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Archive for May 20th, 2010

 

El Greco's Pentecost

The Promise of the Father

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.  (Acts 2: 1-4)

My dear fellow pilgrims,

As we celebrate Pentecost Sunday and the fulfillment of the Promise of the Father let us pray that we may all come to a better understanding of exactly what that fulfillment means to each of us personally so that we may all be able to truly attest to the Pentecost experience, not because of any theological understanding we may have about it, but rather because we have personally experienced its fulfillment in our persons.

We all come from distinct Christian traditions and each of our traditions has a somewhat distinct view of the Pentecost experience. Because we are not comfortable with the Holy Spirit, in some way or other, most of our traditions try to repackage the Holy Spirit to fit acceptably within our religious traditions and mode of life.

I have many evangelical brothers and sisters, whom I dearly love, who have been told that the Spiritual Gifts that came on the church on that day were only for apostolic times and have no relevance for the Christian life today. There is, today, a general dismissal of the spiritual gifts as being merely those manifestations of the Spirit needed to affirm the Gospel before there was a canon of New Testament Scripture. I am sure this attitude would be much to the dismay of St. Paul who stated to the brethren at that time, that “… concerning the spiritual gifts I would not have you ignorant!” (1 Cor. 12:1)

Now, I come from a catholic liturgical tradition, and I was most certainly ignorant of the relevance of the spiritual gifts or charisms to the fullness of a Christian life. Even now, around the feast of Pentecost I still get some very confusing signals from my tradition about praying for the “Gifts of the Spirit” in the nine days prior to this Holy Day.  My confusion stemming from the fact that the gifts we are asked to pray for are NOT the gifts of the Spirit (ie., charisms) described in the first few chapters of the Book of Acts (in its description of the events at Pentecost) or those listed by the Apostle Paul in Romans Chapter 12 and 1 Corinthians Chapter 12. In fact, the gifts we Catholics are asked to pray for are not even in the New Testament, they are, in fact, are the gifts prophesied of the Jewish Messiah in Isaiah Chapter 11.

Before my baptism in the Holy Spirit, I was not even aware there was a problem with this because, although I had read about the events at Pentecost, I did not relate what happened there as something that was for us today. In my religious training as a child, Pentecost was a historical event that brought forth the church, but NOT as something that all Christians should expect to happen today in their own lives. So When I was presented with the list of the Gifts from Isaiah I took it for granted that it must be so although I was never presented with a rationale as to why it was so. It was just part of the catechism from which we were taught. So, when my time for Confirmation came I was given a little prayer card as a memento that reminded me of the Seven Spiritual Gifts I had just received, namely: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety (devotion) and the fear (reverence) of the Lord.

It was not until I was an adult and Holy Spirit began opening my heart to His Word (oddly enough, through the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding) that I began to try to reconcile what I was taught with what the Spirit was teaching me from the Word.  One of the sections from the Book of acts that the Spirit brought to my attention was from Peter’s address to the crowds that gathered around to assess what had happened in that upper room on the Day of Pentecost.

On that day, the people in the area near the building, who were in Jerusalem to celebrate Jewish feast, heard all the commotion and in their astonishment they rushed to the house to see what was happening and saw people streaming from the building and acting extremely disoriented, loudly praising God and speaking in other tongues. “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:12-18).

In this statement, Peter, indicates that what was happening was the fulfillment of a promise that God the Father had made through the Prophet Joel. Further on, he proclaims the Good news to them, and, calling them to conversion and repentance, tells them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And [then] you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Thus making it clear that the “Gift of the Holy Spirit”, referred to was that evidenced by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit through the Charisms or Spiritual Gifts that ALL the 120 persons in the upper room received. The statement also implies that this “Gift” was also for all of those in the crowd, their children and their descendants as long as they would believe, repent and be baptized in water.

It was then that I realized that these charismatic spiritual gifts were also available to me and to all who, in believing, repented of their sins and were baptized in water.  I also became clear to me that this manifestation of the Spirit that was prophesied by the Prophet Joel was, indeed, the “Promise of the Father” that Jesus had promised His disciples before he ascended to the Father to empower them to take the Gospel to the world.

“And, he (the resurrected Jesus) being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, you have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” (Acts 1: 4-5).

In my continuing study, prayer and meditation on this part of scripture, the Holy Spirit began to reveal to me the consonance between the Word and tradition and where tradition sometimes fell short

First of all, He showed me the distinctions and the consonance between Water Baptism and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit – and how the two impartations were designed by God to complement each other. For you see these two “baptisms” merely represent the two impartations or modalities with which the Holy Spirit manifests Himself in our lives – inwardly and outwardly. It is true that there is only One Holy Spirit and there is only “one inherent baptism” (Eph. 4:5) but that baptism is expressed through two modalities that are, themselves, termed as “baptisms” in the terminology of the day (Heb. 6:2). That is why the writer of the letter to the Hebrews mentions the situation with “baptisms” as part of the customs and culture of the early church.

The Two Baptisms

In the first modality, the Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ (Rom. 6:3, Gal.3:27). In the second modality, it is Christ who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33, Eph. 1:13) in order to empower us with His anointing to be His instruments in this world.

It is like two sides to one coin, that coin being our spiritual being. On one side we are we are sealed with the Spirit of Christ, on the other we are sealed with the Holy Spirit – the side of Christ being our “enlightened” inner man and the Holy Spirit side being our “empowered” outer man.

In water baptism the Holy Spirit Baptizes us into Christ – into the Holiness of His inward being. It is means by which the Holy Spirit begins the process of transforming/conforming us into the image of the Son. Thus, the gifts He provides in this modality of baptism are called the Sanctifying Gifts – the spiritual gifts that work in us to bring us to the perfection of the character of Christ in us. Thus, these gifts are, truly, the gifts stated in Isaiah Chapter 11 as ordained by the Father to be manifested in us in order to be called “Sons and Daughters”. Without these inward, Sanctifying Gifts, the outward or empowerment gifts that are needed for us to bear fruit in the world and in the community, will never profit the community or us spiritually because we are out of partnership with the divine. It is only through these sanctifying gifts that we are enabled to be partakers of His divinity and, therefore, to partner with the Father in bringing forth His Kingdom.  This is in accord with what the Apostle Peter tells us in his letters about God’s promises that permit us to participate in the divine nature.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2Pet. 1:3-4)

In the other modality of “baptism”, the Holy Spirit Baptism, we receive or are “empowered” with the supernatural gifts necessary for us to accomplish the calling or vocation for which we were created, in partnership with the divine. Just as Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit after His Water baptism to empower Him to carry out His divinely ordained mission as Savior and Redeemer.

According to prophetic scripture, this anointing of the Spirit was a necessary attribute for the Ministry of the Messiah. It was this prophesy that Jesus read at the synagogue at the beginning of His Ministry when He said to the congregation, :  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”. (Luke 4: 18-19).

Thus, when Jesus told Nicodemus that one must be born of water and the Spirit in order to enter the Kingdom (John, Chapter 3) He was merely indicating to Nicodemus that in order to be a true and effective disciple and participate in His ministry, which He sometimes termed as “The Kingdom of Heaven”, one must be baptized with water, as He was, and one must also be baptized (or anointed) with the Holy Spirit, as He was. In other words, an effective disciple must be both spiritually reborn inwardly and spiritually empowered to reach out to the world and the community with Jesus’ anointing.

Now, the supernatural gifts (charisms) corresponding to Holy Spirit Baptism are distributed as the Spirit wills, to the members of the church, the body of Christ, according to and in proportion to the ministry (service) to which we have been called (1 Cor.12: 7-11). Without these gifts we are ill prepared in the natural to fully accomplish our vocation because since the Father wishes to be our partner in ministry (service) the nine Spiritual Gifts are the manner with which we are anointed by Him to carry out His will in this world. In fact, if we determine to serve Him only in the flesh and not in the spirit, we are limiting what God can do through us, since what we do is purely out of our own self-willed effort in the flesh

Thus, though these two modalities of baptism, and the two promises associated with them, the Holy Spirit is not only able to work in us to conform us to the image of the Son but also to empower us to act in the authority Jesus Name in bringing the Gospel to the whole world with signs following.

This division of grace into two impartations or modalities is not just a rhetorical invention to make a point, it is a distinction that was clearly outlined by St. Thomas Aquinas when he discerned that Grace could be defined into two types: Sanctifying Grace and Actual or Free Grace[1]. The former is clearly demonstrated through the Sanctifying Gifts mentioned in Isaiah 11, whereas the latter is also clearly demonstrated through the “empowerment” gifts that are mentioned in the New Testament Books of Acts, Romans and Corinthians

From what I have just summarized, and it is just a summary, it is clear that “the Promise of the Father” that Jesus mentioned to His disciples referred to the “empowerment gifts”  that were manifested outwardly at Pentecost; but that it is also clear, from the scriptures, that St. Peter and the other disciples were aware that this “Promise” was contingent on a person believing, repenting and being baptized in water so that a contingent promise might also be fulfilled.  This contingent promise is the promise of the Father instilling His Spirit into the renewed hearts of believers so that that would truly become His children through a cleansing by water, that is being baptized into Christ, which is the first modality mentioned.

This other promise I speak of, is one of the more direct of the Lord’s promises that His people are to participate in His nature, is one found in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, speaking about how, in the latter times, the Lord promises to put His Spirit into those called by His Name: “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws’” (Ezek. 36:24-27).

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In conclusion, brothers and sisters, I pray that these, my reflections on the fuller meaning of the “Promise of the Father” will lead us, as Christians, to pray to the Father in Jesus Name, not only for the gifts that foster our sanctification but also for the complementary gifts of empowerment that will truly yield fruit for the Glory of His Kingdom.

While it is clear that the Sanctifying Gifts are extremely important to bring us into conformance to Christ we must also remember that without the gifts of empowerment our ability to bear fruit for the Glory of the Father will be extremely limited since we are excluding the Holy Spirit to work through us in our works of service.

As I leave you, I encourage you with St. Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian Church:

“Pursue love, yet desire earnestly (the) spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. … So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound (in them) for the edification of the church.” (1 Cor. 14:1-3, 12).

Your Fellow Pilgrim and Brother In Christ Jesus,

Bartimaeus

© B.R.Timeo and Bartimaeus’ Quiet Place, [2008-2010]

Related Links

Releasing the Spirit

The Double Portion Anointing

Jesus, the Source of Living Water, and Us


[1] There is grace through which a man is himself united to God, which is called sanctifying grace. There is also grace whereby one man cooperates with another to lead him to God. This latter gift is called “free” grace. (Summa Theologica, Vol XI, Nature and Grace, 12 ae, Q111, Art.1, Par. 3)

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