To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. … For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (I Cor. 12: 7, 13)
From beginning to end, the work of the Church, the very existence of the Church in this world, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, breathed upon her by the Risen Christ. Salvation comes from God; it is a work of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Salvation is also the Church’s work, but only in so far as her work proceeds from the Spirit sent by Christ Jesus, who is at once true God and true man.
This is our bedrock faith as Christians, that all salvation comes to this world in and through the humanity of the God-man. This is the truth the Church ever proclaims, and this is the truth that the world ever denies. Man’s salvation is a pure gift from God, a divine undertaking from beginning to end. It began when the Spirit brought Christ into the world, by overshadowing Mary; it will culminate when the God-man returns to the world to judge all flesh, the living and the dead, and establish definitively who will belong to His Kingdom forever and who will be eternally lost.
Today’s feast of Pentecost is yet another reminder of the divine origin of our salvation, the fact that it comes from Christ, as God and man, and the fact that the Holy Spirit accomplishes this work of Christ through His Church. Christ had instructed his disciples emphatically, “without me you can do nothing.” Jn. 15:5.
Christ had prepared His Apostles, the founding Fathers of His Church, to be His instruments of truth and grace in the world, His instruments of salvation. But, He immediately told them that they could do nothing without Him, and thus they were to await His gift of the Spirit before commencing the work of the Church to bring salvation to the rest of mankind. He also assured them that He would remain with them always and work through them, because the work of salvation would always be His work, and they would always be merely His instruments.
Thus the Church would be the Kingdom itself under construction, the growing mystical body which is composed of those who have begun to live the life of God already here on earth, and it would include those who have gone beyond this world, either to be purified completely, or to enter the Kingdom of God because they have been purified in this world.
The Church, in other words, is always a work under construction, and the Master Builder is God, more specifically God the Son, Jesus Christ, working through God the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit sent by the Father and the Son whose power creates the body, shapes it, and gives it life and joy. Just as the soul gives life to our mortal bodies, so too the Spirit gives Life Eternal to the Body of the Church and to each of its members, all of whom are saved precisely by being members of Christ and His body, the Church.
The Church herself, then, is created by Jesus acting through His Spirit and through His adopted members, and for that reason the Church is truly Christ’s own body. Just as the Spirit gave Jesus His first mortal body, by overshadowing Mary, so the Spirit now gives Christ His second (Mystical) body, by overshadowing Jesus on the Cross and Mary beneath the Cross. There, the new Eve came forth from the side of the new Adam, the New Eve, prefigured by Mary. She is the Church’s true archetype and first member, and this New Eve is the mother of all the living, when the Spirit overshadowed her at Pentecost.
So the Church is at once the final Kingdom of God under construction by the Spirit and simultaneously the instrument used by the Spirit to accomplish his work of salvation and constructing the body of Christ. She is the Kingdom; she is the instrument which builds the Kingdom. But God Father, Son and Spirit, is the Master Builder, and the Spirit now accomplishes everything according to the Divine Archetype, who is Christ the Lord.
And so on this Day of Pentecost the small, new-born Church was gathered in the upper room, the apostles together with Mary the Mother of Jesus, and thus the Mother of the Church as well. Suddenly the Holy Spirit descended upon that little gathering of the Church and filled them all with His presence and power, and immediately the Church spoke its first official words in testimony to Jesus Christ and the salvation He has brought to this world. The Holy Spirit was given by Christ so that the Apostles could proclaim His Gospel in His Name and with His absolute truthfulness. Truth is God’s work first and man’s only derivatively, and thus only with the gift of the Spirit could the Apostles hope to proclaim the truth of Christ without error, even to the end of time.
Forgiveness of sins is likewise God’s work, and that is why Christ gave them the Spirit on Easter. It is God’s Spirit who alone resurrects the sinner, just as the same Spirit resurrected Christ. The Life given in the Kingdom is truly God’s Life, and so only the Spirit of God can produce that life when the Church baptizes. Christ is also God’s work, and thus only God’s Spirit can transubstantiatiate bread and wine into the true body and blood of Christ; the priest only cooperates with the Spirit by repeating the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.
All these divine works are made possible only by the work of the Holy Spirit, and we baptized are all the blessed beneficiaries of His work. In turn, we all must become His instruments in extending His work to others in the world as well as to those who are already in the Church. This is what Pentecost is really all about, the sending of the Church into the world by the Lord, having been empowered by the Spirit. Pentecost is the day not when the Church was born but when the mission of the Church began, and that work must continue until the Lord finally returns in glory. Scripture attests that Christ and His Spirit are with us always, bringing the work of Christ and His Spirit to perfection in us and then, through us, in others.
There is an erroneous reading of the work of the Spirit that can undercut the zeal and mission of the Church. This error is based on the truth the Spirit is active everywhere which is true, but concludes that the work of the Church is only relatively necessary. This error assumes that the Spirit is accomplishing the salvation of most people without the mediation of Christ or His Church. So the Church becomes relatively dispensable as does faith in Christ.
But of course God is present everywhere and is involved in his creation, but properly understood that truth does not at all relativize faith and the Church’s mission. The Incarnate Christ and His humanity is the new power house of God’s grace, and the sacraments of the Church become the channels of that divine power. The Spirit draws all power and truth from Christ and moves all to Christ and His saving power.
Some, no one knows how many, will be saved by their freely moving toward Christ under the grace and influence of His Spirit. But the grace that flows directly from the humanity of Christ is in truth much more effectively communicated and much more likely to be received and have its full impact than that which does not flow directly from His humanity. The grace of Christ was already operative in the Old Testament as well, but it did not have the same powerful form it has flowing from his crucified and risen humanity.
That truth must move us all to become the Spirit’s instruments. If we do not become cooperating instruments by which He builds up the Church, then we will not likely retain His presence. He alone is ever the Master Builder, and the Spirit’s work is not most effectively communicated where there are no workers to assist Him. If we would be part of the body the Spirit is building, we must be part of the workforce that is building it. It is not an option, and our very salvation depends upon our willingness to serve. So we must always pray: “Come, then Holy Spirit divine, and within our bosoms shine … Where you are not, man has naught, nothing good in deed or thought .. come O Spirit divine … descend … and make us your instruments of light and love, and give us then your sure reward .. Give us your salvation Lord.” Amen, Alleluia.