Immersed in Christ: April 23, 2020
Thursday, Second Week of Easter
Acts 5: 27-33 presents us with a puzzle. The Apostles’ strength came from their certitude they were speaking God’s truth and doing God’s will: “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” Where did this certitude come from? Obviously, from the Holy Spirit. But Peter said God gave the Spirit “to those who obey him.” So were the Apostles empowered to obey God rather than humans because they had the Holy Spirit, or did God give them the Spirit because they obeyed him?
This isn’t just a word game. There is a mutual dependency between faith and action. Faith empowers us to act, but it is action that confirms us in faith. The Apostles knew their certitude was from the Holy Spirit when they took the action of risking prison and death by disobeying the human authorities.
How does this work?
By definition, faith is certitude about something beyond the reach of human reason, something that “transcends” the range of any creature’s activity. John 3: 31-36 insists on the contrast:
The one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard.
So how do we know that “the one who comes from heaven” is speaking to us and through us? That we are in a real, and not just an imagined relationship with the transcendent God?
First we consciously establish ourselves in a relationship with some visible, created person or reality. We can know this relationship is real, because the reality of relationship is interaction and we can experience ourselves interacting with visible people and things on this earth. But we make sure that what we are doing is such that there is simply no human reason for doing it, no value on earth that would motivate us to do it. Then we know we must be doing it for some value not of this earth, some “transcendent” value. That can only be God. God alone is “beyond” everything created. “The one who comes from heaven is above all.” He alone.
So if we want to know we are in a real relationship with God —acting toward him with real faith, real hope, real love — the way to do it is to take a stance toward some created person or value that requires “as the condition for its possibility” the reality of the stance we want to take toward God. “We don’t know we truly believe in the two birds in the bush until we let go of the one bird in the hand.”
We experience the reality of our faith in the act of making choices that we would not (or could not) make without it.
That is why the Presentation of Gifts is such an important moment in the Mass. It is the moment that invites us to declare explicitly to God that we choose to participate in this celebration and in the mystery it expresses: the mystery of our baptismal incorporation into Christ, into his body, into his Church, into the mission he wants to continue in and through us as members of his risen body, anointed prophets, priests, and stewards of his kingship.
Initiative: Empty yourself to know you are filled with the Spirit. The Responsorial (Psalm 34) promises, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.”