No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
Saint Paul turned to the gentiles after several failed attempts to rally Jews to Jesus; and was astounded at their readiness to be baptized and instructed in the Way. He found, especially in Corinth, an enthusiastic, if odd, congregation. That polyglot city, an important seaport of the Roman Empire, offered a diverse population of many languages and ethnic races. Despite their well-deserved reputation for decadent, lawless behavior, some Corinthians embraced the Gospel and flocked into the Community of the Saints. But, because they brought more enthusiasm than wisdom with them, they needed the firm, principled guidance of Saint Paul's Jewish tradition.
His Jewish bones were horrified when he realized these former pagans didn't object to a man's marrying his father's ex-wife. Perhaps she was a widow -- we have no details -- but their marriage was anathema to Paul.
So here we are on Pentecost Sunday -- a wonderful, glorious occasion -- and I have recalled one of the more contentious and controversial passages of Saint Paul's writing. How do I dig myself out?
I recall that God's Holy Spirit never hesitates to wade into the swamp of human politics with us. I remember that the Holy Spirit blesses our good intentions, incompetence, immaturity, fearful sinfulness and general confusion as he guides us in the Way. Daily life in the church is often "like making sausage." Despite our idealization of the Sacred Scriptures, the divine authors were well aware of this messy process; and, on closer inspection, their magnificent banger shows it.
Today we celebrate the revelation of the Holy Spirit to Jesus' disciples. We believe that Jesus remains with us, as close, beautiful, assured and reassuring as he was to his disciples on that first Easter Sunday.
The Spirit of God fits innumerable descriptions; but today I think of water. There is no life without water; it takes a billion forms as it saturates and enlivens every kind of life. Water adjusts itself to whatever it sustains, as brackish or fresh, liquid or gas. There is no spot on earth without water, though life cannot survive in the coldest extremes of the poles and altitudes. If it could, water is there to sustain it!
Saint Francis praised water as useful, humble, precious and pure and yet it can be dreadfully polluted, filthy or poisoned and still sustain some forms of life. Like the Holy Spirit, water gets down in the swamp where it is needed.
Recently I recalled how Saint Paul, harassed by a meddlesome young slave, drove the demon out of her. Her ungrateful owners ran him out of town. Did the Apostle heal her out of kindness or impatience? Does it matter?
Sometimes the Spirit gives us the patience to put up with a lot of grief. Sometimes the Spirit leaves us to handle the frustration with whatever tools are at hand. I usually have to confess my sin afterwards, but I can't be sure that the Holy Spirit didn't used my shortcoming for his own purposes. When I go around later to apologize I may find a grateful friend who appreciates what I said. It was the right time and right place and it needed to be said!
In his letter to his fractious Corinthian church, the Apostle urged them to open their hearts to strangers. No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit." I have known admirable Christian ministers who could not be Catholic, much less priests. Several generations of worship represented an unbridgeable chasm between their religion and mine. But I have no doubt of the Divine Inspiration that moves them to heroic virtue. Despite our separate churches, different prayers and varied readings of the Bible, we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Very often we might want to shut out certain people but we have to recognize the Spirit that moves them. Our ancient, historical divisions are painful and sad and should be unnecessary -- but there they are. Because they are historical they are real and necessary. They don't go away when we wish upon a star. Rather the Holy Spirit speaks to us in the present moment, inviting us to the future. We cannot return to the past, especially an idealized past that exists only in present minds.
Because the Spirit of God is so mysterious there is no end of wonders, and no end of reflection. On this solemn feast day we thank God for drawing us into the endlessly fascinating life of the Trinity.