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Life-giving Spirit

During the month of July not only is the second reading at the Sunday Eucharist from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, the next five weeks will present passages from the same chapter of Romans: chapter 8, often called Paul's "Gospel of the Holy Spirit."A fine way to enter into the newly inaugurated "Pauline Year" would be to engage in lectio divina of this inexhaustible chapter.Pope Benedict has begun a new series of Wednesday catecheses devoted to St. Paul, but in the course of his earlier catecheses on the Apostles (now available in book form) he had already devoted four sessions to Paul.Here is an excerpt from his 2006 reflection on "St. Paul and the Spirit:"

In Paul's opinion, the Spirit stirs us to the very depths of our being. Here are some of his words on this subject which have an important meaning: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death... you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!', it is the Spirit himself" (Rom 8: 2, 15) who speaks in us because, as children, we can call God "Father".

Thus, we can see clearly that even before he does anything, the Christian already possesses a rich and fruitful interiority, given to him in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, an interiority which establishes him in an objective and original relationship of sonship with God. This is our greatest dignity: to be not merely images but also children of God. And it is an invitation to live our sonship, to be increasingly aware that we are adoptive sons in God's great family. It is an invitation to transform this objective gift into a subjective reality, decisive for our way of thinking, acting and being.

God considers us his children, having raised us to a similar if not equal dignity to that of Jesus himself, the one true Son in the full sense. Our filial condition and trusting freedom in our relationship with the Father is given or restored to us in him.

We thus discover that for Christians, the Spirit is no longer only the "Spirit of God", as he is usually described in the Old Testament and as people continue to repeat in Christian language (cf. Gn 41: 38; Ex 31: 3; I Cor 2: 11, 12; Phil 3: 3; etc.). Nor is he any longer simply a "Holy Spirit" generically understood, in the manner of the Old Testament (cf. Is 63: 10, 11; Ps 51[50]: 13), and of Judaism itself in its writings (Qumran, rabbinism).

Indeed, the confession of an original sharing in this Spirit by the Risen Lord, who himself became a "life-giving Spirit" (I Cor 15: 45), is part of the specificity of the Christian faith.

The rest of the reflection may be found here.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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I like the moral exhortation that ends B16's reflection:"We therefore learn from Paul that the Spirit's action directs our life towards the great values of love, joy, communion and hope. It is our task to experience this every day, complying with the inner promptings of the Spirit and helped in our discernment by the Apostle's enlightened guidance." It is our task to experience love, joy, communion and hope every day!

The eschatological role of the Spirit should also be recalled. It is poured out on all flesh "in the latter days" and it leads the Church into all truth -- and groans with all creation in expectation of the manifesting of the glorious freedom of the Children of God. The Spirit comes into play in the last two phases of the list "he foreknew, predestined, called, justified, sanctified, glorified" -- the Spirit sanctifies us now in preparation for future glorification.

Oops, I see Rom 8:29-30 does not mention sanctification. Not also the close association of "hope" and "Spirit" in that chapter.

According to St. Thomas, hope is a kind of "leaning" on God. He says this repeatedly. There is an immediacy of contact with the Spirit in the exercise of this theological virtue.On the other hand, it is possible to take the Spirit for granted simply because the contact is so immediate. For example, for metrical reasons the doxology in the singing of the Psalms often reduces the Spirit by saying, instead of something like "the coeternal Spirit," the metrical "and the Spirit who dwells in our hearts." There's nothing wrong with that--the Spirit does in fact live in our hearts-- but it doesn't seem to me to be doxological in form or content. I have a lot of things dwelling in my heart, some rather corrupt. But the Spirit is divine and doxologies usually manage to say that in one way or another.Another use of Spirit which seems reductive happens when people are working towards a consensus. Instead of saying, "We all tend to agree," or, "Some people are adamant about this and the rest of us more or less willing to go along," religious groups sometimes say, "This is where the Spirit is leading." Not to doubt their sincerity, but is this an accurate description of what is going on? There are certainly precedents for this kind of claim in the NT, especially in Acts--but honestly I've heard the expression used at board meetings. I'm not sure what to make of this. If magisterial pronouncements are capable of greater and lesser authority, then is the Spirit leading our board meeting with some degree of infallibility? What degree of infallibility would that be?In the early development of Christology (I say this too often but I think it's a key point), arguments for the divinity of Jesus derived from soteriology: if this man saves, He must be God. It seems to me that the same mysterious claim is made in Romans 8. The Spirit prays in us and for us. There is some kind of indefectability in this relationship, "nothing can separate us from the love of Christ," guaranteed by the Spirit. Thomas says "hope attains God."

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