The Holy Spirit for today.

The Holy Spirit. What is His role today? What function does He carry out in the world, and in the life of the Church, and in the heart of the Christian? Jesus provides us some guidance in answering this question during His farewell discourse near the end of John.

“The Holy Spirit will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you… The Counselor, The Spirit of Truth, He will come and testify about Me. And He will convict the world about sin, because they do not believe, about righteousness, because I go to the Father, and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. Now I have much more to tell you, things that you are not ready to hear now, but the Spirit of Truth will come, and He will guide you into all truth, telling you about things to come, and will make known to you all things that are Mine.”

These are the things Jesus tells us about The Holy Spirit’s role for today. He comes to work through the Church, revealing to us those things that we were not ready to here from Jesus. One might look to the Ancient Creeds of the Church, to the Trinitarian formulas produced there, for an example of what Jesus may have been predicting. While He did provide some implicit evidence for the Trinity, He was coy about it. Why? Probably because the disciples weren’t ready to hear it yet. The shift from strict monotheism to Trinitarianism would need to be slow and gradual as The Holy Spirit worked in the hearts of the faithful and through the clergy to bring about this knowledge. Similarly, The Holy Spirit is working in the world, bringing about the conversion of hearts, through the testimony about Jesus. The Holy Spirit convicts sinners regarding unbelief, regarding righteousness, and regarding judgment, thus bringing them to the knowledge of their need for Saving. The Holy Spirit works in the Church, and out of the Church, testifying to Christ, so that we may know Him. And so knowing Him, we may love Him.

It seems important that we understand this. The work of God in this age is not accomplished by Scripture Alone, but through the operation of The Holy Spirit as He guides the Church into all truth and convicts the world about it’s need for Jesus. Without this guidance, the Church would be lost in a sea of subjectivism and personal interpretation, with thousands of separate denominations and no authority to bind us, and the world would be lost with no hope of salvation. It is the power of The Holy Spirit that guides us, who enlightens our minds and hearts, and who draws us to Jesus.

 

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He allows us to hurt because He wants to set us free.

He knew that Lazarus was sick and dying, yet Jesus waited until he had been dead four days before going to heal him. On the face of it, one almost wants to file a malpractice or negligence suit. “You had the power to prevent the bad from happening, Jesus; so why didn’t you?” …Some theologians think God glories in the death of the wicked. Surely, God is righteous in all things. But even when He allows, in His sovereignty, bad things to happen – He does not glory in it. In fact, such things make Him sad: seeing the funeral party of Lazarus, “Jesus wept.” And this is the heart of God.

The evil we brought into this world was brought in by our own free-choice. The result of breaking communion with God is sin, suffering, death, and destruction. This pains God. It grieves Him. So He took the initiative in Jesus Christ to reach out to a sinful, suffering, and dying world, in order to rescue us from ourselves. He waited, however, to do this “in the fullness of time.” Proper timing is essential for reaching maximum impact. We need to see the depths of our sin, and come to realize our desperate need for God, before we can witness the Value of Christ. In allowing us to reach rock-bottom, God is thus not depriving us of grace, but mercifully preparing us for it.

Such was the case with what happened to Lazarus. Although people had been with Jesus for some time, they had not yet believed in Him. They first needed to experience the heart-break and pain of death before they could come to appreciate the beauty and power of Life. So Christ waited, not out neglect, but out of a burning love to ignite the hearts of others. It would have been natural to question, as those present that day did, why He took the course of action He chose to take. “Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?” But Jesus allowed the temporary experience of the painful consequences of sin in order to bring about the eternal experience of the blissful consequence of His own redeeming love. For it was through this experience, seeing Lazarus die and seeing Lazarus be raised, that those present came to believe.

May we have the humility and the faith to ask ourselves, when we are in the midst of our own pain, what benefit God may be trying to grant us. May we always strive to see the love and mercy in His actions, no matter how painful they might be.

Sin no more.

Some folks hated Jesus. Others were drawn to Him. He had a curious way of speaking, that would cut right to the heart. The people were unsure what to make of Him. Was Jesus good, or was he bad? One thing is sure, no man ever spoke like He. For Jesus took a position of authority, not as a tyrant or a narcissist, but as a humble servant of God. And yet, when it came to the interpretation of the Law of Moses, He insisted that “One greater than Moses is here.” In contradiction to the legalism of the Pharisees, Jesus took a more merciful approach. Instead of subjecting the people to a rigorous application of the external demands of the Law, He called for an attitude of non-judgment, empowered by unconditional love, focused on the internal disposition of the heart. Those with eyes to see were able to perceive the anointing upon Him, and they began to wonder if He was indeed the Messiah.

But the Pharisees could not accept Him as Messiah, for He openly contradicted them. Their pride caused them to harden their hearts and double-down on their legalism. “This man cannot be from God, because He breaks the Sabbath!” And so they sought to kill Jesus, and they sent guards off to arrest Him. But the guards saw what the others had: “No man ever spoke like He.” They saw the light of God’s eternal glory shining from the face of Jesus. They heard the way that He called upon God as Loving Father, and served Him with humility. They felt the warmth of the divine mercy radiate from His lips as He taught the people about the right application of the Law. So the guards sent to arrest Him ended up rather being impressed by Him, and did not carry out their orders. For it was not yet Jesus’ time: He still had more to reveal about the love of the Father towards a sinful world. And the opposition of the Pharisees would prove instrumental in this cause.

As God often does, when a person intends to do evil, He turns it around for good. The Pharisees, frustrated with their inability to convince the guards that they ought to arrest Jesus, devised a plan to test and trap Him. And when a woman was caught in adultery, they brought her to Jesus and asked Him what they should do. “The Law commands that we stone her!” And yet they knew it was against Roman law to do so. Either Jesus would have to break the Law of God, or the Law of Rome. Both would result in death. But this attempt to do evil was an occasion for our Lord to do good. Little did the Pharisees know, but the Law of God was never intended to be interpreted in such a rigorous, legalistic manner. Even though it quite clearly called for the stoning of adulterers, it also called for mercy, and humility, and justice. We all know how this ends: “You who have no sin should be the first to cast a stone.” And with this reply Jesus thwarted the plot against Him, and used it as an opportunity to demonstrate the correct interpretation of the Law. “Does anyone condemn you? Neither do I condemn you. Now go, and sin no more.”

Let Mercy be our Hermeneutic

There is a tension in the Gospels between justice and mercy, between the absolute truth of God’s perfect moral law and the unmerited love and mercy that He offers all those who will receive Him in humility. On the one hand, the road is narrow. On the other hand, the thief on the cross. On the one hand, anyone who divorces a woman causes her to commit adultery. On the other hand, even those caught in adultery are allowed to go free (“neither do I condemn you” Jn. 8:11). Too often times in our churches we emphasize one of these aspects to the detriment of the other. Conservatives demand that we speak truth, liberals demand we speak love. But Jesus speaks both – depending on the circumstance, He may emphasize one more than the other.

In the third chapter of the Gospel of John we read about the interaction between our Lord and Nicodemus. Although at first glance it may appear that the Pharisee was coming with sincere interest and humble curiosity, the way Jesus responds indicates otherwise. He drills Nicodemus with his need for regeneration and points at his incompetence at being a religious leader. This is a common theme in our Lord’s interactions with Pharisees. Those who teach contrary to God’s mercy are deprived of that which they deprive of others. Yet, the tone of our Sweet Savior changes when interacting with the lost and broken.

After having discoursed with the Jews and the religious people of Jerusalem, Jesus goes through Samaria. This is the land of heretics and sinners, a land of unclean people who have perverted the Scriptures and engaged in illicit forms of worship. The Pharisee would stay far from this place. But Jesus goes there, and demonstrates for us the true heart of God. Though He be strict with the unmerciful, He is kind to the broken. Meeting a Samaritan woman, Jesus asks for a drink. And though she is astonished at His condescension and therefore hesitant to oblige His request (for Jews do not have relations with Samaritans), our Lord offers encouraging words of promise. “You think it strange that I would be willing to commune with you? Nay, I tell you, I would even be willing to grant you my very Spirit, living water, if you would only ask it of me.”

When the woman finally acquiesces to His invitation, Jesus asks her to bring her husband with her so that he may receive the gift as well. Our Lord knew this would cut to the woman’s heart, so that she could become truly ready to receive the gift He was offering. For the woman did not have one husband, but had five previous husbands, and was not married to the man she was with now. And Jesus asks the woman to go get her “husband” knowing full-well that the man was not, in fact, her husband. And He tells her that she has indeed had five “husbands”, even though elsewhere He tells us that it is impossible to have more than one (Matthew 5:32). With such a gentle manner, our Lord pierces to the heart of the woman, not accusing her of sin, but helping her to see it on her own. Bending His own rules about divorce and remarriage to affirm the woman’s good intentions, while pointing to her ultimate need for redemption from this state of moral laxity and lawlessness.

It is this position of non-judgment, this attitude of mercy, that characterizes our Lord. He is humble, and He is sweet. Even though the Truth is absolute, and His judgment Righteous, nevertheless, He condescends to our level with love and mercy for the broken. And He offers Himself to those we would not. Even to heretics and sinners. But with those who suppose themselves teachers of God’s law, who do not teach that law through the lens of love and mercy, He has a more strict tone. Let us, therefore, emulate Jesus. Let mercy be our hermeneutic. “For with the judgment you judge will be judged back to you,” and “mercy trumps judgment.”

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(P.S. One may consider the willingness of Jesus to call her five partners her “husbands,” and His willingness to commune with her while she remains in this state, when one is considering the complex and difficult issues of Amoris Laetitia.)

God is Love, God is Jesus

In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. This is what the Apostle John tells us. Jesus is very God. He is the Light of the world, the light of the human race. As God our Creator (through whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made), Jesus is the Source of all Life, all Light, and all Love in the universe. He is not only our personal Lord and Savior, but He is the Sustainer of all things Beautiful and True. And yet, we have rejected Him.

Each of us, even those who have never heard of Him, even those who lived before He was born into this world; we have all rejected Him. “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” But how can those who have never heard of Him – those who lived before He came – reject Him who they do know?

Remember, He is God. The Source of all Goodness. The Father of Lights through whom every good gift comes to us. When a person scorns the gift of life, they scorn Jesus. Whether they know it or not. When an Aztec warrior looked upon one of his fellow human beings with hatred, he looked upon Jesus with hatred. Jesus is not just a man. He is also God. As such, we are all aware of Him to differing degrees. This means that He is not far from anyone, but He is near to all.

Indeed, “the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” This applies to all people. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the only-begotten of the Father, True God from True God, Light from Light. He is Everything Good and Holy and Just and Beautiful. And we have rejected Him. In our thoughts, in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do; each and every single one of us, we have rejected Him.

We reject Him every time we neglect to honor our father and our mother. We reject Him every time we covet our neighbor’s goods. We reject Him every time we turn to ourselves instead of trusting in our Creator. We reject Him. And yet… He Loves us. He Loved us from the beginning, and we spurned His Love and embraced darkness instead. Yet He still Loves us. He Loves us to the point of coming to earth, humbling Himself, and submitting to death on a cross for us. He Loves us.

What a Message. What a Gospel. What a God He is. He Loves us. And yet we have rejected Him… our Lord and our God, He whom created everything, He who is the Source of all Joy and all Good Pleasure. We have rejected Him in every way. And yet He Loves us. He is God. And yet, He Loves us. He knows us, deep down inside, in our very worst parts, in our darkest secrets, in our most shameful moments, He knows us … and He Loves us.

Do we believe this? If we claim to believe this – if we claim to believe Him – then do our lives show it? The Apostle did not write a Gospel to instruct us how to behave. He wrote a Gospel to instruct us in the Glorious Love of God. And this Love is the Source of our salvation – even the source of our sanctification – if we only believe it.

Lord, let us believe it. Let us believe in you Jesus. God Almighty, let us Love you.

Welcome to Clairvaux Catholic

Welcome to the blog! As an Evangelical Catholic, I am fond of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. His sermon on the annunciation was actually a profound influence on Martin Luther. Of course, I have my problems with Luther. But St. Bernard was not wrong to emphasize the free gift of grace and the assurance of Heaven that we have in Jesus Christ. For He is sweetness and love and everything good, and He has promised us Heaven.