June 12, 2011
God’s Greatest Double Gift
A customer goes back to the store and complained to the cashier. “You are not doing your job well! I just counted my change and it’s ten dollars short!” The cashier examined the receipt, then checked his records. “Yesterday your change was ten dollars more. But you didn’t come back to complain.” “Look” said the customer. “I can understand and forgive an occasional mistake – but two mistakes in a row is too much!”
To err is human, we say. In Pilipino, we say, “At kung ‘yan man ay kasalanan, ay sapagka’t kami ay tao lamang.” Unfortunately, we have always used this as an excuse for not striving harder for holiness and Christian perfection. As a result, we are resigned to the idea that it is simply not possible to attain holiness, and that it is normal for us to commit sin and be bad. That is what we see now – a total reversal of values. Doing the right thing and being holy are considered unnatural and strange; while sins and perversions have become acceptable and even extolled by the secular media and society.
Indeed, a different spirit pervades the world nowadays. According to Pope Benedict XVI, it is the spirit of general indifference. In his address to the members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization on May 30, 2011, he said, “The crisis we are living through carries with it signs of the exclusion of God from people’s lives, a general indifference to the Christian faith, and even the intention of marginalizing it from public life.”
For his part, Blessed Pope John Paul II had his own observation. He said, “The greatest misfortune of this age is that people consider money as the highest good.” In short, due to their obsession for material things, deemed as the highest good, many people have become too selfish and greedy and as a result, they have grown cold and indifferent to the values of the Gospel, even to the point of pushing God away from their life.
At present, the general condition of the life of the people, particularly in the Western civilization, is characterized by spiritual aridity, moral infertility and lack of unity. This Sunday, as we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, we pray: “Come Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” The Spirit of God is the heavenly moisture that gives life, vitality and the principle of unity in the world.
St. Irenaeus gives a beautiful illustration of this: “Like dry flour, which cannot become one lump of dough, one loaf of bread, without moisture, we who are many could not become one in Christ without the water that comes from heaven. And like parched ground, which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above” (Office of readings, Pentecost Sunday).
This is echoed beautifully in the Sequence before the proclamation of the Gospel: “Where you are not, we have naught, Nothing good in deed and thought, Nothing free from taint of ill. Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour your dew; Wash the stains of guilt away; Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.”
Such is the unfathomable and infinite value of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We may even refer to the Holy Spirit as the greatest double gift of God to His people. It is a gift – for the Holy Spirit is given to us freely by God, which nobody among us is worthy of receiving. It is the greatest gift – for it is God Himself who is the Gift. The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity. And it is a double gift – meaning, the Holy Spirit was given twice. This is clearly pointed out in the readings. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples. He breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Then on Pentecost, while the disciples were in one room, the Holy Spirit came upon them as tongues of fire. This is also demonstrated in the sacramental life of the Church. In Baptism, we first received the Holy Spirit, making us children of God, and again in Confirmation, when we are “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
St. Augustine has an explanation for this: “Perhaps this double giving of the Holy Spirit was done in manifestation of the two commandments of love, that is, of neighbor and of God, in order that love might be shown to belong to the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we may be able to practice the commandment of love. God knows how weak we are and how easily we fall into sin. That is why the Holy Spirit is intimately connected with the sacrament that forgives sins. When Jesus breathed on his disciples, he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:23). Hence, in pronouncing the absolution in sacramental confession, the priest proclaims that, “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins…”
The Holy Spirit, therefore, reconciles us with God and one another. Unity is, indeed, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is what St. Paul pointed out in the second reading. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and we were all given to drink of one Spirit” (1Cor 12:13). It is only in the Holy Spirit that we can say, “Jesus is Lord,” and are united as God’s children: “All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of God, for what your received was not the a spirit of slavery to bring you back to fear; you received the spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Rom 8:14-15). So, in the third Eucharistic Prayer, we ask God: “Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with the Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.”
Pope Benedict XVI calls for a new evangelization. In fact, he has already created a new office in the Vatican, the Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples. The Gospel has to be proclaimed in the present world with new vigor, new meaning and new dynamism. But there can be no new evangelization without the Holy Spirit. In this arid and turbulent world, a fresh and vibrant infusion of the Holy Spirit is truly needed. It is only through the Holy Spirit that there can be new life, strong unity and peace among God’s people in the world.
“Come, Holy Spirit, and enkindle in us the fire of Thy divine love. Amen!”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
141 Henry Street
New York, NY 10002