Completing His Work
by Fr. Jack McArdle
Think of the Trinity as a Triangle. The Father is at the top, with Jesus and the Spirit at either corner at the bottom. The sides of the triangle are like two arms stretching out to embrace us, and draw us to the Father's eternal hug. "That we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit as his first gift to those who believe, to complete his work on earth, and bring us the fullness of grace." When Jesus returned to the Father, he brought his body with him. When the Spirit came, he would need a body, and that's where we come in.
An evil spirit needs somebody's hand to plant the bomb, and somebody's tongue to tell the lie. If the Holy Spirit is to speak, he needs our voices. If he is to heal the sick, he needs our hands. We do not have to do anything beyond providing the body, and allowing the Holy Spirit work through us. Mary, our Mother, didn't actually do anything; rather she submitted to the Spirit and allowed him use her in any way he chose.
There are two parts to the story of salvation, i.e., what Jesus has done, and how we allow the Spirit in us respond to all of that. "It is his blood and our faith" St. Paul tells us. Faith is one of the gifts of the Spirit. When Jesus walked on this earth, he was Saviour, forgiving sins, healing the sick, and giving hope to those in darkness and in the shadow of death. He was not Lord yet, because he did not have the victory yet. It was only when he returned in triumph to his Father that he could give the Spirit, and proclaim the permanent establishment of his Kingdom.
There is nothing automatic about God. Nothing happens in us until we say "YES", be that for good or for evil. Our free-will is paramount, and neither the Father, the Son, nor the Spirit will over-ride or bypass that in any way. In simple English, I have to say 'yes' to the Spirit so that I will be given the grace to say 'yes' to what Jesus has done for me. Only then will "salvation come to my house today".
The Spirit takes over where Jesus laid off. When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morn, nothing happened to anybody else. The apostles would have run away all over again that very evening, if there was any pressure put on them. They had to wait for their Easter, which is what we call Pentecost. Just as the stone was rolled away from the front of the tomb and Jesus came out into resurrected life, so the doors of the Upper Room would be flung open, and the apostles would come out into their resurrected life.
The third part of this story is when the doors of our hearts are flung open, and we are born again into a new and eternal life. As I said in an earlier chapter, the terminus is Pentecost, and it would be a mistake to get off the train too early. "Stay in Jerusalem, and don't leave till the Spirit comes" were among the final words of Jesus. Knowing the apostles as he did, Jesus knew that they would surely get it wrong all over again. As a Christian, I have nowhere to go, and I cannot go forward without the presence of the Spirit within. The Spirit is like the petrol or the diesel in a car. Without petrol or diesel the car will move, but I'll have to push it. In the beginning God took clay, and he breathed his Spirit into it. Clay, on its own, can do nothing, and is of no use whatever. Without heat or water, nothing can grow in it. Humus is the Latin word for clay, and we are human, i.e., we are made of clay. Humilitas is the Latin for 'of the ground', and, on our own, there is no way that we could ever raise ourselves above that level.
By myself I do not have what it takes to be a Christian. Chesterton says that we never actually become Christian; we are always in the process of becoming. When the Spirit came upon Mary, Jesus was formed within her. That same Spirit must come upon us, if the fullness of Jesus' salvation and redemption is to become a reality within us, and in our lives.
There once was a crow that looked very very unhealthy; eyes bloodshot, feathers falling off, and wings dragging in the mud. This drew the sympathy of a bunch of crows, who decided to approach him to see what they could do. The crow put on a brave face, and tried to pretend that all was well, but it was all in vain.
Eventually, he decided to come clean, and unburden his problems. He felt that time was passing him by, and that he had fulfilled very few of the ambitions with which he set out in life. He was asked to name one such ambition. When he was promised confidentiality, he confessed that he always wanted to make a record. When asked what the record would contain, he bashfully replied "Of me, singing".
This was too much for the other crows, who could not resist a snigger; something that deeply upset our friend, and brought a ringing retort. "Why couldn't I sing? Did you ever hear a blackbird sing? Well I'm bigger than a blackbird, and the same colour, so why couldn't I sing like a blackbird? If you only knew all the trouble I've gone to to try and sing like a blackbird. I went to the health-shop. I bought wholegrain, Vivioptol, Ballygowan, and every kind of vitamin available. After all that, I went up on a tree, opened my mouth, and all that came out was 'Caw! Caw!'
I then decided to tape the blackbirds singing. I bought a C90 tape and went among the blackbirds, and filled it with blackbirds warbling. That would surely do it! I bought a walkman(brain bypass?!), and, as I flew around or lay in bed at night, I had the headphones on, and the sounds of blackbirds singing were filling my brain. After all of that I flew up on a tree, opened my mouth, and, once again, it was 'Caw! Caw!' (Author's note: Guys like me produce tapes because people like you buy them! The tape may help to change your thinking, which could lead to you changing your actions, but the tape won't do any of that for you!)
Back to the crow: 'Then I got sheet music, and went for voice training, and really worked hard at it.' (Further note: The same applies to writing books and giving Retreats. They can help change your thinking, but, of themselves, they won't change you!)….back to the crow….'After all of that I flew up on a tree, opened my mouth, and I still had my Caw! Caw! So, I hope you see now" he said to the other crows, "why I'm so depressed, and in such distress".
The other crows were speechless. What could one say? One by one they made some excuse about an appointment somewhere, and soon our friend was back on his own again.
It was a long time later when the same group just happened to bump into each other. The other crows gathered around in amazement, spellbound at what they saw. The crow's feathers were shining, his eyes were sparkling, and he walked as if floating on air. "What happened?" asked the others in amazement.
"Oh", said the crow, his face lighting up with a smile, "you could never guess what happened. Shortly after the last time I met you, I was flicking through a newspaper. Something caught my eye in one corner, and I read it. It was about a surgeon in South Africa who did transplants. The idea hit me like a sledge hammer. A transplant! That's what I wanted all the time. How could I ever hope to sing like a blackbird if I didn't have the voice-box of a blackbird? I got the phone number of the surgeon, and I rang him straight away. He himself actually answered the phone.
I told him about what I had read in the paper, and I asked him what kind of transplants he did. He rhymed off a few, like hearts, lungs, and livers. I asked him did he ever do a voice-box. He said 'no', so I asked him would be willing to do a voice-box. He said he certainly was willing, because it couldn't possibly be as complicated as a heart transplant. He agreed to take me on if I went out there. I flew to South Africa, and we kept in touch with all local hospitals and mortuaries, waiting for news about a dead blackbird (one with a donor card!).
Eventually, my day came. I went down to that theatre completely at ease. I lay back on that table and let somebody else take over a problem that I was never going to resolve by myself. I ended up with the voice-box of a blackbird. The surgeon told me I would have to practise, and, in time, I would get the hang of things. In no time at all I was up on a tree, singing my heart out, as beautiful as any blackbird. And now I discover that I cannot sing any other way.
Oh, and, by the way, one very important point. I have learned that the wholegrain, the Vivioptol, the vitamins, the C90 tape, the sheet music, the voice training……..not one penny of that money, or one minute of time was wasted, because if I had not done all those things, I would not be convinced now that they don't work"!!
"I will take away your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh instead. I will breathe my Spirit into you, and you shall live" says the Lord. The Holy Spirit is the Breath, the Power of God. At the beginning of creation God breathed his Spirit into the clay, and a human being came into existence, a new life began. Jesus told Nicodemus that, to enter his Kingdom, one had to be born again. "Unless one is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit."
The baptism of John the Baptist was that of water, which was for the forgiveness of sins. John spoke of one who would come after him who would baptise with water and with the Holy Spirit. This brings us to a point beyond sin; to a point of holiness, when we are anointed with the Spirit of God. Being anointed with the Spirit is the final and necessary part of our journey of salvation. We cannot respond to the offer of Jesus, nor can we avail of all that he gained for us, unless the Spirit within us makes that possible.
Original Sin is very pervasive, because, at any stage of the process, we can be tempted to take over, and try to complete the process ourselves. We have to imitate John the Baptist who knew that he had to decrease if Jesus were to increase. Instead of trying to take over, we should consciously make every effort to keep getting out of the way. As far as the Spirit is concerned, it is an on-going process of surrender. Those of us reared on Religious practices could easily have a problem here, because of the emphasis that was put on what we do.
As I said earlier, Mary didn't do anything. She yielded to the Spirit, and gave him a complete free hand to use her in any way he chose. She MAGNIFIED the Lord, rather than magnify herself. She was the 'lowly servant' of the Lord, and she believed that there was nothing impossible for God, so she didn't feel any need to step in and do God's work for him. She is our Role Model par excellance when it comes to being open to the Spirit, and allowing the Spirit do all that he was sent to do.
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