In both our first reading and gospel this Sunday, which is Ascension Sunday, we see Jesus preparing his apostles to receive an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the “Promise of the Father” after he, Jesus has left the earth. Again and again he tells his disciples that they are under no circumstances to leave the city of Jerusalem before this event. Even when two of them take off for Emmaus, he goes after them to bring them back to the holy city (cf Luke 24). If it is so important for them to receive the Holy Spirit, we cannot dismiss the importance of receiving the Spirit in our own lives. Fr James Mallon, in his book Divine Renovation, from which I quoted last week, explains why it is so crucial for us:
“Many believing Christians…may have heard that there is a Holy Spirit, but have virtually no experience of the Holy Spirit and no relationship with the Spirit of Power. God is no impersonal force or energy. God is not even just a personal God, but a tri-personal God who yearns to be in relationship with us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These are not mere modes of being, but three distinct personal relationships. Even those who have had a personal encounter with Jesus that has brought them into relationship with the Father as Father may struggle with being in relationship with the Holy Spirit.
If the third person of the Trinity has been reduced to a concept, or some abstract thing that we receive at confirmation, with no corresponding experience beyond sacramental gestures, how can we speak of truly knowing the Holy Spirit? We have a theology that tells us that we “have” the Holy Spirit and continue to receive the Holy Spirit, but in a manner that does not in any way translate into a life-altering experience of power. Indeed the mystery of God-in-us is highly misunderstood in the Church today and remains undiscovered by many believers. This experience of the power of God through the Holy Spirit is foreign to many believing Christians throughout the world. This may be, in part, due to an underdeveloped study of the Holy Spirit in our theological tradition, but it is far more likely a cultural intrusion upon historical, biblical Christian spirituality. Anyone who has traveled to Africa or the Caribbean will notice that the fear of emotive spirituality is not a Catholic issue per se , but a Western European Catholic issue that has been affected by post-Enlightenment culture- in particular idealism. To dwell in the realm of ideas is far safer and less threatening than to encounter the reality of the idea. Compared to our brothers and sisters in the faith who dwell in the southern hemisphere, we are emotionally constipated when it comes to expressing our faith…
If there was consistency in our culture around the issue of the affect, at least our stoic spirituality would make some kind of sense, but there is not. When we go to the cinema or the theater, we regard the movie or production to have been a great success if we were moved emotionally. When we go to sporting events, we consider it natural to enter into an almost religious state of emotional rapture… Being emotional is a normal and healthy part of what it means to be human, and yet this essential dimension of our spiritual lives is checked at the doors of most churches as we go into pew mode… Yet , who is more worthy of our tears and cheers? Who is more deserving of our spontaneous praise and demonstrations of love and devotion than the Lord who has created and redeemed us?”