May 29, 2022
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”
In its essence, we know that the Church, the Body of Christ, the People of God, is a complex reality. By this, we mean that there are both divine and human elements of the Church. Jesus Christ, the good shepherd, is the head of his body, the Church. His life flows into, through, and with our human lives. His presence in the Eucharist is the source and summit of the life of the Church. As St. Augustine said, “Become what you receive.” As St. Theresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world.” Jesus’s presence in this world continues in and through the Church. This is possible because of the sending of the Holy Spirit and the power that presence conveys. The Holy Spirit is a spring of life-giving water within each of us. The Church was born by the gift of the Holy Spirit and is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic because of the work of the Holy Spirit.
There sometimes arises a tension between the institutional aspects of the Church (organizational and hierarchical) and the charismatic (gifts of the Holy Spirit) aspects of the Church. This tension can be thought of in terms of opposite forces, such as, stability versus fluidity, authority versus freedom, or tradition versus creativity. When he was still a Cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI theologically explored the usefulness of contrasting the institution with the charismatic, Christology (theology of Jesus Christ) with pneumatology (theology of the Holy Spirit), and hierarchy with prophecy. He concluded that they were less than useful, in some ways because of the oppositional nature of the comparisons. Instead, he proposed an historical method that relied heavily on the obligation of bishops in apostolic succession to guarantee both the unity and faithful handing on of the faith and the dynamic mission of all the faithful. After Cardinal Ratzinger’s efforts, St. John Paul II wrote, “The institutional aspect and the charismatic are quasi coessential to the constitution of the Church, even if in a diverse way, to her life, to her renewal and to the sanctification of the People of God.” In other words, instead of tension, the pope proposed that the institutional and charismatic aspects of the Church were complementary. The Church is both institutional and charismatic, Christological and pneumatological, and hierarchical and prophetic. That is a good thing!
As we conclude this month of May, a month that honors Mary, the Mother of God, it can be beneficial to contemplate her role and example as a window into the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. As you recall, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to announce perhaps the most power-filled action of the Holy Spirit, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Mary responded with her fiat, a Latin word that means “let it be done.” The Spirit of the Father brought the Word of the Father into the world through the cooperation of Mary, through her resounding yes! There would be no Word without Mary’s response to the Spirit. It is the charismatic aspect that gives birth to the institutional. The institutional presupposes the charismatic. At Pentecost, the Spirit gives birth to the Church. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Word is manifest in us. It is by the Spirit that we are Christ’s body now on earth. Yes! Let it be done to us!