If we were asked to say what is our ultimate goal in life, we might answer that it is to get to Heaven. And if we were asked further what Heaven will be like, we might say that we will be with God, enjoying eternal happiness in his presence. In the meantime, as we live our life here on earth, this final goal can seem very distant, having little connection with our day-to-day experience. We can sometimes act as if we have one life now, and we will have another life “someday” in Heaven, but we seldom think about how the transition will occur between “this life” and the “next life.” If we think of this at all, we tend to suppose that, when we die, we will leave this life and begin the next one, and let it go at that.
In this week’s Spiritual Reflection, however, Pope Francis introduces us to quite a different way of thinking about this. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, he says, “He makes us participants in the very life of God that is Love.… The Holy Spirit introduces us to divine life as ‘children in the Only Begotten Son.’” What he is saying is that the life of union with God, which we rightly look forward to in Heaven, begins now, here on earth! We do not need to wait until our death to begin sharing life with God; we can enter into this life now, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Pope assures us that just as Christ remained totally united with his Father while he lived his earthly life, we too can enter into the experience of living united with God: “The Holy Spirit teaches us to see with the eyes of Christ, to live life as Christ lived, to understand life as Christ understood it.”
The reason that living in union with God can seem very far from our normal experience of life is that we know our weakness and sinfulness. It can seem impossible to us that, poor and limited as we are, we could truly enter into Jesus’ experience of union with the Father in our daily life. God is so holy, so exalted, and we are so lowly and sinful. We do have the hope of being united with him one day, in Heaven. But how can this happen now? The good news, of course, is that it is not something that we have to accomplish by our own efforts, for that would be impossible. It is something which God does in us, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We can see an example of how this works in the first reading. The disciples were hidden away in the Upper Room, waiting in prayer with Mary. They were in no condition to accomplish the mission which Jesus gave them in the Gospel, when he told them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” They were afraid even to show their faces in public. How could they be expected to carry on Jesus’ mission in the world? But then the Holy Spirit descended on them and filled them. They immediately went out and began to proclaim Jesus to a large crowd of people. They were even able to speak many different languages. This is clearly not something they did on their own; it happened because they were open to the power of the Holy Spirit working in them.
Now the Church is called to carry on the same mission – to proclaim Jesus to everyone in the world, speaking to people’s hearts in a way that all can understand. We are members of this Church, and we are called to this mission. This is the life of God – to give oneself completely in love and to draw others to share in that love. It is the Holy Spirit who lives the very life of God within us, making us sharers in that life by his grace and power, thus making us children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
If we know our littleness and poverty, our desperate need for God’s grace to lift us up, then we can rejoice that this is exactly what the Holy Spirit comes to do for us! Let us read through the Sequence for today, slowly and carefully. What do we learn about the Holy Spirit? He is the Father of the poor, the best Comforter, sweet rest in our labor, coolness in the heat, light in our darkness, healing for our wounds, softener of our hard hearts, a giver of gifts and joys which never end. No wonder we cry out to him, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.”
Let us stir in our hearts a longing to enter more deeply into the life of God, and let us cry out to the Holy Spirit to do this great transforming work in us. Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Do I understand and believe that the life of union with God begins now, here on earth? Am I open to the working of the Spirit in me, putting aside fears of my sinfulness and weakness? Is my life one of giving myself completely in love to draw others to share in this love?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.