The Soul of the Church
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he promised the Apostles that he would send the Holy Spirit. He said, “It is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). Why was it so important that Jesus send the Spirit to us?
Christ calls the Spirit the “Advocate.” An advocate is one who speaks in support of another. The Latin word advocare means “to call to one’s aid.” The Greek word parakletos, from which we get the name Paraclete, means the same thing. So the Holy Spirit will be of support for the Church.
Jesus also calls the Spirit “the Spirit of truth,” (Jn 14:17), who will “guide you to all truth” (Jn 16:13). So the Holy Spirit will not only support the Church, but will ensure that the Church remains true to all God has revealed in Christ.
So the Holy Spirit is certainly useful. But there is more to the story than that. Jesus thought that it was so important that the Holy Spirit descend that he said it was better for us that he ascend into heaven so that he could send the Spirit. Why? It’s because by sending the Spirit, Christ is able to extend his divine presence on earth, through the Church.
The Body & The Soul
We call the Church is the Body of Christ. When the Catholic Church uses that term to describe herself, it’s not just a metaphor. We understand the Church to be the Body of Christ is a very real way. So in fact, Christ didn’t “leave us” when he ascended into heaven. Christ is still here on earth, in his Body, the Church.
But every body must have a soul. The soul is the life force of the body, the animating spirit. It’s what keeps the body together. A body without a soul is dead. It’s a corpse. Without a soul, a body begins to decompose — it literally loses composition and falls apart. Jesus did not establish the Church to be a dead body, but a living body, and that means the Church must have a spiritual soul.
Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to animate his Body, the Church. As the animating spirit of the Church, the Holy Spirit keeps each of us united with the other members of Christ’s Body, and most importantly with the head of the Body, Jesus Christ himself — and through Christ, with God the Father.
As the soul of the Church, the Holy Spirit is able to make Christ more present in the world. Think what it would be like if Jesus had remained on earth as a man. He’d be limited in his presence. He might live in Jerusalem, and if you were lucky you could go see him on pilgrimage. But how many would actually get that chance? You might be able to watch him on TV or live-streamed online. But that’s not the same as actually being with someone.
If he had remained on earth as a man, Jesus’ physical presence would be limited to one place on the planet. But in the Church, Christ is present across the globe. He’s in Jerusalem, and in the Vatican, and in Africa, and in Russia, and in China, and in Cullowhee, NC. And isn’t that better for us?
The Giver of Life
In the Nicene Creed, we profess the Holy Spirit to be the “Lord” and the “giver of life.” As the Third Person of the Trinity, the Spirit is our Lord, just as the Father and the Son are Lord. With the Father and the Son, the Spirit is rightly worshiped. The Spirit is God.
As part of the one God, the Spirit shares in the Father’s work of Creation and the Son’s work of Redemption. But we call the Spirit the “giver of life” because he is what unites us to the life made possible for us by Christ — a share in the eternal life of the Father. The Spirit does this by uniting us with the Church, thereby making us a part of the one Body of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is often described as the love shared between the Father and the Son. That love of God is the very life of God, for God is Love (1 Jn 4:8). For us to share in God’s life is to share in God’s love, the Holy Spirit.
This Pentecost, as we celebrate the coming of the Spirit to animate the Church, let us ask the Spirit to come with renewed strength into our hearts, so that we may participate more fully in God’s life of love.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.