Tuesday, February 15, 2005

"Our Father" and Holy Spirit

In Newman's Plain and Parochial Sermons Volume 2 Sermon 19 on "The indwelling Spirit," he makes two interesting points that are often taken for granted.

1. The Holy Spirit is meant to be Christ's full presence with us. That is, just as Christ was present to his disciples, he is present to us that way in the Holy Spirit. Newman quotes many scriptures which we all know, how Christ said it is better that i go to the Father so that the Holy Spirit can come to you, etc. Now this sermon was in Newman's Anglican days, but I don't know that it would have been much different in his Catholic days. He was well in his thirties and the contours of his thought were beginning to settle in at that time.

I mention this because it competes with the present Catholic notion of sacrament. The sacraments are basically supposed to be means by which one can access the true presence of Christ. So they are Christ's way of being with us. In the course of Chruch tradition, the way we treat the sacraments, it is as though Christ should have said, "It is good for me to go to the Father, so that I can send the sacraments to you."

Newman's emphasis on the Spirit being Christ's true presence does not necessarily have to be in opposition to sacraments. In the same sermon he speaks about us receiving the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Baptism. But if his main point is about the presence of the Holy Spirit and less about how we receive the Spirit, then there is opposition between his understanding of the Holy Spirit as Christ for us and the sacraments.

In Acts 10, Peter was instructed to go the house of a Gentile to preach the gospel. As he preached the Holy Spirit fell on all those present and they spoke in tongues. The Peter says in verses 47 and 48:

Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? 48: And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days

Here it is patently clear that the Holy Spirit's presence acts independent of the sacrament. Now, as Rahner once pointed out, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit did not diminish the need for Baptism but encouraged it. But my point is that if as this scripture (and many others) shows, that the sacrament(s) is/are not the, or meant to be, the sole vehicle for Christ's presence, then one's focus should be on the Holy Spirit and less on the sacraments.

Obviously, there is a lot more to say about this and I will, but the contrast between seeking Christ first in the sacrament and seeking Christ first in the Holy Spirit struck me. One reason I am mentioning this is that I think the Catholic Church has developed an extremely distorted view of the sacraments, to the point that the sacraments have even now obscured their purpose.

2) The other thing that struck me in this sermon was this. Newman speaks about how the Holy Spirit helps us pray and cry out Abba Father. But then he takes a moment to dwell on the fact that we can actually say the phrase "Our Father" because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Think of it this way. Some three year old kid can come up to me and say "daddy!" and I'll think that's cute, but ultimately I know that child is not mine. But when my child says, "daddy," the phrase qualitatively changes by virtue of the person speaking to me. When we say "Our Father," God does not look at us as people reciting a prayer, but when we call on him and say "Our Father," we grab his attention because we are now his children. It is the Holy Spirit that makes this happen and gives us that voice of a child of God.


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