In pondering upon the tax collector and the Pharisee in light of the Epistle of today’s Mass, my mind turned to the question, rather simply and bluntly put: “What difference does the Holy Spirit make in the life of a Christian, and more particularly in the life of a Catholic?”
Now this is worthy of longer treatment that a Sunday homily but allow me to share with you some teaching and insights about this.
In a very real way, this is fundamental to our faith. If the Holy Spirit makes no difference and one could possess the Holy Spirit or not, then the whole mission of Christ becomes irrelevant. And in turn, the whole of salvation history becomes just a story; maybe even a long and complex fairy tale.
But first, some foundational theological principles:
- Christ and His Spirit are at the origin and life of all creatures.
- Power over life pertains to the Spirit because the role of the Spirit is to preserve creation. (CCC703)
Thus there is really no part of creation where the Holy Spirit is not, whether He is acknowledged or not.
The mission of the Holy Spirit in salvation history is to “gather into one the children of God” and He does this by dwelling within each child of God in not just a preserving way but also in a transforming way. The Holy Spirit’s transforming dwelling-presence makes the child of God different a human person who does not possess the Spirit in this way.
In those who have received the Spirit in this way, the Spirit dwells as the guarantee of our heavenly inheritance until that moment that we acquire it. (CCC706)
If you want to see what this looked like in a perfect way we can look at Christ himself who possessed perfect masculinity and at His Mother who possessed perfect femininity.
Why was it perfect? Because in both the Holy Spirit was completely and perfectly operative. In Christ, this was so because of the union of his divine and human natures. In Mary, because of her complete openness and co-operation with the Spirit.
So, what difference does the Holy Spirit make? Heaps!!
Let us list them:
- We are restored to the possibility of heaven. Remember heaven was closed off after the sin of Adam and Eve. Hell would have been the end of all had Christ not come and given His Spirit.
- We are adopted as children of God. That is something only God can do. We can’t wish it into happening.
- We can call God ‘Father’. Without the Holy Spirit, God is God and we are only a creature.
- We share in Christ’s grace. In other words, not only His own relationship with the Father but His very life and existence.
- Lastly, we have the Church that Christ founded, His own mystical Body. It is through this Church that we receive the Holy Spirit and it is through the Church that we receive the life of grace.
So, are there some in our world who remain at the natural, created experience of the Holy Spirit. Yes, and, sometimes through no fault of their own but sometimes through their own choice or unwillingness to commit, they remain outside the existence as children of God.
Brothers and sisters, we have been given a great gift in our faith, our Baptism, our Church and the life of the sacraments. Let us not take this for granted!
As we participate in this Mass let us give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit both in our existence as well as our adoption as children of God. Let us also promise that we will, when we can, bring others into this beautiful and fruitful life that is ours, as children of God in the Catholic Church.