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Last Breath ... and First

If Jesus is the mediator between God and humanity, the Spirit is the medium in which God's transforming action takes place.The Love in which the Father and the Son are united is the divine We. Yet it reaches beyond itself to include the we of all believers in its embrace. As the last breath of the Crucified (John 19:30) and the first breath of the risen Lord (John 20:22), the Spirit is Christ's gift of the divine Love-life he has come to share. (Anthony Kelly, God is Love: the Heart of Christian Faith)

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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Irene: if you want to keep your niece in this church, I suggest you ... and she ... find another parish.Fast!Very fast!!If one is lucky enough to be part of a parish that is small enough to have a "community" attitude and atmosphere, more's the better. But "mini-dioceses" of 2,000-3,000 families? I don't think so.The people that I know who have walked and joined other churches tell me, in the main, that they were seeking community and found it in small churches of between 200 and 350/400 people.If the New Evangelization has the remotest chance of success (color me skeptical) it will first have to find a way of re-establishing a sense of community at the parish level.

Why are dioceses the size of Los Angeles and New York not broken into smaller ones? The ecclesiastical egos centered on size/power/economic clout need to be replaced with bishops who can get back to the business of being pastoral.

Those keeping the Octave of Pentecost may want to listen to the opening chorus of Bach's great cantata, "O Ewiges Feuer:" are the words:BWV 34 - "O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe"Cantata for the First Day of Pentecost1. ChorO ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe,Entznde die Herzen und weihe sie ein. La himmlische Flammen durchdringen und wallen, Wir wnschen, o Hchster, dein Tempel zu sein, Ach, la dir die Seelen im Glauben gefallen. 1. ChorusO eternal fire, o source of love,ignite our hearts and consecrate them. Let heavenly flames penetrate and surge over us, we wish, o most High, to be Your temple, Ah, may our souls be pleasing to you in faith!

For Pentecost I was at a large gathering of teenagers. I missed part of the Mass because of other duties, but asked them how the beginning was. They said that there was a play with shadow figures representing the event of the Pentecost, and that "a bishop spoke for a long time and it was not very interesting". Communion was followed by a sudden, spectacular spray of glitter all over and around the altar area.The liturgy was more daring than I would I thought I could deal with, but what better time than Pentecost to be daring at the risk of being excessive?The most memorable moment was the great "Amen" roared by 10000 teenagers at the top of their lungs.

Flecte quod est rigidum,fove quod est frigidum,rege quod est devium.... ... ...Da virtutis meritum,da salutis exitum,da perenne gaudium. Amen. Alleluia.Bend the stubborn heart and will;Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.... ... ...Give them virtue's sure reward;Give them your salvation, Lord; Give them joys that never end. Amen. Alleluia.Pentecost Sequence

So much for Catholics not having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Thanks!

At The Forward, the Philologos columnist discusses the Jewish roots of the Holy Spirit -- a familiar connection for many, I'm sure, but worth recollecting I think:

Although neither biblical nor rabbinic Judaism has anything like the Christian Trinity in its thinking about God, there can be no doubt that the rua ha-kodesh (literally, spirit of holiness) of the Bible and rabbinic literature was the direct antecedent of the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit or, as it was more commonly known in the English-speaking Catholic Church until recent times, the Holy Ghost. (Ghost is an Old English word for spirit, just as a spirit is a now archaic way of denoting a ghost....In Hebrew, starting with the Bible and continuing to this day, rua has the two meanings of spirit and wind. Historically, wind is clearly the older of the two, spirit being derived from it by analogy: As the wind, that is, is invisible but has the power to move visible things, so the spirit is conceived of as that unseen force in human beings or the world the breath of life, as it were that activates all that can be seen. this story there is no visible mention of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit is all over it. This is Pentecost.

A common theme in the Fathers of the Church is Pentecost as the reversal of Babel, very well caught in today's Preface: "who at the birth of the Church brought the knowledge of God to all peoples and united the diversity of languages in the confession of a single faith." It is significant that the peoples gathered in Jerusalem hear the Apostles speak, each in its own language. Babel is overcome because those languages express the same joyful message.

The wind that filled the house at Pentecost is reminiscent of Solomon's dedication of the Temple as well: the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.All the Israelites looked on while the fire came down and the glory of the LORD was upon the house, and they fell down upon the pavement with their faces to the earth and worshiped, praising the LORD, who is so good, whose love endures forever.The king and all the people offered sacrifices before the LORD. 2 Chron 7:2-4

Is the Holy Spirit the same thing as the World Soul the ancient philosophers talked about?

Irene,I am not an expert on ancient philosophy; but Saint Augustine was influenced by philosophers who followed Plotinus. Their philosophy helped Augustine conceive of non-material reality.The "world soul" figures in Plotinus' philosophy as a lesser emanation from the One. It is common to all souls and makes for their unity.What differentiates the Plotinian Triad from the Christian Trinity is that the three of the Trinity are co-equal, not subordinate one to the other. In addition, the Holy Spirit is the personal principle of unity of the Church, whereas the world soul is not independent of the souls it animates.But all the above is subject to correction by those better informed than I.

At Mass today, in addition to prayers of the faithful in six languages and songs in three, we got a homily that referenced the tower of Babel (and the Spirit's reversal of it in today's first reading), as well as the animating ru'ah of Genesis 2 and the continuance of its work today in our own spiritual lives. Along with the "speaking in tongues" of the infants and toddlers interspersed throughout the Mass, it made for a lovely celebration.

Fr. Imbelli: You might enjoy the learned 600-page book titled CHRIST PROCLAIMED: CHRISTOLOGY AS RHETORIC (1979) by the prolific Jesuit theologian Frans Jozef van Beeck. In an ecumenical spirit, he discusses both Catholic and Protestant theologians' views regarding christology.

Mr. Farrell,Thank you for the reference and for the happy bringing to mind of Father van Beeck -- a remarkable man.I wrote an article for "Commonweal" in March 1994 on his theology. I pray that he now sees face to face the One in whom he placed his hope.

As I understand Plotinus (and I don't very well), his theory of the emanation of the World Soul serves as his explanation of the order which we find in the world. He is highly Platonic in this. Plato talks about a "demi-urge" putting order, but it's really a very muddy theory. As I understand Plotinus' World Soul, not only is it not independent of the souls of things we find here, it is *identical* with them. (This is what happens when a philosopher accepts the Platonic participation theory of Forms -- he ends up identifying all forms, not just souls, in a grand sort of pantheism.) So Plotinus, while he had much to offer Christian theologians, can also lead away from the faith.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.....and your heart will rejoice.."I always like the phrase "I will not leave you orphans I will come back to you and your hearts will rejoice." But apparently one has to jump from John 14 to John 16 to put it together. I will, however, retain it the way I like it thank you. At any rate, today's feast brings the assurance of Jesus that he returns. So we rejoice. We are not orphans. Despite what David Nichols says.

Balthasar on Teilhard on world-soul, Theo-drama V.

Kathy,thank you; could you give a brief digest for those who don't have the book on their night table :-)

Fr. Imbelli: Here's another reference for you for an article by Frans Jozef van Beeck, S.J.: "Divine Revelation: Intervention or Self-communication?" in the journal THEOLOGICAL STUDIES, volume 52 (1991): pages 199-226.

Mr. Farrell,Thanks again. Do you know his short book, "Catholic Identity after Vatican II?" I still find it one of the best and most challenging discussions of the issue with which we are still wrestling.

Fr. Imbelli: When I was in the Jesuits (1979-1987), I did my theological studies at the Jesuit theologate at the University of Toronto. I met Joep there. After I left the Jesuits, I stayed in touch with him occasionally. However, I did not read the book you mentioned. Perhaps I should explain that he was interested in the work of the American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong, S.J (1912-2003). I have long been interested in Ong's work.

Fr. Imbelli: I cannot help you with a reference on Hans Urs von Balthasar on Teilhard on the world-soul. So like you, I will have to wait and see what somebody else posts regarding this topic. Nevertheless, I will now give you a few more references that are relevant to your original post.Hans Urs von Balthasar, PRESENCE AND THOUGHT: AN ESSAY ON THE RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY OF GREGORY OF NYSSA (English translation, Ignatius Press, 1995).Walter J. Ong, THE PRESENCE OF THE WORD: SOME PROLEGOMENA FOR CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS HISTORY (Yale University Press, 1967), the expanded published version of Ong's 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale University.Robert Sokolowski, EUCHARISTIC PRESENCE: A STUDY IN THE THEOLOGY OF DISCLOSURE (Catholic University of America Press, 1994).Troels Engberg-Pedersen, COSMOLOGY AND SELF IN THE APOSTLE PAUL: THE MATERIAL SPIRIT (Oxford University Press, 2010). Troels Engberg-Pedersen is a professor of New Testament at the University of Copenhagen. In this book, he argues that ancient Greek and Roman Stoic philosophy that was explicitly materialist had a fine account of nous, which he employs to understand the writings of St. Paul. In terms of his subtitle, he uses the ancient sources to suggest that materialists (also known as atheists) can indeed truly have a spiritual life based on nous. I would not disagree with that much. However, I do not think that he can rule out the possibility of the influence of the divine transcendent ground of being (also known as God).Stephen Menn, PLATO ON GOD AND NOUS (Southern Illinois University Press, 1995).Hans Belting, LIKENESS AND PRESENCE: A HISTORY OF THE IMAGE BEFORE THE ERA OF ART (University of Chicago Press, 1994).George Steiner, REAL PRESENCES (University of Chicago Press, 1989).I think I should stop here.

Thanks to all of you for these valuable comments. But please permit me to mention a frustration.Briefly, how does a parish celebrate the feast of Pentecost? How would a family do so in a sensible way?At our church yesterday, there were three "extras." There was a bake sale, the Catholic War Veterans had their poppy sale, and the congregation was encouraged to fill out pledge cards for the Bishop's Annual Appeal during the homily, which consisted mainly of a recitation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Not much there, but I don't have any useful suggestions.Luke Hill's report reminded me of a similar Mass several years ago at a church in another state. It was nice, but it still seems like small beer for such a major feast. Do the liturgists have any thoughts about how to make the day of Pentecost a high point of our liturgical year?One more question, to which I have no answer. Is it possible today to have a rich celebration of a major liturgical feast that consists solely of a church service? One that finds no echo in homes or family groups, etc?

Bernard,I hope others will respond to your challenging questions. I would think that your last question requires a qualified response. I think that one can have a rich celebration that is liturgically based, as Luke reports. But I agree with you that having an "echo" in the home adds immeasurably to our celebration of the feast.Why not use the Pentecost sequence that John Page quotes from as a "novena" at home in preparation for the feast?What of the possibility of a novena in church or at least a special service on the Vigil -- as was held in St. Peter's Square with members of the ecclesial movements?Which then leads to my question: can the faith be sustained in a secular culture without more intentional communities that support and strengthen the members? There are, of course, a variety from Sant'Egidio to Focolari to Comunione e Liberazione to neo-Catechumenate. But what they have in common is their involvement of their members beyond Sunday liturgy. I also recommend (as I did on another thread) the address of Pope Francis to the more than 150,000 gathered at the Vigil celebration:

"Which then leads to my question: can the faith be sustained in a secular culture without more intentional communities that support and strengthen the members? "Aren't parishes meant to be those communities? NCR had an article the other day on something called "Earth Corps' which is affiliated with the Franciscan Action Network and which sounds pretty interesting:"Earth Corps is designed for young adults ages 18 to 35 who feel called to work at the grass-roots level on environmental, immigration and poverty issues within their parish settings. The project promotes simple and just living at community and personal levels." I think building these communities within the larger parish community could make sense, but you would need paid staff to support the effort.

I took my children to the Saturday evening Mass on Pentecost. The homily was about the IRS targeting Tea Party Groups and anti-abortion advocates; I'm not exactly how it tied into Pentecost.

"The homily was about the IRS targeting Tea Party Groups and anti-abortion advocates."As my niece would say: "o my God!" How sad.

Fr. Imbelli- It's why I read posts like your own on Commonweal; its where I get my inspiration and learn things. Thank you.

Thanks, Fr. Imbelli.Your suggestions are certainly relevant. They do need institutional support to implement, institutional support built upon clergy-lay collaboration. Something often in very short supply.Thanks, too, Irene.

As for how Pentecost should [not] be celebrated. In the early 1990's, I was on research-leave in Boston where I encountered a priest who was very upset that Pentecost was falling that year on Mother's Day and the bishops had not transferred the feast so that the Day devoted to Mothers could be celebrated with the honor due it. Another priest present at the moment still laughs when he recalls how my jaw dropped. Oh well...

And let's not forget that Pentecost used to be followed by an octave of special Masses continuing the celebration of the great Feast. I remember that Myles Bourke was most upset that the octave was dropped from the revised Missal, and, if I'm not mistaken, it continued to be celebrated in the parish of Corpus Christi. Now Eastertide ends abruptly with Pentecost, and we are sent off into "Ordinary Time." Isn't "ordinary" about the last adjective one would want to use after an experience like that of Pentecost?

"Arent parishes meant to be those communities?"Tho we attempt to make the best of our parishes, the parishes are in trouble because the bishops are more concerned about spending 187 million on Cathedrals and politicking on same sex marriage but have no time to build communities. This is why there should be around ten bishops in charge of areas in a diocese like New York. So they can concentrate on the community of the faithful instead of building an Empire.

Myles Bourke was not alone in being upset. In his biography of Paul VI, Peter Hebblethwaite (if memory serves) recounts that the Pope himself was prepared on Pentecost Monday to celebrate the Mass of the Octave only to be informed that it had been abolished in the new ordo.

The Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologies of the Holy Spirit are so different and the relations between the two Churches have been so acrimonious for so long that maybe our recent ecumenical popes don't want to throw salt on the old wounds by developing a liturgy of the Holy Spirit in modern terms. Re-stating our own beliefs in a new liturgy might put off unification that much more. In other words, maybe Rome is letting sleeping dogs lie until relations between the two Churches are better.

Regarding Bernard's question about the "small beer" of parish Pentecost celebrations: I believe that it is not an isolated issue, but a symptom, a notable one to be sure, of the difficulty that parishes have in sustaining the celebration of the Easter season across seven full weeks. The "shape" of the season seems to be that it hits its high point on the very first day, Easter morning, and then there is a diminishment of energy and focus across the following weeks. In this way, it is quite different from Advent and Lent, which seem to build toward something. Perhaps Christmas season, which also ends on a major feast (the Baptism of the Lord) faces the same issue as Easter season, but Christmas season is shorter.The reality in our parish, and in many parishes, is that during the Easter season, a number of other calendar cycles come and go: school is finishing up for the year (and many college students are already home for the summer); there has been a burst of energy around First Communions, which is now dissipating. If there happens to be anyone from the parish to be ordained, ordinations happen at this time of year.And there are "special events" of the type to which Bernard alluded. In our case, yesterday was also our "Stewardship Sunday", in which we ask parishioners to commit to parish ministries for another year, which does tie in nicely with Pentecost. But there was also a May Crowning yesterday, and the Respect Life group had a mother-daughter tea. And we did baptisms. I'm in favor of all of those things, but it's worth noting that, except for baptisms, we wouldn't do any of those activities on Christmas or Easter.

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