The Lord and Giver of Life:
The Holy Spirit in John’s Gospel,
Acts, Romans and I Corinthians
Ineffably young, undaunted, eternally optimistic, with sublime finesse and outrageously dry humor. These are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind when I reflect upon the personality of the Holy Spirit as I have known Him. The Church worships Him as the Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son, Who together with the Father and Son is worshipped and glorified.
The Promise of New Life: John's Gospel
In the first chapter of John's Gospel, John the Baptist prophesies the coming of the One whose sandal he is not worthy to untie, claiming that he, John, only baptizes with water. (Jn.1:26—27). The following day as Jesus approaches him, he announces "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1:29) and witnesses that “He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’”
There is a lot here. We have prophecy and its fulfillment, We have God speaking to a man, (a component of prophecy), we have a the ophany, (the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove), and we have a distinction between a baptism of repentance (a cleansing), in water as performed by John (baptize coming from the Greek baptizein meaning to dip) and a mysterious baptism to be performed by Jesus: “This is He who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.”
In that part of the world where Jesus dwelt, water means life. On the third day after His baptism, we see Jesus, on the occasion of a wedding changing water into wine; very fine wine and in great quantities. Life, as it were, into superabundant superlife in connection with a marriage. (Jn. 2). In Chapter 3, We find Jesus speaking to an old man about being born anew of water and the Spirit, without which he cannot enter the Kingdom of God, and that “That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” John the Baptist in Jn. 3: 29 proclaims Jesus to be the Bridegroom; then, in Jn. 4:10 Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman about living water which never runs out; a spring within a person welling up into eternal life, the source of which is the Holy Spirit.
So, water is life, but Jesus offers a Living Water, a more alive life, a life transformed as water into wine through a supernatural marriage. Jesus dips us into the Lord and Giver of Life, thus baptizing us in the Holy Spirit, and we emerge born anew of the Spirit into Zöe, or, Supernatural life, the Life of God, Life in the Spirit, or The Kingdom of God which is at hand, and within us. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh (Bios) and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. (Zöe).” We are reborn by water, (repentance) and given new supernatural life in the Spirit through this supernatural marriage (belief). “He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now this He said about the Spirit, which those who believed in Him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (Jn. 7:38—39)
Jesus had not yet been glorified.... Hmm... That means it had only begun. It was on the third day after his baptism that Jesus transformed the water into wine at the wedding feast. But in Luke's Gospel (Lk. 12:50) Jesus proclaims, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!” Jesus had to face a baptism of suffering. He had yet to collect all the pain, dirt, sin, evil, sickness and death into himself by His suffering and death, thus paying our ransom from the captivity of sin and the princedom of Satan. To the Jewish people blood also meant life, as well as expiation, and the world needed to be washed in the shed blood of Christ before it could receive the rushing, cleansing, renewing, Life giving Waters of the Holy Spirit.
In one of the most astonishing remarks in all of Scripture Jesus tells His friends, what it will mean when that river of Life flows: “Truly, truly I say unto you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.” (Jn. 14:12). A priest friend of mine, a Catholic evangelist, once said, “If we took that word seriously they'd be putting us in jail!” (The earliest apostles took it seriously as we shall see when we look at Acts.)
Jesus makes this claim knowing that the same power that would raise Him from the dead would be dwelling in us, the Very Life of God, the Holy Spirit which enables us, like Jesus, to do the things we see the Father doing. (cf. Jn: 5:19) and the ability, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to see and discern those things (I Cor. 12: 8—12). He goes on to comfort his frightened disciples, for whom these promises lie mysteriously in the future, that He will pray that the Father will send “Another Counselor,” an advocate, a defense attorney; “The Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him or knows Him...” (Jn 14:16—17), for the rough times ahead. The promise of Jesus, that we will do greater things than He has done stands to reason.
True Christian life is by definition a supernatural life empowered by the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is, supernatural things happen. Jesus says: “I will love him and manifest myself to him,” (Jn. 14: 20b). Christ is alive and manifest to us, and through Him, the Father. How Jesus wants them (and us) to hear this message! In His final discourse He repeats it four times! (Jn. 14: 16—17, 26, 15:26, 16: 7—8, 13—15). After His Baptism of suffering, wherein we all died with Him and rose to New Life, Jesus came to His Friends and Breathed the Breath of this New Life into them saying "receive the Holy Spirit" and sent them (and us) forth as He was sent forth by the Father; to do greater things than He has done.
The New Life in Action: The Acts Of Apostles:
I could go on forever about the Acts of the Apostles, but shall endeavor to keep my remarks brief. I am of the opinion that the wild fantastic adventure story that has come down to us, known as The Acts of the Apostles, was not meant to be closed with the words “The End,” but rather with the invitation, “To be Continued...” Indeed, in the very first verse Luke tells his friend Theophilus that in his first book he dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day He was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen.
Later, on the road to Damascus, Jesus asks Saul of Tarsus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” when Saul had never laid eyes on Jesus in the flesh. It follows that Jesus Himself is present in the body of believers continuing the work He began before He was taken up. There He is in the believers healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons and preaching the Word of God in Power.
Christianity was never meant to be a wishy-washy dead religion afraid of offending people with the Spirit of Truth which convinces the world about sin (See Jn. 16:8). They were put in jail, and ultimately murdered as Jesus was. Love that tells the Truth was and is too radical for this world, but then Jesus promised his friends that the world would hate them as it hated Him, but to take courage, that He has overcome the world.
On the lighter side, there is hardly a charismatic who doesn't occasionally collapse with laughter from the shock of recognition while reading this book. For example, the story of Phillip and the eunuch always cracks me up, because I have found myself in situations like that with similar results. I must confess that I haven't experienced that “Holy Spirit transporter beam” that was Phillip's means of transportation to and from this mission, but I fully expect to see that sort of thing in my lifetime. The times we live are as dire, if not more so, as apostolic times; since the Gospel needs not only to be spread, but in many cases, restored to its fullness.
This is why, I believe, God has poured out the Holy Spirit in a new Pentecost on the Church and world in this latter part of the twentieth century. This manifestation of Pentecost in our age has resulted in what is known as the charismatic renewal. The charismatic renewal is, undeniably, the only movement in the Church today that is completely God-made. It is not the result of an idea of an inspired man. No human being could have thought up the charismatic renewal, much less brought it about. Pope John XXIII prayed precisely for this when he convoked Vatican II. (Actually, it is the same Pentecost, in a new a re-manifestation—I do not believe it was ever God's will that the original peter out.)
Our world that has in many ways returned to paganism, and in many areas has become too “sophisticated” for the concept of sin, and is even inventing its own theology to support itself. The Joy of Pentecost is to see with your own eyes people being set free from their old lives into this New Life promised by Jesus in the Power of the Holy Spirit. To see people set free for good from the misery that accompanies, for instance, a homosexual lifestyle—and not only the misery, but the lifestyle itself, as they joyfully and willingly put off the “old man” and put on New Life in Christ, Who offers something better.
I have seen a woman completely set free in an instant from her anguish over an abortion, long since confessed, but still haunting her, aggravated by a compulsive bondage to promiscuity. I have seen people overcome with tears of joy and relief at the recognition of their sins and the simultaneous freedom from them in Christ.
My friend, Fr. Joe Laughlin, SJ, said publicly that since receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and coming into the charismatic renewal, that when ministering to people, he can accomplish through the gifts of the Holy Spirit in three hours what it used to take three months of psychological counseling to accomplish.
What is most heartbreaking is, in my opinion, the culpable ignorance of this phenomenon, if not outright hardhearted and stiff-necked rejection of it by so many in the Church in our age. Especially priests. It is written off as “emotionalism”—which is certainly not true—the slightest open-minded or open-hearted look would reveal something much more profound going on, which has an emotional aspect. Remember St. Peter: “These men are not drunk!” (Acts 2: 15).
An even worse caricature than emotionalism—and just as inaccurate—is “fundamentalism.” This often comes from modern “sophisticated” theologians seeking new and creative ways to win the favor of the world with new and creative forms of nominalism, because their careers are too deeply invested in their de-mythology, which is threatened by the supernatural manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the little uneducated People of God—to put it bluntly.
In 1973 our late beloved Archbishop, Cardinal Mederios, sent a letter to the priests of the Archdiocese calling on them to aid, encourage and pastor charismatic renewal. To this day, thirteen years later, many priests still regard charismatics as if they had the plague—unless, of course, some messy menial task needs to be done around the parish that no one else wants to do. The charismatics are usually the ones willing and honored to serve in any way they can.
Fr. John Randall, of Providence, Rhode Island, a pastor and Doctor of Sacred Theology and one of the first leaders of the charismatic renewal, tells of his experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (the expression, used in this sense, to mean the prayer or experience which results in the release of the Gift of the power of the Holy Spirit, first bestowed at baptism and confirmation but largely untapped until released in this way in a personal intimate experience of God's power—usually accompanied by the release of the gift of tongues, and other extraordinary charisms promised by Jesus.) When asked if he wanted to receive this baptism of the Holy Spirit, he said, “I don't know what it is, but if there's a way to have ‘more God’ I want it!” I can only guess that the main reason other Christians, including priests, don't share Fr. Randall's openness and enthusiasm is the natural human resistance to conversion. “What will the Lord ask of me?” All Christians know this terrifying feeling, but also know that once broken through, their fears were groundless and the blessings fantastic and well worth the risk.
One of the first manifestations of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the convincing, or, as it is more popularly called, the conviction of sin, by the Holy Spirit, who convicts but never condemns. So many times I have heard people exclaim, “Oh my God, I always thought of that thing in my life that I held onto as a little thing! Oh, Lord forgive me! Help me, Lord, for I can't be free on my own power!” Invariably there is a complete absence of negative guilt at these times, rather it is more of a swooning to God's ravishment and Love that makes anything that is not of God seem completely abhorrent.
It is a sense of liberation from bonds to things that weigh us down. What follows is a loving and intense desire to be obedient, to God and to the Church (“If you love me you will keep my commandments.” [Jn. 14:15]—as opposed to “If you love me you'd better keep my commandments!”) Hearing talk about the modern "permissibility of sin in certain circumstances," is sometimes an almost unbearably grievous experience, accompanied by the thought, “Oh, if they only knew!” It is also amazing how often people report that sinful habits that have bound them and frustrated them for years just plain disappear in this experience.
Anyway, in modern dissenting theology, toleration has shifted from acceptance of the sinner (which Jesus always practiced) to toleration of sin as a way of accepting the sinner (which Jesus never practiced). It seeks to reinterpret the Gospel in terms of human limitation rather than the power of God, which is evidently so foreign to its proponents. It is a strange contortion of legalism, that, from all appearances, seeks not only to throw out the Law which brings death, but also the Spirit Who brings Life by the very act of convincing of sin . How can we accept a savior if we don't know we need one, or what we need to be saved from? The world is dying of sin, and needs to be reconvinced.
The Holy Spirit of Truth is also the Spirit of Love, and to be convinced of one's sin(s) by Him is an experience of fantastic joy, albeit painful at times. It is the birth pangs of ever Newer Life as we allow the Spirit to cleanse us in an ongoing baptism of repentance, and ever deepening conversion Into the Supernatural Life of God.
As the Holy Father says on this point, “Conversion requires convincing of sin; ...” (Dominum et vivificantem, Pope John Paul II, 1986; p55, DSP Pub. emphasis his.) The world that Jesus promised would hate us is hostile to this point and rejects the humility of Truth which acknowledges how we stand before God. “...The Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” (Jn. 3: 19b—21) Also, “...the Blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 Jn. 1: 7b—10).
So why am I dwelling on sin in a happy paper about the Holy Spirit? What a dreary, judgemental, self-righteous and preachy fellow I must be! Why, you ask? Because it is the Good News! I get upset with modern theologians who try to downplay sin, because it robs us of the True Joy of repentance and deeper conversion. Besides, unchecked sin does harm to our life whether we're culpable or not. Shepherds, if you love your sheep, tell them in the Holy Spirit the Good News about sin! (Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4b).
Acts1:8a says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” There is no power shortage in the Church. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday today and forever. Jesus promises us, “These signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick and they will recover” (Mk 16:17—18).
To be charismatic does not mean to part of another fringe movement in the Church. It means to appropriate our inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of the Father through Jesus—the baptism of the Holy Spirit—the rivers of living water—New Life—In which we do greater things than Jesus has done because He goes to the Father for us. It is our New-Birthright, it is what Jesus expects of us, it is the original Ortho/doxy (True/Glory) ...it is normal Catholic Christianity. Lord, we believe, help our unbelief.
The New Life Explained: Romans:
I take back any implied apology for focusing on sin so much in a paper on the Holy Spirit because as I look at the references to the Holy Spirit Paul makes in Romans, I see that he does the same thing. (cf. Rom. 8, 11:32, 13:12,14,)
The New Life Pastored: I Corinthians:
I Corinthians is bound to bring a weary smile to any mature charismatic with pastoral responsibility or experience. It is like being in a leaky boat; every time you think you've plugged a leak two more seem to spring up. Poor Paul. That's how it is with the Corinthians. Back to basics, break out the milk. Abuses in the liturgy, abuses with the spiritual gifts. Things have not changed all that much. I wonder how he feels looking down from Heaven at current day charismatic communities and seeing the same problems almost two thousand years later? Love is patient, Love is kind, Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Poor Paul. Poor Jesus. Poor us. Blessed are the poor. Come Holy Spirit! Come Lord Jesus!
© 1985, 2008 by John Mallon