Bottom line: The double gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to love God and neighbor.
Today is Pentecost Sunday - the Feast of the Holy Spirit. This Feast brings the fifty days of Easter to a conclusion. Perhaps you have noticed something odd: The Easter season not only concludes with pouring out the Holy Spirit - it begins with a similar event. On that first Easter Sunday evening, Jesus appeared to his disciples and breathed on them, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
Jesus imparts the Holy Spirit on two different occasions. Why does he do that? St. Augustine has an interesting response to the question. "Perhaps this double giving of the Holy Spirit," he says, "was done in manifestation of the two commandments of love, that is, of neighbor and of God, in order that love might be shown to belong to the Holy Spirit."*
Most Christians know that we cannot love God without the Holy Spirit. Our human nature naturally rebels against God. We want to do our own thing - my way, not God's way. We feel an inner guilt that makes us run from God. Like Adam in the garden, we hide from him. Because of that guilt, we need the Holy Spirit. He gives peace and pardon. When a person goes to confession, the priest says, "God, the Father of mercies...has sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins..." A gulf exists between us and God, but the Holy Spirit carries us over it.
Not only does the Holy Spirit free from guilt; he prays within us. St. Paul says, "We do not know how to pray, but the Spirit intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings." It might seem strange to say it this way, but when we pray, God speaks to God. God the Holy Spirit - through Jesus - prays to the Father on our behalf. Yes, it appears odd, but when you think about it makes sense. It really cannot be otherwise. As creatures - sinful, fallen ones at that - we can hardly presume to a relationship with the Creator of the universe. But the Holy Spirit lifts us up. By him we become sons and daughters.** The Holy Spirit enables us to walk with God, to love God.
As St. Augustine indicates, the Holy Spirit not only makes us capable of loving God; he also enables us to love our neighbor. I am not talking about luv: l-u-v. It is natural to be attracted to someone who is pleasant and agreeable. But to love the person who disagrees and who offends, that is something else. It requires forgiveness. Just as we need the Holy Spirit to receive forgiveness, so also we need him extend forgiveness. The Holy Spirit enables us to love our neighbor as he is.***
Let me briefly sum up what I have said so far: As creatures and as sinners, we need the Holy Spirit to have a relationship with God, to love Him. We also need the Holy Spirit to love our neighbor in the deepest way - by forgiveness and acceptance. Because of that - as St. Augustine says - it is appropriate that there are two gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Interestingly enough, in our sacramental life we receive the Holy Spirit on two separate occasions. At baptism, the Holy Spirit changes us into children of God. Then comes Confirmation when we are "sealed with gift of the Holy Spirit." He is a double gift.
I would like to tie this in with Mother's Day. The most Spirit-filled person in the Gospel was a mother - the Blessed Virgin Mary. She also received the Holy Spirit as a double gift: On the day of Jesus' conception, the Holy Spirit filled her. But later - on Pentecost, the feast we celebrate today - she was in the midst of the disciples.
Mary is the model Christian - and of course the model mother. It is more difficult to be a mother today that in past times. So much is expected of our moms. They are torn in a hundred directions. To be a Christian mom, one needs that double gift of the Holy Spirit. That's what we are praying for this Sunday. For our moms and our dads and for all us - to open our hearts to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, that enables us to love God and neighbor.
*I found this quote in Ancient Christian Devotional, edited by Thomas Oden and Cindy Crosby.
**Have you ever noticed how many of our stories are about a dramatic change of status? A serving girl gets the prince's attention. An obscure person suddenly become the American Idol. Those stories speak to something deep in us. They draw us, not with the idea of joining the royal family or of mixing with Hollywood stars, but because of a much higher destiny.
***In The Thrill of the Chaste Dawn Eden has a nice reflection on the centrality of forgiveness:
"It's not hard for me to find someone to love the me I love. What I never imagined before I was chaste was that I could hope to find someone to love the me I don't love. My weaknesses, my insecurities, my shortcomings, all the times I miss the mark."
From the Archives:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Death of Fr. Joseph Marquart, Mary Bloom Center, Visit of Dawn Eden)
Preaching Schedule (updated)
Two-Bit Collections (updated)
Updates on Traditional Latin Mass at Holy Family Parish, Seattle
FAIR gets sucked in
Bill Donohue on the religious divide which is splitting Sen. Obama’s supporters