As many of you are aware, my place of work and
ministry is St. Anthony Messenger Press in downtown Cincinnati,
Ohio (USA). My second-floor office in the St. Anthony Messenger
building is located directly across a small side street from St.
Francis Seraph Church and Friary, which is the headquarters (or
"motherhouse") of the St. John the Baptist Province of
Franciscan Friars of Cincinnati, to which I belong.
High above the main altar in St. Francis Seraph
Church is a circular stained-glass window or skylight with the image
of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove with wings unfolded as
if hovering over the assembly below. This image is my starting point
as I muse with you on the role of the Holy Spirit in our world,
in our Church and in our personal lives. The image is a good reminder
of the Spirit's hovering over you and meand all God's peopleand
guiding us day by day ever more fully into the life of God. In just
one month (on May 30th) we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, the
feast on which we commemorate the Holy Spirit's descent upon that
very early post-Resurrection Church, gathered in that upper room
in Jerusalem. I hope this helps all of us prepare for the Spirit's
But let's go back to the beginningto the
very first image of God's spirit in the Bible. We find such an image
already in verse two of Genesis, where the "breath," "wind"
or "spirit" of God hovers over the water (1:2). What this
primal image suggests to us perhaps is that the foremost role or
activity of God's Spirit is that of presiding over the genesis (or
birth) of new life. Many times we profess in the Nicene Creed, "We
believe in the Holy Spirit, ...the giver of life."
Indeed, clearly symbolized by the spirit's hovering
over the primordial waters in the Book of Genesis is the power of
God's spirit (breath) to draw forth from the chaotic waters an orderly
genesis of new lifefirst the sea creatures, then the land/air
creatures and finally the first human beings. The spirit is present
at each new burst of life. Note, for example, the "breath of
life" image in Genesis 2:7 at the birth of Adam: "God
formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils
the breath of life; and the man became a living being."
There are many other references to the spirit of God in the Old Testament,
such as when the prophet Samuel anoints with oil the shepherd boy David (selected by God
to be king), and "from that day on the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David" (Samuel
16:13). Usually, such actions of the spirit represent a new initiative—a new development
or an entry of new life—in God's plans for the good of humanity.
One of God's biggest initiatives and major instances
of new life in the gospels is the Incarnation of the Eternal Word
of God, Jesus Christ. It's the emergence of the new Adam, indeed,
of a whole new creation. We should not be surprised to see the holy
Spirit, "giver of life," profoundly involved in this mystery.
When Mary asks how it can happen that she, a virgin, can bear a
son who "will be called the Son of the Most High" and
be given "the throne of David his father," she is told
by the Angel: "The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the
power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child
to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (see Luke 1:31-36).
Another dramatic appearance of the Spirit is at
Jesus' baptism in the Jordan at the hands of John the Baptist. The
holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of the dove and a voice
from heaven says, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well
pleased" (Luke 3:22). Again, this episode represents the introduction
of a new phase of life for Jesus. He is being anointed by the Spirit
as Messiahand the event marks the beginning of his public
ministry. He comes up from the Jordan "filled with the holy
Spirit" and is "led by the Spirit into the desert"
(Luke 4:1), an important arena of testing and new spiritual life.
The power of the Spirit, so visible in the events
surrounding Jesus' Baptism, continues to guide him throughout his
earthly life, including his passion and death. It's good to keep
in mind the image of the dove always hovering above Jesus and leading
him forward. The same is true for us. The Spirit, so prominent in
our own Baptism, does not suddenly fly away when we come up from
the river but remains fully present to us, seeking ever to guide
us to new levels of life in God.
A key part of Jesus' mission on earth is to confer
the Spirit and the Spirit's guidance upon his followers. In John's
Gospel, Jesus assures the disciples that after he leaves this life
he will send the Advocate to them, the Spirit of truth, who "will
guide you to all truth" (John 16:13). But suffering and death
must come first. Jesus compares his upcoming crucifixion and death
to a baptisman entry into new life through suffering. Recall
that Jesus had asked James and John, the two apostles who were seeking
a shortcut to glory, if they were ready "to be baptized with
the baptism with which I am baptized" (Mark 10:38)a clear
reference to Jesus' passion and death on the cross.
Just as Jesus, after his baptism in the Jordan,
rose up from the river "filled with the holy Spirit,"
he now rises up from this new baptism and enters a whole new level
of life that we call the resurrected life. "Two men in dazzling
garments," who appeared at the tomb in Luke's Gospel (24:4-5),
announce to the terrified disciples that Jesus now enjoys a new
state of life and is not to be found in this place of death: "Why
do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he has been
raised" (Luke 24:5-6).
Part of the nature of Jesus' risen life is that
he now possesses an enhanced share of life in the Spirit and is
linked more profoundly to the life-giving breath of God. Indeed,
when Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room on Easter
Sunday night, he literally "breathes" on themjust
as the Creator had breathed the breath of life into Adamand
says to them, "Receive the holy Spirit'" (John 20:22).
Indeed a new creationthe birth of the Churchis taking
place! This is a preview of what we will experience more fully on
the feast of Pentecost. The new Advocate promised by Jesus is already
being introduced to them.
In the Acts of the Apostles before his Ascension
into heaven, Jesus tells his disciples "not to depart from
Jerusalem but to wait for 'the promise of the Father about which
you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a
few days you will be baptized by the holy Spirit'" (Acts 1:4-5).
Taking a cue from Jesus, we are wise to assume
a spirit of prayerful waiting for the promised Spirit who seeks
to make a powerful re-entry into our lives. Immediately before ascending
to his Father, Jesus left us with a wonderful promise to ponder
and focus upon as we wait for the Spirit: "You will receive
power when the Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witness
in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the
earth" (Acts 1:8). These were Jesus' very last words before
leaving his disciples.
Once again, it is helpful for us to recall the
image of the Spirit-dove hovering over our world, our Church and
our individual lives. But we don't want to see the Spirit as too
far above us. To make the image more intimate and personally involving,
I suggest that we see the Spirit descending upon us, as at Pentecost,
by way of small flames of fire hovering over our individual heads,
revealing God's love for each of us and God's desire that we come
close to God and to each other in unity and love. God is always
ready to breathe (or pour) greater life and love into us through
the gift of the Spirit. We rejoice in the good news that Paul conveys
to the Romans, that "the love of God is poured forth in our
hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us" (5:5).
May the Holy Spirit inject new life in each of us!
Send your feedback to email@example.com.
For your information, there will be no "Friar Jack Catechism Quiz" next month
(May 2004). Julie Zimmerman, who has done a great job assembling this feature each month, is discontinuing
her work with the column because of new responsibilities at home. She has a new baby, an infant
girl adopted from Korea. We ask blessings for Julie and the baby and thank her for the wonderful
work she has done for Friar Jack's E-spirations for over two years.
A musing edition of Friar Jack's E-spirations will appear, as usual, near the
end of May and the Friar Jack Catechism Quiz will likely be up and running again by mid-June.
In case you didn't know, you can find all the past issues of Friar Jack's column by going
Jack's E-spirations Archive (click on www.FriarJack.org and
scroll to bottom).