THE HOLY SPIRIT AND RELIGIOUS LIFE
By Fr. Salvador G. Agualada Jr., CMF
I have taken my inspiration and the basic insights for this workshop from several writings, among them the Apostolic Letter, Tertio Millenio Adveniente and the Encyclical Letter, Dominum Et Vivificantem, both by Pope John Paul II, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, which I shall cite very often, and one excellent article of Fr. Daniel Patrick Huang SJ, entitled, “1998: Year of the Holy Spirit, Year of Hope,” published in the issue of The Windhover (July 1998), which proved so exceptionally helpful to me in preparing for this conference.
Looking back now (2015), I feel that a catalogue of the sources whose ideas substantially make up the entire talk should have been made when it was given in 1998, or at least the sources mentioned in the body of the talk itself, to make it a little bit more academic and scholarly. However, with a considerable lapse of time of about seventeen years, I apologize for my impotence in recalling now the other, perhaps albeit minor, sources, but whose contributions in the development of the ideas in this talk I heartily acknowledge to be indispensable.
As we march together waiting expectantly for the coming of the Great Jubilee, Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter, Tertio Millenio Adveniente (TMA), asks all Christians to devote 1998 to an in-depth reflection on and an ardent prayer to the Holy Spirit, a year dedicated to a “renewed appreciation of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit” in the Church and in the world.
I intend to make my talk this afternoon very simple, and I hope I will succeed in my intention. Following John Paul II’s idea, found in Tertio Millenio Adveniente, that a renewed appreciation of the presence and activity of the Spirit in the Church and in the world is at the same time a renewed appreciation of the theological virtue of hope, what I am planning to do this afternoon is to discuss Religious Life within the context of a world that yearns and longs for a more visible, tangible, and felt presence of the Holy Spirit, and therefore of hope. I will try to do this by reflecting on the very core of Religious Life, with its insistence on the primacy of God in the world and of the eschatological reality as precisely the ground, the theological foundation of our hope, of our life of hoping. Lastly, I will try to show in what way is Religious Life a sign, an emblem, a beacon of hope to a world that is more predisposed to despair and cynicism.
Why a renewed appreciation of the Spirit’s presence and activity? To answer this question, perhaps a brief historical and theological background is needed. In many theological and spiritual literatures in the past, a lot of people have complained that the Holy Spirit is neglected in Western theology. Who is the Spirit? What is the Spirit like? What are the characteristics of the person of the Holy Spirit? These questions have received such a scant attention from the Church’s hierarchs and theologians that one would have almost to suspect a contract several thousand years old to “ignore” the subject. The Holy Spirit is the most unknown, the most forgotten divine Person in the Triune Godhead. This complaint can be read in all the books that have appeared about the Holy Spirit in recent years, evidently with the implicit and unspoken promise that this or that new book will change the theological landscape. But with the publication of so many writings about the Holy Spirit these past decades, still nothing substantially has changed in our impression about the Holy Spirit being the great hidden, the great unknown.
There are many reasons why the Holy Spirit is the most unknown among the three divine Persons. These reasons may range from the Western theology not speaking enough about the personality and role of the Spirit in the Church, to particular aspects of our very secularized world which prevent people from feeling and experiencing the influence of the Spirit in their lives, to our difficulty itself in conceiving the Holy Spirit, in “portraying” him. We are not even sure what “gender” to ascribe to the Holy Spirit whenever we talk about him. The patriarchal world has ascribed to the Spirit a masculine gender; but a feminine gender may also be as correct or incorrect as the masculine one. Unlike the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit does not call forth in our mind a human image which would permit us to find in this Person a resemblance to our visible world. This problem is even more compounded by the fact that when we go to the Gospels we find Jesus relatively silent about the Holy Spirit, in spite of his radical consciousness of the Spirit in his life.
However, despite this lack of appreciation and Jesus’ infrequent mention of the Spirit in the Gospels, a fact not always noted is that uppermost in the consciousness of the early Church was the reality of the Holy Spirit. The very first paragraph of the Acts of the Apostles mentions the Holy Spirit. It would seem as if the Church could not begin to speak about its life without making mention of the Spirit. The experience of the Holy Spirit was the great Christian experience. This appears to be the case not only in the Acts of the Apostles, but also in the four Gospels. The Gospel of Mark begins with the preaching of the Baptizer, but the point emphasized is that Someone is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk. 1:7-8). The other three Gospels likewise refer in their early pages to the coming of the Spirit. “The one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “When you see the Spirit descend and rest on someone, it is he who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 1:33). “I am baptizing you in water, but there is one to come who is mightier than I. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire” (Lk. 3:16). “I baptize you in water for the sake of reform, but the one who will follow me is greater than I. He it is who will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire” (Mt. 3:11).
Perhaps the finest name given to Jesus is “He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is preeminently the man of the Holy Spirit, the giver of the Spirit, the dispenser of the gifts of the Spirit, and it is Jesus who makes it possible for us to share in the Spirit of God. The ultimate gift is the Spirit, and it is in Jesus and through Jesus that the gift of the Spirit is possible, for Jesus is the man of the Spirit, radically, at his deepest roots. Indeed, the story of the early Christians can never be told without mention of the Spirit, for the content, the substance and the foundation of what they have to say concerns the gift of the Spirit and his presence and action. This then is the Christian gospel, the core of Christian identity and distinctiveness: that our life and our world stand bathed in the Holy Spirit. It is the heart of the Gospel and the deepest source of our Christian hope.
In the Acts of the Apostles, oftentimes referred to as the Gospel of the Spirit, we have an astonishing story of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus (Acts 2). Here we see closed doors, timid disciples very much afraid of the Roman power and the Jewish authorities, disciples not understanding exactly all that has been happening, even quite puzzled. Then the Spirit comes to them and they are at once strengthened; all of a sudden they possess clarity of vision, a new understanding of Old Testament, and everything that Jesus has said and done. They are able to reinterpret in the light of the Christ-event all that had gone before in the history of their people. From that time on they understood that this man Jesus whom God raised up from the grave and reconstituted in the fullness of human life was himself in charge of life and death and life beyond death. From the disciples’ experience of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Church—the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit— was born.
The Spirit is the soul of the Church, constantly creating, renewing and sanctifying her. The Church recognizes that she is above all a creation of the Spirit, a foundation of the Spirit, originating from the Spirit. The Spirit given to the believers and acting in them unifies the Christian community, animates its prayer life, service and witnessing. The power of the Spirit energizes with marvelous power the ecclesial community in order to strengthen its faith. The Church, in order to realize the utopic project of Jesus within the temporal conditions, needs the inspiration and the liberating power of the Spirit. For this reason, the Spirit is given to the Church, the Spirit who is the source of the charismatic flavor of all ecclesial institutions, of all the historical realizations of the Gospels.
Were it possible to question St. Paul on what constitutes the various forms of Christian life in the Church, he would no doubt indicate the various charisms bestowed by the one Spirit for the good of the entire Church. This in fact is his way of approaching the theme of the manifold vocations in the Church. He does this often, in referring to the various ministries (1 Cor. 12:8-10;Rom 12:6-18), and later to the various ecclesiastical offices (Eph.4: 11-12). The diverse contributions Christians bring to the common building up of the Church are always originating from the different gifts of the Spirit which complement each other. Although it is true that the category of charism is quite broad in St. Paul, even when he uses it in technical sense including transitory experiences of the Spirit, it is nonetheless true that the Apostle tends to identify charisms with permanent gifts that characterize a Christian’s place in the Church. More and more it is a question of vocational gifts: “God has given the first place to apostles, the second to prophets, the third to teachers…” (1 Cor. 12:28), and the letter to the Ephesians echoes: “And to some his gift was that they should be apostles; to some prophets; to some evangelists; to some pastors and teachers…”(Eph.4: 11).
But it is not only a question of high and prestigious ecclesiastical offices: some have the gift of being good administrators, and others dedicate themselves especially to the works of mercy (Rom. 12:7-8). Are we dealing only with gifts connected with various activities within the Church? No. St. Paul is, in fact, interested in linking the multiform variety of specific situations with their unity of origin (which is God, the Lord, the Spirit) and of object (which is the Church): “There is diversity of gifts, but the Spirit is the same. There is diversity of ministries, but the Lord is the same. There is diversity of works, but the same God works in all” (1 Cor. 12:4-6). All the gifts and charisms that come from the Spirit are given to individuals and communities for the building up of the Church, the body of Christ.
Vita Consecrata expresses it so well: “By virtue of their rebirth in Christ, all the faithful share a common dignity, all are called to holiness; all cooperate in the building up of the one Body of Christ, each in accordance with the proper vocation and gift which he or she has received from the Spirit (cf. Rom. 12:3-8). The equal dignity of all members of the Church is the work of the Spirit, is rooted in Baptism and Confirmation and is strengthened by the Eucharist. But diversity is also a work of the Spirit. It is he who establishes the Church as an organic communion in the diversity of vocations, charisms and ministries” (VC 31). It is from this ecclesial phenomenon of the diversity and variety of gifts and charisms, vocation and ministries, all coming from the one Holy Spirit that we can speak of the marvelous phenomenon of the Religious Life. For the Spirit is indeed the giver of manifold gifts, the founder of all creative movements, the initiator of all great beginnings and Religious life is one such great movement and great beginning that the Holy Spirit has given for the life, mission and holiness of the Church.
Religious Life, in the words of Lumen Gentium, a life “constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels… belongs undeniably to the Church’ life and holiness” (LG 12, 44). For Vita Consecrata, “the consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling, and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one spouse… the profession of the evangelical counsels is an integral part of the Church’s life” (VC 3). “The profession of the evangelical counsels indisputably belongs to the life and holiness of the Church” (VC 29). To put it more precisely, Religious life belongs to the charismatic dimension which is basic to the Church. Charisms, which, in the broad sense of the term, include not only extraordinary gifts but also permanent vocational gifts, are the fruits of the Spirit’s presence and action in the Church. Through them the Risen Lord continues to build up and vivify the Church. The charisms make it possible to realize one’s being Church and to serve the community in highly diverse ways. The Holy Spirit is at the source of all charisms, and hence of Religious Life. “Like the whole of Christian life,” so says Vita Consecrata, “the call to the consecrated life is closely linked to the working of the Holy Spirit. In every age, the Spirit enables new men and women to recognize the appeal of such a demanding choice… It is the Spirit who awakens the desire to respond fully; it is he who guides the growth of this desire, helping it to mature into a positive response and sustaining it as it is faithfully translated into action; it is he who shapes and moulds the hearts of those who are called, configuring them to Christ, the chaste, poor and obedient One, and prompting them to make his mission their own” (VC 19). “This call is accompanied, moreover by a specific gift of the Holy Spirit, so that the consecrated persons can respond to their vocation and mission” (VC 30). This relationship with the Holy Spirit explains why the charisms of prophecy, and of the spiritual understanding of history destined to renew God’s people, his Church, should have been granted so generously to the Founders and Foundresses of various Religious Orders, Societies and Congregations.
Vatican II document, Perfectae Caritatis, states: “From the very beginning of the Church there were men and women who set out to follow Christ with greater liberty, and to imitate him more closely, by practicing the evangelical counsels. Many of them, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, became hermits or founded religious families… Thus, in keeping with the divine purpose, a wonderful variety of religious communities came into existence. This has considerably contributed towards enabling the Church not merely to be equipped for every good work and to be prepared for the work of the ministry unto the building up of the Body of Christ, but also to appear adorned with the manifold gifts of her children, like a bride adorned for her husband, and to manifest in her the multiform wisdom of God” (PC 1).
What is our vocation in the Church as Religious? By means of our Religious Consecration and our charismatic way of life, our profession and living out of the evangelical counsels of celibacy, poverty and obedience, our intensive prayer life, our strong sense of apostolic availability, our mission, trying to make constantly visible in the midst of the world the characteristic features of Jesus—the celibate, poor and obedient One (VC 1a, cf. 18, 19b, 31d, 77) becoming in a certain way a prolongation of his humanity (VC 76), we stress fundamentally the primacy of God in the world and point and witness to the eschatological reality: that all of us come from the Trinity, live in the Trinity, and are marching towards the Trinity; that the Trinity is our origin, our life and our final home; that we are, as St. Cyprian said, the Church “de Trinitate, in Trinitate, in Trinitatem”; and that as Vita Consecrata affirms, particularly referring to the consecrated people, we come “a Patre ad Patrem, per Filium, in Spiritu” (VC 17-19).
As Religious, our vocation is to witness charismatically in the Church and in the world the primacy of God (VC 85) in our human and Christian life: that the Triune God is the very center, the deepest meaning, and the ultimate goal of our human existence. Through the vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience, we stress in an “exaggerated” and insistent manner the truth that God is our only and deepest love, that he is our only and greatest treasure, and that his will is the deepest meaning of our life and therefore of our life of freedom too. Through our joyful living of perfect chastity, we witness to the power of God’s love manifested in the weakness of the human condition, to a joyful and liberating experience of God’s grace; through our evangelical poverty we attest to the fundamental truth that God is the true wealth of the human heart, and thus forcefully challenges the idolatry of money and material possessions; and through our vow of obedience we proclaim to the world that true freedom is only attained in obedience to God’s will (cf. VC 88-91). We, Religious, are first of all, for the God of the Kingdom (consecration) and after, but inseparably, for the Kingdom of God (mission); as we are first of all, for the God of the People and after, but inseparably, for the People of God; in the same way as the two commandments of love are inseparable, but the “greatest and first” one is to love the Lord, our God (cf. Mt. 22: 34-40).
When we live a faithful, joyful and generous life, free and available for the mission, and detached from the things of this earth, we witness to and stress in a deep and profound way the eschatological dimension of our Christian life. Though we renounce many positive and beautiful things of this world, we do not condemn them as bad; on the contrary, we affirm their fundamental goodness as created by God. Genesis 1 categorically asserts: “When God saw everything that he had made, he found it very good.” Similarly, the book of Wisdom affirms: “You love everything that exists and hate nothing that you have made; had you hated anything you would not have formed it. How could anything endure if you did not will it? And how could anything last that you had not willed? You have compassion on all because all is yours, O Lord, lover of life” (Wis. 11:23-26). Our profession of the evangelical counsels, therefore, though they imply a certain demand of renunciation, “should not be considered as a denial of the values inherent in sexuality, in the legitimate desire to possess material goods or to make decisions for oneself” (VC 87). However, “while affirming the value of created goods, it relativizes them by pointing to God as the absolute good. Thus, [proposing] so to speak, a spiritual ‘therapy’ for humanity, because they reject the idolatry of anything created and in a certain way they make visible the living God” (VC 87).
The things of this world and all living creatures are indeed not bad; they are not however “definitive” but “relative” (VC 87). Only God and his Kingdom and our eternal communion with him are absolute, the “last things,” the definitive ones. And therefore, we, Religious, remind the world that the goal of our Christian life is not in this world; that our true home, our real citizenship, is in heaven. Following the charisms of our own Congregations, we are called to emphasize with an “exaggerated” insistence and intensity this eschatological dimension of Christian life. “It is in this perspective that we can understand more clearly the role of consecrated life as an eschatological sign. In fact it has been constantly taught that the consecrated life is a foreshadowing of the Kingdom. The Second Vatican Council proposes this teaching anew when it states that consecration better ‘foretells the resurrected state and the glory of the heavenly Kingdom.’ It does this above all by means of the vow of virginity, which tradition has always understood as an anticipation of the world to come, already at work for the transformation of man… Immersed in the things of the Lord, the consecrated person remembers that ‘here we have no lasting city’ (Heb. 13:14), for ‘our commonwealth is in heaven’ (Phil 3:20). The one thing necessary is ‘to seek God’s Kingdom and his righteousness’ (Mt. 6:33), with unceasing prayer for the Lord’s coming” (VC 26).
However, this eschatological nature of the consecrated life, this expectation for the Lord’s definitive coming is “anything but passive: although directed towards the future Kingdom, it expresses itself in work and mission, that the Kingdom may become present here and now through the spirit of the Beatitudes,… justice, peace, solidarity and forgiveness… By their charisms, consecrated persons become signs of the Spirit pointing to a new future enlightened by faith and by Christian hope. Hence, this eschatological expectation becomes mission, so that the Kingdom may become ever more fully established here and now. The prayer ‘Come, Lord, Jesus!’ is accompanied by another: “They Kingdom come!” (Mt. 6:10) (VC 27).
We who vigilantly await the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ are able to bring hope to people who are often depressed and pessimistic about their future. We ground our hope on God’s promise that our history, the history of the whole humanity, is moving towards “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1), where God will “wipe away every tear from our eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). According to Vita Consecrata, “the consecrated life is at the service of this definitive manifestation of the divine glory, when all flesh will see the salvation of God (cf. Lk. 3:6; Is. 40:5). The Christian East emphasizes this dimension when it considers monks as angels of God on earth who proclaim the renewal of the world in Christ. In the West, monasticism is the celebration of memory and expectation: memory of the wonders God has wrought and expectation of the final fulfillment of our hope. Monasticism and the contemplative live are a constant reminder that the primacy of God gives full meaning and joy to human lives, because men and women are made for God, and their hearts are restless until they rest in him” (VC 27).
If Religious life is the Spirit’s gift for the life, holiness and mission of the Church, and if the Church is God’s sacrament of salvation to the world, then Religious life, by its very nature and identity, and by the very nature of the purpose of its existence, must give meaning to a world that cries and yearns for a more visible, tangible, felt experience of the Spirit in its life. How should we, in this regard, understand Religious life, its vocation and mission, within the context of our world which, for many reasons, tend to submit to the seduction of cynicism, despair and hopelessness?
In the book of Ezekiel, we find this lamentation: “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off” (Ez. 37:11). The despairing words of Israel in exile, according to Fr. Danny Huang, SJ, in his article that I mentioned at the beginning of this talk, express poignantly the feelings and sentiments, often unspoken, of many people at the end of the twentieth century.
Huang describes in an eloquent way the reasons for our despair: “The magnitude and seeming intractability of evil, suffering and death all around us often gives birth to a despairing cynicism that gives up on any hope of change or improvement. We open the newspapers and read the same old stories of violence, abused women and children, kidnapping and murders, wars and international conflicts, and we think to ourselves, ‘Nothing will change. Evil will never be vanquished.’ Closer to home, [in our religious communities and in our apostolates,] we look at people we care about whom we have tried so hard to help change, and yet who resist all efforts to help or improve themselves. We see people we have given up on, people whom, at this point in our lives, we have written off, saying cynically to ourselves, ‘Ganyan na talaga ang taong iyan. Hindi na siya magbabago’—whether that person be a philandering husband, a dominating parent, [a counselee or directee with a drug or alcohol problem, a superior we dislike, a problematic confrere in our community.] Most personally of all, we even turn cynical about ourselves, as we face the pattern and habits we have struggled to change for so long [and the sins and inordinate attachments we have tried so hard to eradicate in us,] and yet never seem able to do anything about. At the end of the day, we find ourselves repeating to ourselves almost like a mantra: ‘This is me; I can’t be any better.’”
This year of preparation for the Great Jubilee, however, is a year in which the Holy Father invites Christians to refuse to submit to the seduction of cynicism, to resist the siren-song of despair, Huang continues. The year 1998 for John Paul II is the year of the Holy Spirit, a year of a “renewed appreciation of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit,” on the part of the Christian community, and thus a year dedicated to “a renewed appreciation of the theological virtue of hope.” (TM 45-46). With Huang, we ask: Why does a “renewed appreciation of the presence and activity of the Spirit” lead to hope? Why does attentiveness of the Spirit’s action issue in hope? Moreover, if we, Religious, are individuals with a special charism of the Spirit in the Church, what special role do we have in giving and sustaining a deep and strong sense of hope in a world which, in many respects, tends to succumb to the depth of despair and cynicism?
It might be good to recall some fundamental principles of our Christian faith and from what we deeply believe in life as Christians, to enunciate our strong convictions about the Holy Spirit and therefore about hope, and of Religious life as a sign or an embodiment of this hope.
In the same article, Huang offers us the reasons for our hope, and I shall cite them liberally in this talk, almost verbatim:
“First of all, there is hope because the Spirit is God-in us. Jesus’ promise to be with his disciples is always fulfilled in His gift of His Spirit. Our God, through the Spirit is ‘not only close to this world’ as the Pope reminds us, ‘but present in it… penetrating it and giving it life from within’ (DEV, 54). The Protestant theologian, Jürgen Moltmann makes the same point: ‘The gift and presence of the Holy Spirit is the greatest, most wonderful thing that can happen to us, to the human community, to all living beings and to this earth of ours. For in the Holy Spirit we have the presence, not of one or other of the many good and evil spirits, but of God himself.”
What Huang tries to point out is this: “If all we had to rely on for the transformation and healing of this world of evil, suffering and death was ourselves, our own resources, our limited intelligence, our compromised virtues, we should despair. But if we believe, as we do, that ‘there exists in our created world a Spirit who is an uncreated gift,’ (DEV, 67) then we know that there is hope, because with God, nothing is impossible (Lk. 1:37). The Spirit, present and active not only in the Church, but as John Paul II insists, ‘in the heart of every person… [in] society and history, peoples, cultures and religions.’ (Rom. 28) is God’s vivifying, renewing and recreating presence, immanent, in all creation and in all reality, in the world and in history.”
That religious life is a beckon of hope, hope for a renewed and transfigured life and world, is unambiguously affirmed by Vita Consecrata when it says: “The first duty of consecrated life is to make visible the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called. They bear witness to these marvels not so much in words as by the eloquent language of a transfigured life, capable of amazing the world” (VC 20). Yes, the Spirit of God is able to make marvels and wonders out of our frail humanity, and it is our fundamental duty to witness to this reality in the world through a transparent life that reflects the beauty, the joy, the fulfillment and the grace of an existence that is open to God and docile to the Spirit. That like the way he could turn chaos into an ordered and beautiful cosmos in creation, he also could change the confusion, the disorder, the lack of beauty in our hearts and lives, could create stars in the firmament of our spirits and could make us evolve into ever higher forms of participation in God’s existence and glory.
As we all know, this promise and vision of a recreated, renewed, and transfigured life is not only our prerogative as Religious. It is the birthright of the entire People of God and of the whole humanity, a promise and a vision that even embraced the whole of creation, which, in the words of St. Paul, is “eagerly expecting the transformation of the children of God…, for the created world will be freed from this fate of death and share the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8: 19-21).
We, Religious therefore, are not just a hopeful people, people filled with hope who do not consequently give up life and the possibilities for change despite failures and defeat; we are also a sacrament of hope. Here what we call the Paschal Mystery enters into our unique identity. The God who has seduced as in Jesus brings victory out of defeat, life out of death. So even when all seems lost and hopeless, there is hope and perseverance. This God is faithful to the promise that love, even love unto death, leads to life. To translate into sound reasoning the mysterious process and power of what Jesus imparted and imparts to us; God desires that salvation and transfiguration take place in this world, and that God’s people live a wonderful, fully human life. And the fact that God wills this so already gives us hope and consolation because we know that God is faithful, trustworthy, and infinite in resources and creativity. Our history is governed by the Spirit of God that he is always present to our world and that therefore history does have a purpose and goal, even if this purpose and goal seem to change from time to time. Hence, no matter what happens, no matters what the odds, we can trust that the horrors we see around us can be changed and that this world can be brought closer to the Kingdom of God.
Perhaps, as people standing bathed in the eschatological vision of Christian life, one of the most important re-stressings that are belief in the Spirit of God can make is that our history in this world can and will be saved and transfigured. We make a bold proclamation to the world that in the end good and evil do not have a fifty-fifty chance, and that the human hearts’ capacity for love is stronger and more powerful than its capacity for selfishness. To believe in the power of the Holy Spirit is to believe that goodness can and will triumph over evil. Despite the magnitude, complexity, and apparent insolubility of our problems today, humanity can be and in the end will be liberated from all the clutches of sin, darkness and death. St. Paul attests to this hope in a profound way when he says: “Well then, the effects of God’s gift surpass those of sin. We know that multitudes die because of the fault of one man, but how much more abundant is the grace of God and the gift he granted to the multitudes, through this unique man Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:15). St. Paul speaks here of the superabundance of grace in Jesus Christ poured out into the world, a grace which “…will reign in its own time and after making us just and friends of God will bring us to eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Rom. 5:21). If we, Religious, do not embody such hope, both in our life of words and witnessing, even as we face or embrace death and defeat, we are not embodying our deepest identity in living out our deepest mission.
Put this argument in another, much simpler way: Though it takes an extra effort to recognize God’s presence in a world where every day seems to begin and end with bad news, as Christians and particularly as Religious, we can, however, never doubt about it—that God is always with us, even if sometimes he journeys with us in silence. In Jesus, he is God-with-us, Emmanuel. In the Spirit, he is the creative and sanctifying grace, the One sustaining our world at its deepest roots, the force forever renewing the face of the earth.
All of us, if we will, can recall within our own individual and communitarian experiences the Spirit’s gift of insight, of consolation, of clarity, of vision, of needed power of will; we can remember solutions to problems that the Spirit suggested, the miracle of the right word at the right time, the word of appreciation, of kindness, of encouragement; we can recollect how strength was given to endure, ability to sustain a broken spirit, power to forgive and receive forgiveness, capacity to enjoy and share joy. Recognizing what the Spirit has done for us and in us, we ought to become conscious of ourselves as a love-gift, as gift of God to ourselves and others through his Holy Spirit; we ought to become conscious of others as tokens of God’s love to us, and of our world as a gift of the overarching, all-embracing Spirit of love. The basic quality of our self-appreciation is that we are a gift. We are not something that we have acquired or earned; someone has given us to ourselves. Therefore, our life has enshrined within it a great love. This is the experience of the Spirit, and he must hover over us creatively to enable us to bring forth fruit both for ourselves for others.
Without the Holy Spirit, nothing is truly good in us; everything is tainted with selfishness. Our love is never wholly pure, and until our life and ministry as Religious become truly gestures of love, our life and our relationships with others will lack something they should have. There will be some touches of egotism and coldness in all that we are and all that we do until we are thoroughly thawed out and transformed by the fire of the Spirit. As we journey on we realize that we are not entirely life and light. For some of us, at best we are only twilight, if indeed we are not really midnight. Neither our lives nor our relationships nor our communities nor our apostolates are completely beauty and light. There is the dark, the ugly, the unbeautiful, and the faithless missed up in our lives and all our achievements. We need the healing touch of the Spirit of God who is purity and beauty of all light and life. The Spirit alone can heal the wounds in our hearts and minds. We need Him to heal the bitterness in our hearts and spirits. Only when our Religious life is imbued by the creative and generating presence of the Spirit can we become bridges and signs of reconciliation between and among people, classes, races, cultures and religions.
We go back to Huang and his second reason for hope in his article: “Secondly, this immanent Spirit of God is the ‘Lord and give of life.’ Not only does the Spirit give and sustain life, but wherever life is diminished, threatened, lost, the Spirit works to renew life. ‘You send forth Your Spirit and they are created, and You renew the face of the earth, Psalm 104 famously puts it. When the Spirit is ‘poured out,’ the prophet Isaiah announces Deserts will become orchards, orchards will be turned into forests, and justice and peace will fill these orchards bursting with life. (Is. 32:15-18). Nor are these words empty poetry. The Holy Father, for example, sees the reality of the Spirit’s renewing activity in recent developments during this last part of the century; scientific, technological, medical progress, serving and promoting human life; and increase concern among many for the environment; movements to restore justice and peace where they have been violated; attempts at making peace between peoples” (TMA 46).
Ezekiel’s vision of the plain filled with dried bones that were quickened into life by the breath of the Spirit is pertinent today. The world in which we are living is a world in which the power of death is in the ascendancy and is often in command. But the world can be turned into a valley of living people where a dignified and humane life can come to flower and fruit, for God is always at work commanding the winds of life to blow upon us and across our world. It is this hope and assurance of the quickening Spirit that we should proclaim through our words and deeds. It is our mission to keep breathing along with God and prophesying to the four winds, saying, “Come, Oh, Spirit, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life” (Ez. 37:9).
Our ministry as Religious is a ministry of giving life. We may have renounced begetting life biologically, but we did not renounce spiritual and apostolic fecundity. We are called and are here to give and celebrate life, for the God who called us is life and the source and principle of our existence and humanity. “I will bring spirit (breath) into you that you may come to life” (Ez. 37:5). “I shall put my Spirit into you.” These are beautiful words, full of life and light. Life is God’s greatest wish for people, his foundational and finest gift. All life means sharing God’s life thus breathing into us, and his sending of his Spirit into us. “I shall put my Spirit into you.” This is what God says to every blade of grass, to every bud opening, in the morning, to every baby coming to birth, and to every person, to you and to me, as we awake in the morning. God’s morning wish for us is “Live!” This is really the only thing he can say to us. He can never say “Die! Cease to exist,” for he is life, and for him to address something is to bring it to life. Therefore, he says this word to us in every experience of his unfolding love, in every deepened awareness of him: “Live!”
In our own Religious communities, to what extent do we become channels of life for others? Are our relationships with others sometimes merely one of peaceful co-existence, or worse, one of subtle non-acceptance, not allowing the other to be “other,” even destroying his many beautiful potentials in life simply because he is different, thinks different, and acts different? Let us remember that when we do not accept the other person in our community, it is like killing him, because it is like wishing that person off the face of the earth. And that is murder.
The life that we are speaking here is not just interior, spiritual life, but concrete human existence here and now. The tendency of religion and spirituality to devalue historical life and material existence, the tendency to despise simple human joys and human relationships, the tendency to angelism is foreign to the gospel of Jesus. We must be clear in our minds that this has little or nothing to do with the mind of Jesus or the spirit of his Gospel. The inclination to devalue life and diminish freedom and suppress creativity is not the way of Jesus and the Spirit. The less free we are, the more constrained we are, the less we become capable of the gospel style of thought and action. The more we are controlled, the more we are prevented from being centers of responsibility and decision-making. The more we live like eccentrics.
Huang offers us another reason for hoping: “Thirdly, a particular aspect of the renewing activity of the Spirit is the Spirit’s creation of communion and solidarity between human being and God, and among human beings. The Patristic Dictum put it so well: ‘Where there is sin, there is division.’ Babel is the great Biblical symbol of sins disintegrating effect on human community: because of human pride human beings speak different languages, are unable to communicate with or understand one another. By way of contrast, however, where the Spirit is, there is communion, communication, solidarity. Why? Because the Spirit is, as John Paul II reminds us, the ‘exchange of mutual love between divine persons…He is person-love’ (DEV 10).”
This work of the Spirit is powerfully revealed in the story of the first Pentecost. “The outpouring of the Spirit in wind and flame reverses Babel: difference, diversity remains; but division, isolation, mutual incomprehension are overcome. The different languages remain but all understands. It is not surprising then that in the Apostles Creed, after performing faith in the Spirit, we profess our belief in ‘the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body and life everlasting’: for all are works of the Spirit, all fruits of the Spirit’s ceaseless labor of gathering, reconciling, overcoming alienation and division, creating communion, or to use Nicholas Lash’s body phrase, ‘transformative harmony.’”
Community life is one aspect in our life where we, as Religious, embody and manifest our being an emblem of hope. We are a sign of hope in a world filled with individualism and bickering, in a world torn apart by division and exploitation, using the other solely for one’s own interest. We proclaim and witness precisely to this very world that fraternity and communion is possible, though not always easy, and it is possible thanks to the unifying presence of the Spirit. And therefore, community life is a sign of hope for a divided people in a divided world. Vita Consecrata, in several places, hails this dimension of the Religious life as an efficacious sign of hope. “The fraternal life is itself prophetic in a society which, sometimes without realizing it, has a profound yearning for brotherhood which knows no borders (VC 85). “The fraternal life, life understood as a life shared in life, is an eloquent sign of ecclesial communion” which manifests that “there can be no unity without that unconditional mutual love which demands a readiness to serve others generously, a willingness to welcome them as they are… and an ability to forgive up to “seventy times seven (Mt. 18: 22)” (VC 42). Consecrated life has the duty of spreading the spirituality of communion, first in their internal life and then in the ecclesial community and even beyond its borders by becoming sign of communion in a world torn apart by division, ethnic hatred and senseless violence, of becoming signs that dialogue is always possible and that communion can bring differences into harmony (cf. VC 51). “Fraternal life is an eloquent witness to the Trinity [for] it proclaims the Father who desires to make all of humanity one family. It proclaims the incarnate son who gathers the redeemed into unity [and] is the source of reconciliation for a divided and scattered humanity. It proclaims the Holy Spirit as the principle of unity in the Church, wherein He ceaselessly raises up spiritual families and fraternal communities” (VC 21). Perhaps, it would be good to look into ourselves and see whether we are signs of communion, harmony and solidarity, or signs of division, dissonance and discord right in our very own community?
Huang continues: “Once again, if we have but the eyes of faith to see the peace-making project of the Spirit is afoot in the world. Where there is forgiveness and reconciliation among individuals, among families and communities, classes, nations, there the Spirit is present and active. For example, the Holy Father discerns concrete signs of the Spirit’s activity in the existence of a ‘deeper commitment to the cause of Christian unity and the increased interest in dialogue with other religions’ (TMA 46).”
Yes, indeed the Spirit is present and active, but if we want to experience him we have to feel and perceive his presence with a new and deep religious sensibility, a keenness that is able to discern his workings even in so secular domain and activities. Karl Rahner, in his homily, “Pentecost: Fear of the Holy Spirit,” found in The Great Church Year, therefore, suggests that if we want to resolve this problem, ridding ourselves of this dualistic tendency and impression of the secular world, in which the Holy Spirit and his actions are relegated only to those who concern themselves with the spiritual and the otherworldly, we might as well begin to stop looking and perceiving his presence only under explicitly religious names or within purely spiritual activities alone. For when we Christians in our faith, or the atheists in their good will, are able to shrug our self-centeredness off our skin and begin to look beyond ourselves in order to see others in their needs, when we are able to forgive someone who has deeply wronged us and never allow the past hurts and grievances to rule us and poison our life, but instead begin to look at the future, others, and ourselves with a sense of compassion and hope, then we experience the power of the Holy Spirit. We experience the grace of the Holy Spirit when we begin to live in real transparency like those people shot through with light, when we are able to overcome our impediments and inhibitions, when we are able to live in freedom as children of God.
Rahner asserts that when we in our inner freedom are able to remain faithful to the dictate of our conscience, when we succeed without knowing how in breaking out of the prison of our egoism, when in deathbed we are able to allow death to take our life while at the same time entrusting ourselves to an ultimate mystery that we can embrace only in the darkness of our faith—when these things happen, the Holy Spirit is at work in us, for in these and other similar experiences what is involved is not a calculable, controllable, definable, measurable factor of the world of our scientific experiences. In all these events, the Holy Spirit, says Rahner, is active and at work precisely because what happens in this human conversion is that the world of experience is delivered up to its mysterious and unfathomable ground, to its innermost center which is no longer its own.
Do we only expect to experience him in the Church and in purely religious, spiritual activities? Or do we believe that the Holy Spirit is also active “outside the visible body of the Church,” as Vatican II affirms, and that he is radically present and at the very heart and bowel not just of the world, the one sustaining its daily orbit and yearly revolution, but likewise of the entire cosmos?
Although much more can be said, perhaps our reflections give sufficient light for us to understand the connection between faith in the Holy Spirit and the virtue of hope, and how we, Religious, are called to embody this hope in our life. The Spirit is God’s immanent presence in all creation, giving and renewing life in this world of death, building communion and solidarity in this world of division.
Huang concludes his article: “We are not alone; death and division are not the “last cord” for our lives and the world. Thus, we hope. [This hope] is manifested, first of all, in protest. Simply to be resigned to evil in the world, to be cynical about change is, as Moltmann reminds us, to forge ‘a covenant with death.’ Christians who profess faith in the Spirit must be ‘a protest people against death’: our cry of protest against death and division is a sign of the life of the Spirit. Secondly, our hope must issue in praxis: ‘a daily commitment,’ as John Paul II writes, ‘to transform reality in order to make it correspond to God’s plan’ (TMA 46), a generous cooperation with the Spirit in working to promote and defend life, and to build. Third, our hope creates in us patience: the ability to wait, the capacity to suffer, without losing heart, to deal with ambiguities, apparent setbacks and delays, because we know that, whatever may seem to be happening, the Spirit is at work silently and surely. Finally, our hope is expressed in fervent, ceaseless, confident petition, as we cry from our hearts, ‘Veni, Sanctae Spiritus. Veni, Creator Spiritus. Come, Holy Spirit of life, renew the face of the earth, renew the face of the Church, renew the face of Religious Life.’”
Points For Reflection
1. As Religious, are we really signs of hope for the people? In what way? What kind of hope?
2. If the people do not see us as signs of hope, why? What hinder us from becoming signs of hope to them? What realities in our life, e.g. our way of living, our lifestyle, our attitudes and behaviors, our vows and our witnessing aspect, etc., are and are not signs of hope?
3. How can we intensify our being signs of hope to the people in a society which tends to submit to the seduction of despair and cynicism?
4. In what way are our vows, our community life, etc., a sign of hope?