Summary: We can learn much about the reception and exercise of the spiritual gifts from both the Blessed Virgin and the heresies rejected by the Church.
Pentecost (Whitsunday) 2015
One of the pleasures we derive from living in a southern climate–especially this year–is our ability to take the Easter lilies we buy at the grocery store and replant them in our gardens. But, as it happens most year, the lilies we replant do not bloom at Easter. More likely, they are blooming at Ascension and Pentecost. So, like the Church in general, we get a floral celebration throughout the Easter season. This year, our Arboreans have planted Easter lilies from our sanctuary just outside the church on the walk near our grotto deck. We can hope to see these lilies blooming next year during the Easter season or Pentecost.
Pentecost commemorates two events. The first is the giving of the Law on Sinai. But the Law, as St. Paul taught in the Letter to the Romans, cannot justify. The Law tells us what to do and mostly what not to do, but it gives no power to keep the Law. That’s why the Hebrews, from the time of Abraham all the way until the passion of Jesus, over and over again disobeyed the Law and suffered the consequences. St. Paul saw this tragedy in the life of his people, and even in his own life: the good he wanted to do, he did not do, and the evil he did not want to do, that he did. The second Pentecost, which we celebrate today as a living memory and present grace, empowers those who receive the Holy Ghost to keep the Ten Commandments, and even more. The gifts of the Holy Ghost fill us with the power, not just to avoid evil, but to do good. Think of the first four gifts of the Holy Ghost: charity, joy, peace, patience. Are they not exactly what this world of sin and selfishness need? Even the old song tells us that “what the world needs now is love. . .for everyone” Think of what is wrong with the world today: violence on a massive scale, people walking around in ennui and gloom, riots in the city streets over real or perceived injustice, and an unwillingness to work patiently toward a resolution of problems. These are the curses of what the apostles called the “spirit of this world.” They are precisely what the world does not need now.
When it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the charismatic movement has brought the ones meant for church-building into our attention over the past five decades. But the Catechism puts them into perspective: “Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world. (799)” If someone believes he has a charismatic gift, the gift and its exercise are for the edification of the faithful, and are subject to the authority of the Church. That is why those of us who write and preach in public do so with the express or implicit permission and support of the bishop.
G. K. Chesterton wrote an awesome chapter a century ago called “The Witness of the Heretics.” In it, he said that most of the accusations leveled against Christianity and Catholicism could be refuted by appealing to history, specifically the history of those whose teachings were formally rejected by the Church. For example, to those who say that Jesus was just a very good and wise man, raised up to high status by God, Chesterton held up the heresy of Arius, who was condemned for saying the same thing at Nicaea. Rejection of his heresy is so important that we bend our knee when we recite or sing the profession in the Creed: “He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.”