Theological Meditations, Uncategorized

Pentecost and Trinity Sunday: A Meditation

Over the course of the past week, there were two major feast days celebrated within the Catholic Church. Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday, which commemorates the day in which the Holy Spirit came upon the 12 Apostles and gave them the strength to preach the Gospel. This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday, a day, as it name implies, dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity.

 

 

When one meditates upon the readings which Catholics read during mass these two feast days, one sees a series of interconnected truths. Let us start with the responsorial psalm from Pentecost Sunday. One verse was taken from Psalm 104:29-30, which reads: “If you take away their breath, they perish and return to their dust. When you send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the earth.” The Hebrew term used here for “their breath” is ruham, and the term used for “Your Spirit” is ruhaka. Both of these terms are variations on the Hebrew term ruach. According to Strong’s Hebrew Concordance, the Hebrew term ruach means “wind”, “air” or “breath,” but also has the meaning of “spirit” or “mind.” [1] It is the Spirit of God which creates us, and which sustains us in our existence. We see this in Genesis 1, when it says, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland…and a mighty wind swept over the abyss…” (1:1-2). The term used here for “a might wind” was weruah, which literally means “and the Spirit”. (To read the text in the original Hebrew, check out this link.) One interpretation of this “mighty wind” or “spirit” is as the presence of God in creation. This interpretation was at least tacitly endorsed by St. Augustine in On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis [2], as well as by St. Thomas Aquinas, who, in his Sermon for Pentecost, wrote:

 

The source of all motion is alive, rather is life. Thus, the Holy Spirit, in so far as He is the source of all motion, is life. … And because He is life, He therefore gives life. Great then is the Spirit in all things that are, and move, and have their being. … All things therefore have motion and being from the Holy Spirit. [3]

 

The story of God’s creation of man, as depicted in Genesis 2:7, was meant to parallel this, when it says that God formed man’s body out of the dust of the earth, and brought him to life by breathing into him the breath of life. (Interestingly, the term used here for “breath” is nišmat, which is a variant of the term neshamah, which, in like the Hebrew term ruach, can mean both “breath” as well as “intellect,” “spirit,” “soul,” or “vital breath”, that is, life-force [4]).

 

The Catechism affirms this in its section on creation (cf. CCC #279-324). The Catechism states that “Creation is the common work of the Trinity” (CCC #291). Yet, it also affirms: “The Church’s faith likewise confesses the creative action of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC #292) [5]

 

So, it is the Holy Spirit Who created us and Who sustains us in our existence; yet, it is the Holy Spirit Who also spiritually renews us, Who saves us from sin. The Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification, Chapter IV, describes justification (becoming righteous in the sight of God) as “a translation, from that state wherein man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace, and the adoption of the sons of God, through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior.” That is to say, it is a transition from being in a state of sin to a state of holiness in which one is considered a son or daughter of God. This occurs through the death and resurrection of Christ, whereby God and man are reconciled. It is the grace of God that communicates to us the spiritual fruits of Christ’s death and resurrection. We are first given this grace at Baptism. The Council of Trent describes Baptism in the same way that Jesus describes Baptism in John 3:5 – namely, as being “born again of water and the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is capable of spiritually renewing us from our sin because it is infused with the activity of the Holy Spirit. So, it is through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we receive the grace of justification. In Chapter V of the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification, it also describes the relationship between grace and free will in the process by which man is disposed to the reception of justifying grace. One is enlightened enough to know that he or she is in need of grace, and to be open to God’s justifying grace, because “God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost.” [6]

 

As we grow in holiness, the Holy Spirit leads us to salvation by guiding us to rise above the things of this world and to attach ourselves to the things of God. As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote,

 

For just as silver is debased when mixed with an impure metal, so your soul is debased if it is mixed up with inferior or lower things by the love of them. But when the soul is joined to a higher thing, then the love is called holy. … [T]his Holy Spirit not only gives being, being alive, and being in motion; nay more, He makes men holy. … No one is holy unless the Holy Spirit makes him holy. And how does He make someone holy? I say: He brings it about that what I have just been describing appears in all whom He makes holy, for He renders them subtle, and contemptuous of temporal things. [3]

 

Thus, we say that it is through the Word of God (Jesus) that things are created, since the Word of God is the mind of God, within which is contained God’s plan for creation, and since there is no distinction between God’s act of willing and God’s act of doing, anything God wills to be comes to pass. Yet, that which occurs in the mind of God, in the eternal Divine logos, is communicated to us by the Holy Spirit. But, the Holy Spirit not only brings about physical life, but also the spiritual life of grace. Jesus reconciled us to God through His death and resurrection, and on the merits of His death we receive grace. This grace is communicated to us on a personal level through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

 

More specifically, the activity of the Holy Spirit incorporates us into the Mystical Body of Christ (the Church), and the faithful are set apart as being members of the flock of Christ. Hence, St. Paul wrote in the Epistle reading for this past Sunday, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14) It is through this that the Holy Spirit gives birth to the Church.

 

Yet, the Church is not the work of the Holy Spirit alone. In the Gospel reading for this past Sunday, taken from the last chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Jesus says to the Apostles,

 

All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20)

 

Christ, as God incarnate, participates in the authority of the Father. This authority was then given by Jesus to the Apostles. Yet, in the first reading from Pentecost (taken from Acts of the Apostles chapter 2), the Apostles began to preach at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Who gave them the spiritual gifts necessary to preach the Gospel, to actually do what Jesus commanded them to do, to make use of the authority which Jesus gave them.

 

Just as there is a Trinitarian aspect of creation, there is also a Trinitarian aspect of redemption: What the Father planned to happen, and what the Son fulfilled, the Holy Spirit communicates to us. The Holy Spirit communicates the fruits of Christ’s death to us first by setting in motion the ministry of the Church (whose authority, again, comes from Christ). We thus need to turn to the Church for spiritual consolation, for guidance in seeking the truth, and thus we must obey the Church as the guardian of God’s Revealed truth. Yet, we all have the duty to serve God, to witness to the Gospel in our lives. This is made manifest in different ways depending on your station in life and your status in the Church. Yet, all manifestations of the mission to spread the Gospel come from the Holy Spirit. Thus, St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3-6,

 

No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God Who produces them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given to some benefit.

 

That we are brought into existence, sustained into existence, and redeemed from our fallen state all attests to the glory of God. The Apostles preaching the Gospel was described in Acts 2 as a “mighty work of God” (Acts 2:11). Moses, in Deuteronomy 4, says of God leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, “Ask now of the days of old, before your time, ever since God created man upon the earth; ask from one end of the sky to the other: Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of?” (Deuteronomy 4:32) The people of Israel was a prophesy of the Church. The Exodus was a prophesy of man’s redemption. That the people of Israel became a nation, and began to take on a more definite character, after the Exodus, was a prophesy of the birth of the Church. Is there anything more reflective of God’s glory than creation? Is there anything more worthy of praising God than redemption?

 

With this in mind, let us sing with the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord, my God, You are great indeed! How manifold are Your works, O Lord!” (Psalm 104:1, 24)

 

 

Sources:

  1. Dr. James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible; with their renderings in the Authorized English Version, pg. 107, # 7307, in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Reference Library Edition) (Iowa Springs: World Publishers)
  2. St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, chapter 4, in volume 84 of The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, translated by Fr. Roland J. Treske, S.J. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1991), pg. 154-156
  3. St. Thomas Aquinas, Emitte Spiritum [Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost], translated in 2005 by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski and originally published in Faith and Reason 33:1-2, pg. 99-139 (2005). Accessed on the DeSales University Aquinas Translation Project website (http://hosted.desales.edu/w4/philtheo/loughlin/ATP/Sermons/Pentecost_Sermon.html).
  4. Dr. James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible; with their renderings in the Authorized English Version, pg. 81, # 5397, in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Reference Bible Edition) (Iowa Springs: World Publishers)
  5. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #291-292. Accessed on the Vatican website (http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p4.htm).
  6. The Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, published in 1547. Accessed on https://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/TRENT6.HTM

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