JANUARY 1, 2006, MARY, MOTHER OF GOD: GAL 4:4-7; LUKE 2: 16-21

JUNE 4, 2006, PENTECOST SUNDAY: JOHN 20: 19-23

JESUS BREATHED ON THEM AND SAID: "RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT." We can do no better than begin these reflections with these words in the form of a prayer: Lord, breathe upon us too and send forth your Holy Spirit upon us that your words and those we are about to hear may find a place within our heart and increase your life in us. Amen. The breath of Jesus that carried his words from within his heart now imparts the new life of the Holy Spirit. His new life carries with it a power to his apostles and their successors- the power to forgive sins and so to pass on that life which consists in communion with the Father through the Son. The Spirit then is a source of a higher life, a life that enters into the life we know through our bodily senses and our consciousness to purify, elevate, intensify and ennoble it through the energy of divine love. For, as Fr. Merton pointed out, love is itself a higher form of life.

There has always been a close association of the inspired word and the Holy Spirit. That was true already in the early history of the chosen people. The prophets were so filled with the Spirit of God that they considered themselves justified in claiming that their words were not properly their own but were from God..The prophet Ezekiel stated the matter in these terms: "I heard a voice speaking. It said, "Son of Man, stand up; I am going to speak to you. As he said these words the Spirit came into me and made me stand up and I hear him speaking to me." (1: 28- 2:1) This intimate association of the Spirit and the word of God was only intensified in the New Testament. In his Epistle to the Romans Paul speaks of his ministry as accomplished in union with Christ Jesus, and summing up his mission to the gentiles as "only what Christ himself has done to win the allegiance of the pagans, using what I have said and done, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15: 18, 19) In other words, Christ continues to act in his Church by the virtue supplied by the Holy Spirit. As he had announced at the Last Supper, the Holy Spirit will bring to mind Jesus’ teaching, and will enable his followers rightly to understand it. The word and the Spirit are complementary; so closely joined that only where the Spirit is present and active can the word of God be grasped and accepted rightly.

Our Lord had explained on that same occasion that the Spirit will lead into all truth. He is called, in fact, ‘the Spirit of truth’. The Biblical concept of truth differs from the Greek as a comparison of the word for truth in the respective languages indicates. The Greek aletheia literally means, not hidden; the Hebrew ’emeth is from the very meaning to be solid, stable, reliable. In the Scriptures it is an attribute of God frequently who is described as faithful, "keeping covenant and steadfast in love with those who love him" (Dt 7:9) This truth is addressed to the heart, not merely to the mind; it has to do with love that is the key to understanding. Jesus stated this quite explicitly on one occasion: "I give you thanks, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to children." (Mt 11:25) To accept God’s truth is to share, by trusting faith, in the stability of his love.

Our Cistercian fathers were convinced that true understanding, that is to say, saving knowledge is itself a fruit of love. William of St. Thierry, following the teaching of Pope Gregory the Great, maintained that Love itself is understanding. Today’s feast then invites us to celebrate the love of God, given us by the personal presence of the Holy Spirit, by striving for an ever fuller knowledge of God, of His Word made flesh. In our time, there is an urgent need for believers who live our commitment to Christ and his Church to grasp as fully as possible the mystery revealed to us in the gift of faith. Too many have but a superficial knowledge of the beliefs that are opened to us in revelation and which call for our response in life. The Lord made it clear that we are to show our love for him by obeying his teaching. To do that in today’s world requires an extensive grasp of the implications of his words. Rightly to praise and serve him we must know him and assimilate his words by living them out in practice and by making them our own in prayerful study and meditation. Truly to believe is to desire to understand. To understand God’s truth, what he reveals of himself in the Spirit is to love and praise him. For this we are made; in the end this will be our great occupation, our very life: to rejoice in the loving knowledge that God, the all-powerful, the all-beautiful belongs to us, and we are his simply because he loves us and has given us a share in His own Holy Spirit.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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