The Holy Spirit comes to us from Jesus by way of presence, encounter, and communion.
A couple of weeks ago, I said that I would save our conversation on the Holy Spirit for Pentecost. Well, friends, that day has arrived. This will not be the most direct treatment of the Holy Spirit because there is just too much to say about this subject. Instead, I would like to try and focus in on the gospel reading today to see how the Holy Spirit comes to us from Jesus by way of presence, encounter, and communion.
We find the apostles gathered on Easter night “when the doors were locked...for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19). We can imagine the dark room, perhaps lit by a few candles, aching in fearful silence as each apostle wondered what was to become of himself. Yet even with sealed doors and hearts turned in, “Jesus came and stood in their midst” (Jn 20:19). Do we think that we can escape Our Lord in the dark? That we can hide away from the Divine Lover, and He will not come after us? Jesus wants to come into our lives, and so He does. He longs to be present to us, and so He is. He enters uniquely and personally into each of our situations. A locked door of fear will not keep him out of our hearts. And, friends, we need not be afraid to let Him come into our presence nor allow ourselves to come into His. Rather, we should wonder in awe and tremble with joy at His words: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19,21).
Jesus comes into our presence so that He may truly encounter us and vice versa. “He showed them his hands and his side” (Jn 20:20). Jesus is not interested in only being partially present to us. He comes to us totally and unreservedly. He shows His side and hands so that we may behold Him whole and entire. To encounter someone is to let ourselves be touched by them, not in the physical sense, but in our very hearts. “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (Jn 20:20). They have encountered Him, and in doing so they see Him as He is, the Lord. They are able to rejoice after He shows them Himself, and after they allow themselves to be encountered in this way. Jesus allows them to touch Him too, even to the point of physically touching His Body.
Often, for many of us, it is easier to keep Our Lord at arm's length, and to not let Him get closer to us. “That’s quite close enough, Jesus, you stay right there. I don’t need to see anymore.” We might also phrase it as not wanting to see anymore. We do not want Him to encounter us with such vulnerability or fullness. We as human beings do not like disorder or messiness in our lives. Christ showing us His wounds strikes many of us as troublesome and messy. We are scared to see it because we are afraid it might mean that all control and hope is lost. But Christ was wounded for us so that, like Thomas in the later verses of this chapter, we might put our finger into His side and so enter into Christ Himself and His glory. He invites us into His very life. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21). He invites us into communion with Him to share His very life in the Father, and mission that He has been given.
Communion: Part I
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22). It is worthwhile to spend some time in prayer, and imagine what it is like to be breathed on by Our Lord. This is an incredibly intimate gesture. In doing this, Jesus is offering what is from within Himself, He gives his very life. He pours out from His lips in a deep sigh of pure gift the very One by whose power He was conceived and raised from the dead: the Holy Spirit.
At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I will send him [Holy Spirit] to you” (Jn 16:7). And here we see Jesus do that which will be fulfilled at Pentecost fifty days later. Jesus sends the Spirit, that which has filled Him, onto and into His disciples. The apostles on Pentecost are each “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). He sends the gift of His very life, for the Spirit will “take from what is mine” (Jn 16:14). By our baptism, and strengthened through confirmation, we now have His Spirit inside us. As St. Paul says in the second reading today, we are united together with Jesus by the “same Spirit” (Cor 12:8). We are brought into a communion of persons with and united to Him.
Communion: Part II
This new communion of persons is the Church formed by the Holy Spirit. It is made up of many parts, but it is one body, the Body of Christ. Just as Christ’s Body was formed in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, now His Mystical Body in this age, the Church, is formed and joined together with His Body in heaven by that same Spirit. As members of the Body, we are called to be present to one another, to encounter the other, and to enter into communion with each member. We must learn to radically depend on each other. The parts of our own body do not compete with themselves, vying to win out and dominate the other. If they did this, one part would die and we would be in such pain. Rather, they hold their differences and roles in tension as they give and receive with each other. We must encounter each other totally as Christ encountered the apostles, and rejoice in our brothers and sisters who share their whole self with us. This is what it means to be in the Body of Christ. And this can only be done with the Holy Spirit in the Body, for the Body is Christ and we are His members.
To do this we must be filled anew, again and again.To be filled is to receive totally of the other, who in this case is the Holy Spirit. This means we need to be empty first. We must empty ourselves of our idols, our selfishness, and our self-reliance. When we engage is this constant lifelong purification, we can begin to be truly filled. We are then sent out, like Jesus, to pour out what we have been given so that we may bear the fruit of the Spirit for the life of the world, just as Mary emptied herself to be filled with the Holy Spirit and the fruit of her womb was Christ through the same Spirit.
This is what it means to be in communion with God. We are now in Christ by the Spirit. As the Son receives everything from the Father, we too now share in His total reception. Friends, let us adopt this posture of receptivity. From His pierced Body life was poured on the world and salvation was won. And still it is today, as from His Body, the Church, life is poured out into the world.
Questions to Take to Prayer:
What is one dark, locked room in your heart that you are keeping from Jesus? Ask Him to shine His light and be present there, allow Him to breathe on you and to speak His words of peace into that part of your life.
How can you empty yourself so as to be filled by the Holy Spirit? What is filling your heart other than Christ? Ask Jesus to help you root out the excess so you might be united more closely to Him.