Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 68, “In the Holy Spirit and Faith and the Paraclete”

Dear friend,

The previous chapter in Romano Guardini’s The Lord was about Christ’s Ascension, an event described at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. From here on, RG will be taking us through the rest of the New Testament—the balance of Acts, the Epistles of St. Paul, and the Book of Revelation. Caveat lector: We non-theologians must expect some heavy intellectual weather ahead.

Please don’t expect illumination from me. I’ll just do my best to report on my simple understanding of such things as the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete), which is the topic here. (Paraclete, btw, is a Greek word for advocate or helper, and is often used interchangeably with Holy Spirit.)

Talk about heavy weather! We’re face to face with one of the great mysteries of Christianity, the Holy Trinity. God is Father. God is Son. And, Guardini writes, “between them exists something unknown to man that makes possible their existence as two separate Beings yet with one life.” That is God the Holy Spirit. “It is in him, the Third Person of the Trinity, that Father and Son are powerfully individual, yet one.”

It is a relief to read these words from RG: “All is a great mystery. . . . It cannot be explained. All we can do is to grope, reverently, in the darkness of Christ’s words and existence.”

And yet there is something here for you and me. We are all individuals. God made us this way. “The dignity and glory of man is precisely this,” Guardini writes: “that with certain reservations he can say, ‘I am I and no other.’” This may be my dignity and glory, and yours, my friend; but it also marks us as distinct, separate, alone. I am I means I am not you. Nor are you me. But you knew that.

What maybe neither of us understands is that Christian life offers us the possibility of breaking the bonds of our individuality, the possibility of “personal existence in community.” Original sin has resulted in “deep-rootedness in self” and that has resulted in loss of community and freedom. But “through grace,” Guardini writes, “we participate in Christ’s loving relationship with the Father. . . . Only thus are we able to understand the relationship to one another that Christ demands of the saved.”

I have thought today after re-reading this chapter again that there have been only two or three places in my life where I have felt my own individuality and isolation lessened or pierced, and each of these has been in some form of community. First there was my original nuclear family, which through the grace of God was and is a good, good family. You’ve met them, my friend; you know.

Most recently, I have experienced a similar sense of community within the Catholic Church, not only in my parish but in the universal Church headed by the Pope, as the Vicar of (stand-in for) Christ. When Christ left the Apostles he promised them that they would be guided by the Holy Spirit (another topic taken up in the latter stages of this chapter). From personal experience, I can testify that a spirit guides Christ’s Church, founded on Peter. Or at least it occurs to me quite frequently that this seems to be true.

I do believe these words of Romano Guardini: “Genuine love of neighbor is impossible through human strength alone; it necessitates something new which comes from God and which surpasses the logic of mere human differentiation or unification: the love of the Holy Spirit among me. Christian love . . . is the disposition of reciprocal openness and autonomy together, that simultaneous intimacy and dignity which comes from the Holy Ghost.”

I was going to write, my friend, that I found such intimacy in a third place: among a group of us who lived together during senior year at our boarding school. To say so sounds presumptuous and maybe a bit odd as well, but I think that the final days of one’s final year in school together and graduation can mark a special kind of human fellowship. Maybe that’s why reunions are often so disappointing: we expect that sense of community experienced as teenagers to continue for us as adults, but we are no longer united by the same spirit.

When we are trying to understand something as unfathomable as the Holy Spirit, such simple examples may be helpful.

As always, your friend,

This series of posts on The Lord by Romano Guardini continues here with chapter 69.

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