The Font and Giver of Freedom, Life and Unity
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
On Saturday evening, the 3rd of June 2006, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI welcomed half a million members of the ecclesial movements and new communities to St. Peter's Square, Rome, to celebrate with him the Vigil of Pentecost. In his Papal Homily he recalled how his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in a similar meeting on 30th May 1998, described their associations and communities as 'providential', especially "because the Sanctifying Spirit makes use of them to reawaken faith in so many Christian hearts and to reveal to them the vocation they have received with Baptism. He also helps them to be witnesses of hope filled with that fire of love which is bestowed upon us precisely by the Holy Spirit."
In his address to the select group of leaders of the movements on that occasion, the then Cardinal Ratzinger had moved me very much, both by his insight and by his interest as he testified that he himself had 'experienced the warmth and enthusiasm' with which the movements lived the Catholic faith and the joy they felt compelled to share with others. A year later he also told bishops that they must respect the gifts of the Holy Spirit expressed in the movements and allow themselves to be surprised at what God can accomplish through them.
Now as Pope, his homily then took a practical turn. "Let us ask ourselves at this Pentecost Vigil, who or what is the Holy Spirit? How can we recognize him? How do we go to him and how does he come to us? What does he do?" To put it in another way: How do I know I have the Holy Spirit?
The answer is simple and obvious. I know I have the Holy Spirit because I have a New Life (Rom 6:4). This is endorsed by the Nicene Creed at Mass: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life Giver (or Giver of Life). But then, What is life? Life is not just existence. As a retreatant testified spontaneously, after being prayed over for a fresh release of the Holy Spirit, "All these years I only existed. Now I feel I have begun to live." The movements were therefore born precisely out of the thirst for true life; they are movements for life in every sense.
But then what is this New Life? The NewLife (I prefer to put it as one word) is the life of the Spirit, the source and substance of which is so well described by Jesus himself at the Last Supper as: "The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name … to be with you for ever" (Jn 14:26,16); "… and he will be in you" (Jn 14:17); "and then we (my Father and I) will come to you and make our home with you (Jn 14:23). The NewLife is therefore nothing else (and nothing more) than the presence (and the concomitant or resulting love and power) of three glorious persons, the Father, the Son and the Spirit, living within a person who loves and obeys Jesus. "His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, emanates from him and enters our hearts, thereby uniting us with Jesus himself and with the Father, the Triune God. Pentecost is this: Jesus, and through him God himself, actually comes to us and draws us to himself. The Holy Spirit, through whom God comes to us, brings us life and freedom." (from the Pope's Homily).
But then how can one know that he has the Blessed Trinity living within him and consequently the NewLife of the Spirit? Firstly, by the 'Signs of the Spirit', a deep inner peace, a love that reaches out to others and a joy on one's countenance. Secondly, by the 'Gifts of the Spirit'; not the seven sanctifying gifts which are the confirmation of personal holiness, but the nine charismatic gifts which are the workings of the power of the Spirit and are given as the Spirit wills for ministry within the church. Thirdly, by the 'Fruits of the Spirit' (Mt 7:16), the only indisputable evidence of the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2), such as converted the sinner Magdalene into the Saint Mary and changed the persecutor Saul into the Apostle Paul, a spiritual transformation that will unfold itself in one's threefold relationship: with God, with others and with oneself; or to use the words of the Pope, Freedom within oneself, Life in God, Unity with one another.
Freedom Within Oneself: If I hold that I have the Holy Spirit there must be significant changes within myself, especially a greater and progressive freedom from all types of burdens and bondages, a greater compassion towards those in need and a greater confidence in one's ministry, for God's gift to us was not a spirit of timidity but the Spirit of self-control and of love and of power (2Tm 1:7). The Superior of Sudeep, the Sisters Training Institute in Bangalore, had brought her nephew, hailing from a prominent family of Trichur, to be prayed for his compulsive gambling, which had made him a pauper, with his marriage now on the rocks. In answer to my query, he could not tell me why he was crazy about gambling, except that when he saw a pack of cards he had to gamble.
When I asked him whether he wanted to be freed from this habit, I could sense that his Yes was sincere and determined. So we prayed together to the Holy Spirit to set him free from the spirit of gambling, A year later I met the same nun, who was now the directress of the Mater Dei Institute for Sisters in Old Goa. She told me with joy that ever since that day he was so completely freed from gambling, that now when he sees a pack of cards he feels like vomiting. And besides he has become the most religious man in the family, having started a prayer group in his home and going around the town evangelizing with his Bible under his arm.
The ecclesial movements want to be and must be schools of freedom, of this true freedom. As St. Paul says: "You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship, through which we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" (Romans 8:15). For it is the Holy Spirit that makes us sons and daughters of God.
Life With God: The Father God, whom before one may have kept aloof from or been fearful of, is now experienced as a loving Daddy, and consequently one discovers a new taste for prayer and experiences a new power in prayer, which is the verbal expression of divine Sonship. Jesus thus becomes alive to them, and as a consequence the Bible becomes the most important, if not the only, book in their lives. I often wondered how could the young lay leaders take leave to do the one year residential Scripture course at the then Catholic Charismatic Bible College in Mumbai, and even resign from their lucrative jobs, if they had not fallen in love with Jesus. And finally one does not just remember the Holy Spirit once a year at Pentecost, but one will be constantly aware of his presence and power working in and through him as his Paraclete (by one's side, one's advocate and one's intercessor).
Unity With Others: The Renewal in the Spirit must also bring about a significant change in one's relationships, especially in one's marriage, one's family and one's immediate neighborhood. A woman had brought her three sons aged 8, 10 and 12 years for prayers, since they would be fighting everyday not only with blows and but even with penknives, and everyday there were wounds to be dressed. Her husband could not control them, and had taken to drinks in frustration; she herself had become a nervous wreck and even wanted to commit suicide.
I told her that if she wanted to change them, she had to change herself first. During the first night's adoration at the retreat that she was invited to make at the Spirituality Centre, in Kottayam, Kerala, she now realized that the Lord himself had brought her here to be transformed. She stopped being anxious about changing her sons but surrendered them to the Lord to be changed by his Spirit. When she returned home after the retreat expecting the worst in her absence, she found instead a remarkable change in them. They still fought verbally but never with blows and much less with penknives.
Some years later, after the Easter Vigil service at the Holy Week retreat at the same retreat centre, a young man drove the whole night to the town where he lived and brought his sick mother to be prayed over just for the Easter Dawn Mass. I recognized her to be the same woman who had brought her three sons for prayer many years ago. "I want to tell you," she said, "that from after that first retreat my three boys were completely changed. This is my eldest son, now the leader of the prayer group in our town, and he is bringing me to you for prayer."
The Holy Spirit, in giving freedom and life, also gives unity, for the truth unites and love unites. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Spirit who unites the Father with the Son in Love, and always continues to build his Body, making us his Body. For Jesus is not content with coming to meet us as individuals, but as the Family of God his Father, as his Body, united in diversity, and as the Temple of the Spirit built up of many living stones, with himself the cornerstone. The Spirit breathes where he wills, and his will is unity embodied, a unity that encounters the world and transforms it.
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