Throughout history, people have puzzled over fundamental questions: Why was I born? What happens after I die? Does life have meaning? In 2006, Every Day Catholic will address these questions and explore the fundamental beliefs of the Catholic faith.

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Who Is God’s Spirit?
By Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M.

One hears a lot of talk these days about spirituality. People are interested in living deeper “spiritual” lives.

But what exactly is the “spirit” in “spirituality”? For some, it is the human spirit reaching for transcendence, but for the Christian this is not enough. The “spirit” is the Holy Spirit of God. In a real sense, our Christian spiritual life can be seen as the art of letting God’s Spirit fill us, work in us, guide us.

But what is this Spirit?

In Scripture, the meaning of “spirit” (whether the Hebrew ruach, the Greek pneuma or the Latin spiritus) is wind or breath. The Spirit of God is God’s breath, and breath is a sign of life. When we live, we breathe. God’s breath can rush down and empower all of us to do God’s work.

Moses is led by God’s Spirit in teaching the people; the Spirit rushes on David when he is anointed king; the Servant of the Lord receives the Spirit especially for establishing justice for the lands. The Spirit of God is the dynamic breath or power by which God achieves the divine purposes in the world—purposes of revelation, deliverance and the rule of justice and peace.

All of this comes into focus in Jesus of Nazareth. He is conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, and his ministry begins and continues in the Spirit. He preaches, confronts sin and brings healing in and through the Spirit. At his death, John records in his Gospel, Jesus “handed over the spirit” (19:30). At the Last Supper, Jesus had promised his disciples the gift of the Spirit. When Jesus appeared to them on the evening of the day of the resurrection, he “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit [Breath]’” (John 20:22).


Gifts of the Spirit

The Christian, then, lives in and with the power of the same Breath/Spirit as Jesus. “But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:17). The Spirit gives different gifts for the building up of the community in love and is the bond of union holding all together in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). The fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Holy Spirit makes us holy, calling each of us to be a saint, a “holy person.” The word “spiritual” refers to the whole of our existence, filled with the Spirit of Christ. We are so filled with this Spirit that Paul can say, “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Over the centuries, for various reasons, many Christians have come to think of the Spirit in very “spiritual” terms—above all, connected with our souls. The body (and the world of matter in general) is then spurned, distrusted, even despised as we seek to “save our souls.”

Body and Soul

Yet nothing could be further from the revealed truth of Scripture. It is not matter that is opposed to the Spirit, but only sin. When Paul speaks of our whole person under the dominion of sin, weakness and death, he sometimes calls this “living according to the flesh” (Romans 8:5-10).

This use of “flesh” should not be equated with the body. “Living according to the Spirit” means that our whole person is guided by the Spirit of God. As Christians we are whole persons—body and soul, thoughts and feelings, emotions and passions, hopes and fears. We are called to live all of our relationships—to ourselves, to others, to all of creation and to God—in and with the power of the Spirit.

All of us share the same call and the same challenge. Through Baptism and Confirmation, we all share in Jesus’ gift of the Spirit. The Second Vatican Council stressed that there is only one basic Christian call to holiness, but we are called (vocation) and sent (mission), each in our own unique way, to continue Christ’s presence in our world today, sharing in his work of teaching and healing, and working for life, justice and peace.

This is a daunting challenge, but we do not face it alone. The Spirit/Breath of God is with us, empowering us to share in God’s purposes and work.

Father Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M., is a professor of Old Testament, Semitic Languages and Biblical Spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, California.

Next: Why Belong to the Church?

Questions for Reflection:

• When have you experienced living in the Spirit of God?

• Where do you feel engaged with others in the work of the Spirit?

Our Triune God
By Judith Dunlap

The bedrock of our Christian faith rests on the mystery of the Trinity—our belief in a Triune God, One God in three persons. For years, I categorized to whom I prayed: praise went to God, the Father; for day-to-day help I turned to my friend, Jesus; and on “test” days, prayers went directly to the Holy Spirit. There is no problem praying in this way. It just got confusing for me when I began to imagine each person in the Trinity as a sort of individual power tower sending out graces.

Our human understanding is limited, so when we speak about God, we speak of three persons. But, of course, we know there is only one God. We speak of before and after but we know that Father, Son and Spirit are not sequential. The Trinity is not like three signal towers sending out waves of power or grace. God is one, and God’s power—God’s love—is One. God is love, a dynamic love that is always moving in the relationship of Father to Son to Spirit to Father, and so on.

The self-revealing mystery of God is like a whirlpool of love, spilling out, into and through all of creation, and returning in a whirlwind of love. When we get caught up in that whirlwind, we experience the Spirit of Truth and begin to understand God beyond words or definition. The mystery is not solved; we just get an inkling of our place in it.

Keep yourself open to the mystery of our self-revealing God and teach your children to be open, too. We live in an age of instant answers. Encourage your children to explore and discover the mysteries of this earth. But remind them that there are some mysteries that can only be revealed when you allow them time and space to unfold.

For Family Response:

Have family members describe how they “see” God. Talk about how you think God “sees” all of you.

Media Watch
The Chronicles of Narnia
By Frank Frost

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is among a new generation of highly successful films marketed explicitly for their Christian message. Others include The Passion of the Christ as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. These films share high-end production values: top cinematography, music, editing and special effects that appeal on a mythic, emotive level. They attract viewers for their entertainment value rather than the “goodness” of the message.

The Chronicles of Narnia is the screen adaptation of the first of a seven-book series by C.S. Lewis, a mid-20th-century British Christian writer. It tells an imaginative adventure of four schoolchildren (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie) sent to a country estate to be safe from the bombings during World War II. They accidentally discover a magical passageway through the back of a clothes wardrobe into a kingdom controlled by the White Witch Jadis (Tilda Swinton). Her hateful tyranny turns the countryside into perpetual winter, destroying the freedom and threatening the lives of all creatures who might dissent from her rule.

Lewis creates a mythological world, which has often been compared to that created by his friend J.R.R.Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lewis populates this world with ancient myth-like centaurs and fauns, and mixes in other traditions, including Father Christmas and a host of anthropomorphic animals (a nice fit for a Disney film) that range from threatening wolves to heroic and humorous talking beavers.

Narnia is about the power of love and redemptive sacrifice. The Christ figure in this case is the lion king, Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), who not only sacrifices himself to save Edmund (Skandar Keynes), the one child who could be considered a selfish sinner (and a Judas figure). He also rises from the dead to lead his animal kingdom to a mighty victory over a vicious force of wolves and various misshapen creatures.

Aslan’s resurrection somehow feels a bit arbitrary, though Narnia allusions to the gospel are almost literal. Aslan walks in the forest alone in an agony-in-the-garden scene before giving himself up to die, and in a parallel to the women at Christ’s tomb, the girls lie down by the dead Aslan before he returns to life.

A bit surprising to me is the movie’s high level of violence in what is supposed to be a children’s tale. Christ figures are of course nothing new in literature: The greatest love is to lay your life down for a friend—or an enemy. The difference today is that we are told up front we are watching a Christian allegory.

Filmmakers and authors still maintain that the primary task of a story is not to preach but to tell a good story, but in this case Lewis is quite explicit about the celebration of Christian values.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Katharine Drexel (1858-1955)

Young Katharine Drexel made headlines in 1889 when she entered a convent and gave up the family banking fortune, then valued at $7 million. Rather than live a life of advantage, the Philadelphia-born heiress wanted to devote herself to the education of Native Americans and African-Americans.

Despite the luxury and privilege she knew in her early years, Katharine was exposed to the realities of poverty. Her father and stepmother shared their wealth with the poor and welcomed the needy to their home several times each week. In a private audience with Pope Leo XIII, Katharine, then 20, pleaded with him to help the neglected Native Americans by sending priests to serve them. “Why not become a missionary yourself?” the pontiff replied.

It took another 10 years before she answered the Holy Father’s question—and God’s call. Finding no religious order that answered her sense of mission, Katharine Drexel received permission to found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. She drew on trust funds established by her father at his death and organized a system of schools and missions for Native Americans as well as blacks.

Perhaps her most noteworthy achievement was the establishment of Xavier University of New Orleans in the mid-1920s, the first university for blacks in the United States. Katharine Drexel, who lived to 96, was a daring, prophetic and resourceful woman who knew that God had work for her to do on behalf of two peoples who had been largely overlooked in 19th-century America.

At her canonization in 2000, Pope John Paul II praised her for choosing “to give not just her fortune but her whole life totally to the Lord.” Her feast day is March 3.

Dr. Norman Francis

As president of Xavier University of New Orleans since 1968, Norman Francis has long had a special relationship with St. Katharine Drexel, its foundress. Since Hurricane Katrina, it’s only deepened.

“I prayed to her every day,” Dr. Francis recalled as he prepared to welcome back up to 3,000 students, or 75% of predisaster enrollment, for the reopening of Xavier University in mid-January. The hurricane that struck in late August 2005 left much of the university submerged in as much as seven feet of water and scattered its students, faculty and staff around the country.

“I never doubted we’d come back,” Dr. Francis told Every Day Catholic. “We had to. Ours is too sacred a mission to let go.”

The decision to proceed with cleanup and reconstruction was relatively easy compared to the major challenge of finding financial help to move forward. Despite major gifts from alumni and foundations and two million-dollar grants, an estimated $90 million is needed to restore Xavier to its former self.

But Dr. Francis, who lost his own home in Hurricane Katrina and lived and worked “in exile” for many months, sees the reopening of Xavier as “just short of a miracle. It’s not going to be pristine” for students, he said, and, for some time, office space for faculty and staff will be in trailers.

“But we are a national treasure,” he said, pointing to Xavier’s acclaimed pharmacy program and its solid liberal arts programs geared to the education of the whole person—mind, body and soul.

“We’re going to make it. And whatever success we’re having as we reopen is coming from the intercession of St. Katharine Drexel.”

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