Tag Archives: Pentecost

Christian Spirituality

24 Jul

    Every once in a while, someone will ask me if I consider myself a spiritual person. It is a strange and challenging question. I am a Christian. But am I spiritual? What does that even mean for a Christian? There are all kinds of spiritualities out there today, what is Christian spirituality?

Terence Sweeney - The Pentecost Sadeo Watanabe

The Pentecost Sadeo Watanabe

The general understanding of what it means to be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. This is true (or at least should be true). There is another meaning to the word Christian. Christ means ‘the anointed;’ Jesus was the Christ because he was the anointed One. The Holy Spirit descended on him when he was baptized in the Jordan and anointed him the Christ. A few years later, the same Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and Mary on Pentecost, anointing them too.

This is all good and nice, but how does this relate to being spiritual? In baptism and confirmation, Christians are anointed with the Holy Spirit. We become christs. What does this mean? It means the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts. In calling ourselves Christians, we are not just saying we try to follow Christ, we mean we have been anointed as follower of and witness for Christ. For a Christian, to be spiritual primarily means that the Holy Spirit lives in our heart. The Spirit fills us to overflowing giving us the gifts we need to follow Jesus and to be christs to our brothers and sisters.

This is the heart of Christian spirituality. It isn’t something we do, it is something that God gives us and that we must be receptive to it. We must allow the Spirit to totally transform us as the Spirit transformed Jesus, the Son of God, from a carpenter to the Messiah. Of course, as our Christian and non-Christian readers will clearly recognize, many Christians are often not very Christ-like. We block the Holy Spirit’s actions in our hearts; we are not spiritual because we do not follow the Spirit. Nonetheless, to be a Christian is a calling from God which can only be fulfilled if we allow the Spirit to overflow out of us in acts of love.

Am I saying that only Christians are spiritual? You mean to tell me that a Buddhist monk spending years in meditation is not spiritual? No. The Holy Spirit moves where it wills. The Holy Spirit is alive in spiritualties that are oriented to the good. However, it is in and through baptism, confirmation, and the prayers of the Catholic Church, that the Spirit is especially at work. The Spirit is at work in the hearts of all people: leading all people to Christ; calling us into relationship with God; calling us into relationship with each other; calling us all into the spiritual communion of the Church. So let the Spirit fill her heart, let the Spirit draw you into the communion, into the Church whose very soul is the Holy Spirit.

– Terence Sweeney

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The Holy Spirit, Defender of the Weak

29 May

The Holy Spirit, Defender of the Weak

Karl Marx criticized the Christian religion for sustaining the conditions of a rigid class stratification. Christianity has little interest, so the critique goes, in the narratives of the oppressed. After all, the Church has historically been in positions of power—why would it want to proclaim the stories of the marginalized?

The above represents a common critique of the Catholic faith, one which has seen many interpretations and has been extended well into the 21st century. In some sense, the critique is valid and necessary; the Church has at times engaged in the political power matrices of its historical climate. But it has done so occasionally and lamentably. In fact, what the tradition teaches is quite the opposite: the Christian religion is the religion of the marginalized and victim class.

This, in actuality, comprises the original disciples of Jesus, men and women who represented an economically, politically, and religiously oppressed class of individuals. The genesis of Christian cultural evangelization and advocacy is forged within this identity, and the association between a marginalized identity and the act of Christ is inseparable. This act is a self-giving act, one which finds its fullest expression on the Cross. Here, Christians believe that the salvation of the world came about. Yet, its coming about is rooted in the expression of outrageous love and weakness.

That is to say, Christians believe that salvation emanated from the exact opposite orientation of political power and class rule. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples. One of the many miraculous results of this descent was the eventual reformation of the world’s largest and most powerful empire. Rome was slowly becoming Christian, but not through violent oppression or revolution. Instead, it slowly changes through the selfless acts of love and self-giving martyrdom.

The disciples believed the Holy Spirit was guiding them. Christians also refer to the Spirit as the Paraclete, which translates from the Greek as the advocate or defender. The Spirit is the advocate for both truth and justice, a defender of the weak and the truth of the Gospels. Catholic anthropologist Rene Girard deftly observes, “The Paraclete is called on behalf of the prisoner, the victim, to speak in his place and in his name, to act in his defense. The Paraclete is the universal advocate, the chief defender of all innocent victims, the destroyer of every representation of persecution. He is truly the spirit of truth that dissipates the fog of mythology.”

The Holy Spirit speaks for those who history has forgotten. It is the Spirit who defends the weak and the victim, and in so doing, reveals the heart of the Gospel message of salvation, breaking apart divisions so that they may be brought together as one body, united in Christ.

-Tim DeCelle