beings.
Including you and your daily life. So don’t forget to always pray to and for the Holy Spirit. Every day. Pray that the Spirit guides you and inspires you. Pray that the Spirit continues to guide the Church, the Holy Father, and our bishops.
And pray that the Holy Spirit continues to teach you everything and remind you of all that Jesus told us.
Come back next week, on Pentecost, and we can look at how the Spirit works in, during, and through the Mass.
Watch Fr. Bert Foliot's homily from the Mass on the Solemnity of the Ascension.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]