Imagine the emotional turmoil inside the disciples.
• First he was here then he was gone. They had lived with Jesus in his public life and they had loved it. Surely they thought it would last forever. But abruptly he was gone. They were not at all prepared for the enormity of his torture and killing, the destruction of their lives, of their friend and their Lord. Gone, gone, gone, gone.
• Then he was here again. We know how hard his resurrection was for the apostles. They doubted it and rejected it, even as the women welcomed it with full hearts. He appeared many times and kindly helped his followers to accept the fact that he was alive again.
• And then he was gone for good. When they had gotten used to his new presence, guess what. The Ascension took place.* Gone gone, gone. This presents the obvious question. Does the story really end with Jesus “gone,” ascended to heaven? The point of God's taking flesh had been to show how completely present he always is to us, living in our material world. So now has he absented himself forever by ascending? Are we back to where we started?
The First Reading is a continuation of Jesus' frequent predictions about sending the Holy Spirit (Paraclete, Teacher, Comforter) to us after he has ascended to the Father. All who believe and who open their hearts will receive the Spirit.
Stay with this line of reasoning. What is the Spirit? Is it simply a dose of “grace” that we receive or earn in order to be holy? Or that Jesus and the Father send to give us a break? Or a “help”? Or some kind of power coming from God?
None of these.
Listen well: the Holy Spirit is:
Not a representative of God, not a dove that descends on us, not even a point of fire over our heads. It is the complete, true reality of God. And it is marked by Jesus’ entire life, death and resurrection, even as the Godhead is.
This Spirit quietly makes us able to say yes to faith, not by brutalizing us or overriding us but by inviting us. The Second Reading and the Gospel are all about what your present writer wants to call “respectful love.” I define respectful love as that which never over-powers us but always respects our choice. Rather than a dictator, the Spirit wants to be a companion in our lives, respecting our self, not contradicting it.
Jesus is with us, by means of the his own Spirit within us. He hopes we will accept the offer of his Spirit. If we do, our souls will mingle with God's own reality and we will become a new body for the incarnate God.
We are then called the “Mystical Body of Christ on earth.”
You reply, “well great, but why am I so weak in belief, so far from Christ, so prone to sin? This Holy Spirit must be pretty anemic.”
No, and here again is the reason.
The Spirit always waits, waits, waits for us to receive life. Jesus is not gone, he is knocking at our inner door. We can say no. But we can also say yes with our lives.
Through respectful love.
You are invited to email a note to the
author of this reflection:
Fr. John Foley, SJ