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February 25, 2009

The Holy Spirit: Giver of Life
by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.


Jesus’ role as a communicator of the Holy Spirit did not end at his passion and death. A major part of Jesus’ mission was to confer the spirit and the spirit’s guidance upon his followers after his death. 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” (Jn 16:13).

Jesus Communicates the Spirit After His Death

Suffering and death must come first, however. Jesus compares his upcoming crucifixion and death to a baptism—an 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” (Mk 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, which we call the resurrected life. “Two men in dazzling garments,” who appeared at the tomb (Lk 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” (Lk 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 them—just as the creator had breathed the breath of life into Adam—and says to them, “‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (Jn 20:22). Indeed, a new creation—the birth of the Church—is 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.

The Disciples Prepare for Pentecost

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 with the holy Spirit’” (Acts 1:4-5).

Taking a cue from Jesus, we are wise to assume an attitude of prayerful waiting for the promised spirit who seeks to make a powerful reentry into our lives. Immediately before ascending to his father, Jesus left us with a wonderful promise: “You will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses 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 Holy Spirit—a dove hovering over our world, our Church and our individual lives. But it’s best not to see the spirit as inaccessible and very high above us. I suggest that we imagine the Holy Spirit descending upon us, as happened at Pentecost upon the disciples, in the form of small, tongue-like 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 conveyed to the Romans, that “the love of God has been poured forth into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).

The Holy Spirit Broods Over Our Bent World

The great Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote a celebrated poem in the 19th century called God’s Grandeur. The poem begins: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Even though our world was originally created with shining hope and fresh beauty, Hopkins notes that it has been subsequently damaged, “and all is seared with trade, bleared and smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell.”

And yet, Hopkins still held onto hope that a new day would be dawning, “Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” Just as “God’s spirit hovered over” the primordial waters (Gn 1:2) and brought forth the heavens and the earth of the first creation, so the Holy Spirit still broods over our present “bent” world with warm love to bring forth “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rv 21:1).

Friar Jim's Inbox
Readers respond to Friar Jim Van Vurst's February E-spiration, Catechism Quiz: Jesus on Fasting and Penance

Dear Friar Jim: Thanks so much for this article (on fasting and penance)! My husband and I have struggled with this for years. We did not feel that just "giving something up" and skipping meat was enough. I really have a greater understanding since you explained Jesus "fasting" from his comfort zone. I love it! I have a much greater understanding now of the purpose behind fasting as well as a way to do more than just pass up meat on Fridays. Becky

Dear Becky: I’m happy my column gave you some new ideas about the meaning of fasting. Friar Jim

Dear Friar Jim: As a child, giving up sweets for Lent was indeed a challenge for me, and, in all honesty, I didn't know why I was even trying. I now have a better understanding of fasting, and see that the point is to make an effort to refrain from those aspects of my attitude and behavior that are less than Christ-like, and to do it for love of him. It's much more difficult than giving up food of any kind because it requires frequent reflection and correction. But it has changed my life and brought me closer to him…. Mary

Dear Mary: Yes, there are many times when it’s easier giving up steak than it is to love a difficult person. Friar Jim

Dear Friar Jim: Thanks so much for affirming that giving up food is not the only fasting we can do. When my children were growing up, we never gave up chocolate or pie for Lent, we always gave up some behavior that distanced us from God and family. One year, my daughter, who was eight at the time, gave up arguing with me. Wow, it was amazing and very hard for her. She persisted, and it lasted beyond the six weeks of Lent, about 10 weeks in all. It was truly a great teaching tool to help us realize all that we have and how much we don't do for God and family. Laura

Dear Laura: Thanks for sharing that. Friar Jim

Send your feedback to friarjack@americancatholic.org

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Welcome!
I am Friar Jack Wintz, and I hope you'll enjoy all of the news about what's happening at AmericanCatholic.org as well as my own “Musings.” By the way, I am a real Franciscan friar, as is my co-worker, Friar Jim.
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