In the brief introduction to the Mass for the Solemnity of Pentecost, offered by MAGNIFICAT, reference is made to the teaching of two of our fathers in faith and to my mind it is done so to great effect:
The popular monthly prayer book paraphrases the Angelic Doctor: “Saint Thomas Aquinas says that the Holy Spirit interiorly perfects our spirit, communicating to it a new dynamism so that it refrains from evil for love.”
“…It is quite natural for people who had been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook and for cowards to become people of great courage”. Saint Cyril of Alexandria
Most of the programs which people turn to for help with an addiction of one kind or another work on the principle of sustaining our own weak will through entrustment to a higher authority or power and by cultivating structures of solidarity by leaning on others in an honest joint effort to stay clean or sober. Setting boundaries is a valid and thoroughly wise dimension of the whole strategy. These programs are good; in fact, they can be a great thing, a source of hope for the addict and of consolation for distraught family, friends and co-workers.
However, such an approach is not and cannot be a blueprint for my life as a whole, for that reality which is really me, for all that I am in truth. What is at stake when it comes to the fullness of life are those bookends on experience that are none such, as life does not come to an end when we rest from our labors, when we return to dust; what is involved here is what happens when life changes, when we go to meet the Lord in the heavens. Our eternal salvation and what we are seeking beyond the grave is something we must approach in a totally different way and without analogy to any program with props solely in the here and now. Granted, we might profitably use the principles of the AA Charter (or of any step program to sobriety or wholeness) to free ourselves from some sinful habit, but such an honest option does not nor does it pretend to go any further than that. Reforming or recovering is not yet being forgiven by God; it is not really reparation; on my own I can’t erase the temporal punishment which I may have incurred due to my sins; I cannot gain the total victory over sin by myself, let alone claim as mine the victory over everlasting death which Christ won for me upon the Cross. Our end and Jesus’ prayer for us goes far beyond personal achievement:
“If you love me you will keep my commandments. I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever. If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.” (Gospel for Pentecost in Year C – John 14)
Being God-less-ly moral and upright, seeking the True, the Good and the Beautiful with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength by myself or with the help of friends may be admirable, but to refuse God’s help by failing to live with Him and in His time (A.D. Anno Domini) is not heroically or stoically, stubbornly or dully to take the road less traveled; it is hopeless and hopelessly out of touch with what put the wise men from the East on their quest for the One born under that exceptional star. Jesus wrote history not only to edify people forever after but to change things forever thereafter baptizing us not like John in his quest for renunciation of sin, but in waters made holy by the One Who was baptized.
“Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.” (2nd Reading for Pentecost Sunday, Year C, Romans 8)
The Holy Spirit and His Coming at Pentecost, God’s action in our lives, is what changes and saves us from Adam’s sin and our personal sins. Getting to Heaven is not dependent on something comparable to my finding the right fitness trainer and training strategy, which at best might give me (after only 90 days) that look which merits quick video documentation because, like holding your breath under water, at some point this game too will be over.
Personally, I never knew (other than in Germany) the Pentecost Monday holiday and so was overjoyed this morning in green to hear at Mass on the Monday of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time (Year 2) these words of encouragement:
“This is a cause of great joy for you, even though you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials; so that, when Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold – only it is more precious than gold, which is corruptible even though it bears testing by fire – and then you will have praise and glory and honour.” (1 Peter 1)
Malachi urged walking humbly with our God. All the great ascetic saints knew that our part in the salvation equation is small. For that reason I love both of the presently used private communion prayers of the priest very much. To conclude, I thought I’d quote the new translation which we are to familiarize ourselves with in preparation for making a good beginning in just over a year.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your death gave life to the world; free me by this your most holy Body and Blood from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.”