Why do we need the Holy Spirit?
By Tim Irwin
Solemnity of Pentecost/May 23
Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7,12-13 or Galatians 5:16-25; Psalm 104:1,24,29-30,31,34; Veni Sancte Spiritus; John 20:19-23 or John 15:26-27; 16:12-15
Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. Jesus promises the Paraclete in the Gospel according to John. St. Luke does more than any of the other evangelists to spotlight the critical role played by the Holy Spirit throughout his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Perhaps St. Augustine said it best: what the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the mystical body of Christ — the Church.
This raises an interesting question. Why do we need the Holy Spirit? Countless ideologies gather adherents without the sublime presence of the Holy Spirit. Myriads of movements motivate their members to carry whatever their message might be to the world at large. What’s different about Christianity that we need the abiding presence of the Divine in order to build the Kingdom of God?
Christianity, despite all outward appearances, is neither an ideology nor is it a movement. Christianity is an invitation to fall in love with the Divine and that we cannot do on our own. Just as the Holy Spirit invites the Church to fully and authentically make the Risen Christ present in the world, the Church through its sacraments offers us a tangible invitation into the intangible presence of the Divine. Our acceptance of that invitation, both individually and collectively, builds the Kingdom of God.
To say that we are called to fall in love with the Divine is not to wax romantically about God; rather we are invited, as St Thomas Aquinas said, to will the good of the other as other. In other words, make commitments to people for their sake and not to benefit oneself. Perhaps you’re thinking, I would really have to love somebody to be committed to their good for their sake and not for something I want. Bingo! That’s it.
Can anyone of us muster up that degree of commitment to another to genuinely become and maintain a true other-centeredness? Maybe if it’s one’s family and close friends, we might be able to make a good run at it, but that’s not the extent of the invitation. We’re invited to be committed to the good of everyone for their sake and not our own. I couldn’t possibly do that on my own, could you? Left to my own concerns, I’m just too self-centered, how about you?
Perhaps, the best way to proceed is to get a handle on what being other-centered is and isn’t like. When I am self-centered, I define others in terms of myself, judging their worth in terms of their usefulness to me. I confuse being emotional with being compassionate. I have relationships of domination and resignation. I tend not to live up to my commitments. I resist forgiving others or seeking their forgiveness. I’m petty and inconsiderate, perhaps even cruel. The Scripture calls me a fool because I do not recognize or I reject the blessings that God has invited me to receive.
When I am other-centered, I define myself in terms of others. I’m compassionate even when I’m not emotional. I have relationships of love and acceptance. I live up to my commitments. I forgive and seek forgiveness. I’m kind and big-hearted. The Scriptures call me wise because I recognize and accept the blessings that God has invited me to receive.
It’s one thing to understand the difference between being self-centered and other centered, but quite another thing to live it. We are invited to embark on a radical transformation in hopes of becoming our better more-Christ-like self. I don’t think anybody can do it on their own. We need each other united in the mystical body of Christ. We need the Holy Spirit — the soul of Church.
Tim Irwin teaches theology and philosophy at Notre Dame High School in Peoria. He is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.