Greetings, SBT Readers!
Do you remember learning about the terrible, unforgivable "sin against the Holy Spirit"? You know, the one that was supposed to result in eternal damnation? Strangely enough, although the concept is terrifying, I don't believe I ever discovered what this sin really was, despite the efforts of my teachers. The catechism points to hardness of heart: "Anyone who deliberately refuses to accept God's mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his/her sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit." But don't we all suffer from hardness of heart at times, and aren't we constantly evolving as spiritual beings?
Jesus, in fact, has this to say: "Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven" (Matt 12:31). The context of this passage is Jesus' response to those who claim he drives out demons by the power of Beelzebub. There is no mention of hardness of heart in this text, but only Jesus' outrage that the work of the Spirit should be so maligned. The implied hardness of heart in this instance is not caused by the usual list of sins but by the refusal to SEE God's power and, instead, to attribute the action of the Spirit to the demonic. Learning to see, then, is the antidote to the "unforgivable sin" -- can we open our eyes to the limitless power of the Spirit that manifests at all times, in all places, in us and through us and around us, before us and behind us? Can we open our hearts to this power so that we can become a new creation, transcending all the limits of our old lives? Can we become a conduit for this Spirit, thereby participating in God's work of renewing the face of the Earth?
Blessings for Pentecost!
PS Please note my new address at the bottom of this e-letter!
When the time for Pentecost came around, they were all gathered in one place. Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind that filled the entire house. Then there appeared what looked like tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each 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 the sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but were confused because each heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement asked,
“Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how do each of us hear them in our 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.”
What is the language of the Holy Spirit? From our first reading, it would seem that the Spirit is poly-lingual, fluent in all languages without any preference for a dominant language, or for a language of power, or for a language of commerce, or even for a language of technology. Rather, the Spirit's intention is absolute communicability, that is, the sharing of Truth, guidance and mission with those with ears to hear, no matter what language they happen to speak. For the Spirit, there is no hierarchy based on linguistic ability or multilingualism; nor is having a high IQ or college education a prerequisite for being anointed. All that is necessary is a receptive heart.
Acts 2:1-11 represents the fulfilment of Jesus' promise regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit. The men and women gathered in the upper room are no longer cowering in fear as they were immediately after Jesus' crucifixion; rather, having obeyed his instructions to remain in Jerusalem, they wait in expectation, preparing themselves both as individuals and as a community. They not only choose Matthias to be Judas' successor, but they pray "with one accord," invoking the Spirit. Their willingness and cooperation with God's plan bring down the power of God; baptized in the fire of God's love, they now proclaim "the mighty acts of God" with such passion and eloquence that some think they are inebriated.
When we are open to God's Spirit, God can act in us and through us without restraint. The more receptive we are, the more the Holy Spirit can empower us, bestowing unimaginable gifts on each of us that we can then use to build up the reign of God. Traditionally, Christians have identified the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit as wisdom and understanding, counsel and fortitude, knowledge and piety; fear of the Lord; confirmandi also learn that the 12 "fruits of the Spirit" are charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity (kindness), goodness, longanimity (forbearance), mildness (gentleness), faith, modesty, continency (self-control), and chastity. However, God's gifts transcend lists and numbers. Humans --especially those of the bureaucratic variety-- love formulae and definitions, but while the "gifts and fruits" listed above reflect the presence of the Holy Spirit, they by no means convey the incredible power of the Spirit. In fact, looking at this list, I have the sense that these attributes are ones we might expect of "good children" who are to be seen but not heard. But the Spirit has a history of disturbing the status quo, of upending expectations, of bringing down crumbling institutions, of toppling unjust individuals and structures, and of demanding an evolutionary mindset that moves creation towards its fulfillment. The gifts of the Spirit are inexhaustible but when power rains down on us, we know it is for the common good, not just for our own private enjoyment. Filled with the Spirit, we become priests and prophets, activists and advocates, artists and liberators, preachers and listeners, inventors and healers, teachers and leaders -- witnesses to the Risen Christ, wherever he may lead us!