The Holy Spirit in the Church

As difficult as it is to describe what exactly the Holy Spirit is, we can draw a pretty good idea, especially with the help of the Scriptures, of what the Holy Spirit does, both in terms of the Trinity itself and in the life of the Church.

In the Trinity, the Spirit is what is shared, common between the Father and the Son – he is the unity between them, the “fruitfulneess of their act of giving,” and by this, “they are One” (Ratzinger 109).

It is in Scripture that we can come to a fuller idea of what the Spirit does and how the Spirit works in the life of the Church. John’s gospel gives a telling image of the Holy Spirit: “the Spirit is the breath of the Son.” While Jesus is alive, the Spirit resides in Jesus alone, but when the Son ascends, this makes possible the pouring out of the Spirit which occurs at Pentecost. This feast is often referred to as the “birth of the Church” because the Spirit is indeed what gave life to the Church. While Jesus was on this earth, there was no need for the Spirit, but after he ascended, he gave his Spirit so that it may draw us to Him. Since the Spirit is the breath of the Son, then when we receive the Spirit, we are led to the Son, and then through the Son to the Father.

The Spirit leads us in this eternal “process of discovery” of the Word, which leads us to the Father. It is inseparable from the Father and the Son, for “Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and very spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God” (1 Jn 4:2), and they are all Love, The Spirit is the “architect” which places the Son at the head of the Church, and pours His life into the life of the Church: through the sacraments and all liturgical life. The Spirit is present in Scripture, carrying and interpreting the message, and in all prayer and contemplation. We may even say the Spirit is the breath of any prayer, for our prayer goes to Christ and to the Father.

In the modern imagination, the individual tends to focus on itself, and interpreting everything in light of its own knowledge and experience. The Spirit, however, guides us to look towards Christ, and to our Father. The Spirit moves us and works through us by the gifts it gives us, and we are to recognize that these come from God. The Holy Spirit is the life of the Church and how we can individually see God working in our lives. Being receptive to these gifts and through the Spirit learning to direct our gaze to God is to be open to the transforming power of God in our lives.

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The Sonship of Jesus Christ

When considering the sonship of Jesus Christ, two important aspects to consider are 1) the nature of this sonship – what is it, how can we perceive it in light of the one, triune God? And 2) what does this sonship mean for humanity – how does it transform our imagination and understanding of our lives?

First, if we consider God the Father, then this implies the existence of a Son, who is Jesus Christ. As Ratzinger says, “Without Jesus, we do not know what “Father” truly is.” We understand Jesus to live in “uninterrupted prayerful communication” with God, and this is fundamental to his existence. Communication provides that both entities are involved, and for this to be interrupted means there is nothing that separates or disturbs this connection. Indeed “it is just as essential to the Father to say “Son” as it is essential to the Son to say “Father” (34).

A passage from Matthew’s gospel expresses this reciprocity of relationship – and additionally testifies to the identity – of the Father and Son: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt 11:27). More than a constant connection between the Father and the Son, this reveals that the Father and the Son are indeed the same God. If one can only know the Father through the Son, then the Son is indeed of the same substance as the Father, for “God can be known only through God” (Ratzinger 90).

This is the foundation for the sonship of Jesus Christ, who is the Son. The action of this sonship is then extended to humanity through the Incarnation, and the significance of this is made clear through the Cross. The characteristic aspect of this sonship is “the release and handing back of himself” (Ratzinger 67). In his Incarnation, the Son, as Jesus Christ, voluntarily offered himself in complete obedience to the full reality of humanity.

Ratzinger refers to a passage from Philippians that knits together what all this sonship entails, and helps me in my attempt to better understand it:  “…Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God” – consubstantial with the Father – “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself” – by His descent and entering into humanity – “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” – in the Incarnation. “And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8).

Following the example of Jesus, we see that it is not through our independence that we become like God, rather, it is through understanding ourselves as “son,” as “child,” and so appropriately offering ourselves as gift, each and every day to God our Father, that this can happen.

“Our salvation means becoming “the body of Christ,” becoming like Christ himself, receiving ourselves from him every day and giving ourselves back every day” (68). It is His sacrifice on the cross which gives us hope. It is through his sonship that Jesus Christ can offer healing for our sins and sufferings – that He redeems us. But it is in our imitation of His sonship and sacrifice that we can be saved.

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Christian Revelation in “Love Alone is Credible” – Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Christian revelation, according to Balthasar, is centered on love. At the beginning of the chapter “Love as revelation,” it seems that he is directly saying that revelation is love. Though it seems more complex throughout his writing, this idea remains.

When we encounter the love of God in Christ, we see what perfect love is, and yet as humans, we are incapable of truly perfect love – the absolute love that Balthasar is referring to. We can then begin to grasp what love is – Balthasar describes this as an “anticipation” of what love is – because we experience and recognize this as love, yet we cannot – as a sinner – know true love. Balthasar says we must then have a conversion, both of the heart and of thought, recognizing how we have failed to truly love, and also in an effort to relearn what love really is.

In order to perceive Christian revelation, we must perceive what true love is, and this begins with this conversion. We must recognize our finitude, our sinfulness, and the fullness of Christianity:  the “playing out of the drama” which begins with the Old Covenant. Therefore, we must understand the identity of God in this drama – as “the divine Author, the divine and human Actor, and the divine Spirit.” What Balthasar is saying is that in order to understand Christianity and true love (and in turn Christian revelation), we must understand the Trinity – how God acts as love and how this is shown through the Trinity. Without this, we have an incomplete view of what love is.

We only have the ability to perceive the absolute Love in the first place because God has planted within us, his creatures, “the seed of love” which “lies dormant within us as the image of God” (76). This then must be awakened in the way God interprets himself to us. “He radiates love, which kindles the light of love in the heart of man, and it is precisely this light that allows man to perceive this, the absolute Love” (76). It is through grace and the image of the Son that we can come to any understanding of God.

Then, once we have perceived absolute Love, it is crucial how we respond to this. We receive the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures. However, the Scriptures do not give a response – this can only come from the “living response of love from a human spirit” through God’s grace.  As Mary gave her “fiat,” so must we respond to revelation in faith and with love. We are not only to follow in her example, but we must see the importance of her response, that her “fiat,” in the completion of the Incarnation and so a necessary condition to the “playing out of the drama” which ultimately is centered on Christ’s Passion.

Balthasar’s discussion of the Passion was particularly striking – how “his life points as a whole toward the Cross” (84), and without this, even the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount would lose their meaning.  This is the last major contributor to how we perceive revelation. We must understand the story of revelation – of absolute Love – in light of the fact that Christ’s life centers on the Cross. By the Spirit, we can come to see the full gravity of our sins and guilt and thus come to a fuller understanding of the Cross. And if we consider the Trinity together with his Passion, we can more deeply understand the significance of His obedience to the Father, and His abandonment by God.

All of these things contribute to our understanding of God’s love, and in order to perceive revelation, we must grow in this. “The figure of revelation remains unintelligible unless it is interpreted in light of God’s love” (58).

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Alcohol and Sex at Notre Dame

There are many things that could be said or analyzed about the culture of alcohol and sex at Notre Dame. However, I believe there are a few key things that contribute and correspond to the unique situation at Notre Dame. It should be noted that many of these things are generalizations and exceptions definitely exist, but it is the general view and opinion – that of the majority, or the most vocal – which drives the culture on campus.

I believe the prominence and importance of alcohol at Notre Dame is bound up in the typical reputation of college life, boredom, outlet for stress, and most importantly, the social aspect.

As Christian Smith says: we do exactly what we’re told to do – “party, be wild, get crazy, have fun, drink a lot” – which we’re able and more excited to do because of our new-found freedom. This is not unique to Notre Dame, but does form the basis for this type of alcohol use. We put pressure on ourselves to live up to this reputation of the college years – to make them all that they’re talked up to be, and a big part of that is the social and drinking scene. 

I think what Christian Smith says about boredom is particularly relevant at Notre Dame, because there are not other equally interesting or exciting options to explore on campus or off campus, or at least that is how it is presented to us. Social outlets are important, but the only ones we ever hear about – that catch our interest – are dorm parties, off-campus parties, or Finny’s, Feve, CJ’s, the Backer, etc. Everyone laughs at dorm parties, like frosh-O, but they’re widely accepted as a “rite of passage” that eventually lead to off-campus and the bars.

Another aspect that is characteristic of Notre Dame is the idea of “Work hard, Play hard.” Although Notre Dame may not demonstrate the extreme application of this saying, I think it is indicative of the mentality which drives the drinking culture to be more extreme and wilder than it would be otherwise.

And here I think is one key part. The drinking culture is THE social scene on campus. Yes, there are alternatives, but for the most part, if you want to make friends, have fun, do anything on the weekends, it’s understood you’ll participate. Granted, you may not be pressured to drink an inordinate amount – you can exercise self-control and not be directly pressured or forced to drink more (at least this was my experience as a female – I think it varies), but there is an expectation that you’ll attend and participate. And simply being around it encourages you to join in, whether out of the desires to “get crazy” or simply fit in. Drinking is an equalizer, and an excuse. You can do things you’re afraid to do otherwise, with alcohol as the scapegoat if it fails or gets out of hand. It can give you the courage to socialize with others you might not otherwise, and the ability to make friends with those you may never meet or have anything in common with outside of parties.

And for the sexual culture? I believe it is most connected with the social and drinking scene. Having same-sex dorms means there is little day-to-day interaction between the sexes apart from classes. The only other common interaction may come from activities, but this is usually a small number of people. So how are you to make friends with members of the opposite sex – especially freshman year, but even throughout the years? Dorm parties, SYR’s, and other social events, usually involving alcohol.  Like the “fraternity” aspect of the dorms that is automatically accepted, this too is simply understood as what you do at ND. This emphasizes the importance of the social aspect of parties.

Beyond perpetuating the prominence of the drinking culture, it relates to the sexual culture on campus as well. As a female, there is automatically the pressure to dress up for parties, in a way that will present a good, attractive image for the guys you’ll meet, and earn good judgment from the other girls. And how many times do you have a conversation at a dorm party that leads to a new friendship being formed? Or at least one that goes beyond a common favorite song or drink? Instead, the focus revolves around dancing, drinking, and surface-level interactions between people. This is where the hook-up culture stems from. Drinking, dancing in crowded room creates anonymity and acceptability to what occurs at the party, which may lead to further sexual activity. And anything that is outside the realm of acceptable or anonymous dancing or hooking up can be dismissed, attributing it to wrong judgment or lack of awareness due to alcohol consumption.

The desire for approval, friendships and relationships with the opposite sex is then largely centered in participating in parties. The desire for fun is centered in activities involving alcohol.

Over the four years, the mentality can evolve and mature, but for the most part, there is the understanding that you have to “make it count” while you can, since it’s the “best four years of your life” and that after college you’ll change — once you have to. And once the standard is set for all social activities to revolve around alcohol, once the extraordinary craziness is the standard, the ordinary forms of enjoyment don’t seem attractive anymore.

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“You can have it all”

I originally thought this was going to be tricky to come up with an example because I didn’t have any commercials that I had seen that stuck in my mind at all. However, I was surprised just how easy it is to find examples of commercials which promise to fulfill some desire. This seriously pervades the most and least expected advertisements – and you don’t even notice it (or at least I didn’t). Which is also why it’s so effective.

So the commercial I stumbled upon was simply an advertisement by Vidal Sassoon for a new kind of shampoo. How ordinary. But in those 30 seconds, there was a very strong message: What you have now isn’t good enough, and you don’t need to compromise. You’re better than compromise. YOU can have it all. Instead of those “wanna-be” salon-quality products that promise so much but don’t perform, you can have the new product that will be the one that DOES perform like it says. You don’t even have to pick between silky, sexy or shiny hair — you can have it all.

But of course, if we take a step back – how is this product any different than the last one that promised all of these things? How is it that this is IT? And if it somehow is, then it would logically mean that this is their final version. But of course give it time, and they’ll come up with some new catchy name and different advertisement and soon be saying, no — THIS is the one that will give you all of the results you’re looking for.

This is the endless process of desiring and consuming that Miller discusses. We eat up all of the promises that the media gives us. Even if only a tiny fraction of the people that see this commercial buy the product, it is the overall message that is being sent to us – continuously – in car ads, in cell phone ads, even in shampoo ads. It’s the overall mentality that is transmitted through all of these ads with which we’re bombarded. That’s why it continues to work – we get sucked in and buy things we don’t need.

So what is the response from Christianity? Simply, I believe, it’s that these are empty promises. That the claims of “you don’t have to compromise” and “you can have it all,” ignores the idea of sacrifice, and that these “needs” are false, covering up – or as Miller says, misdirecting – a deeper desire. “Our desire for the infinite is shunted into an insatiable desire for the finite” (113). It is insatiable, because gratification does not satisfy our desires. It is in longing that we find the most pleasure.

If what we desire is happiness, then we, like Freud encounter a problem, that is: “happiness is not a state that can be sustained.” It is clear that the happiness we find is fleeting, is finite; but we desire a happiness that lasts — an eternal happiness. The closest we can get to this is the sum of many finite moments of happiness, which leads to a continuum of consumption. However, this results in a faded pleasure, so each new product must be more desirable and more exciting, and so the fire of consumerism is fueled and continues. From the perspective of Christianity, this all points back to the fact that the thing we desire is infinite — and can only be found in God.

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“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”

American religion is increasingly affected by “internal secularization.” That is, on the outside, religion is still present and we don’t notice a notable change, but on the inside it lacks substance, or more specifically – the substance has drastically changed.

Smith focuses in this chapter on the religious beliefs and practices of American teenagers and gives the generally accepted set of beliefs the name Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This “religion” is marked by the importance of being a good person, one’s well-being, getting along with other people, and the general belief in God who is the creator of the universe and provides a general moral order, but is largely not involved and does not ask much from us; this God is convenient – active when we need Him and quiet when we don’t want Him involved: “God is treated as something like a cosmic therapist or counselor, a ready and competent helper who responds in times of trouble but who does not particularly ask for devotion or obedience.”

Many parents think religion is good because it produces good results, but this misses the point, and shows a missing piece in the process of formation in the faith. Instead of instilling the importance of the specific beliefs that make up a particular faith tradition, parents focus on general teachings which are characteristic of “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” and surface-level involvement that produces the good results they want for their children.

Many teenagers do have a generally positive view of religion, but on a fairly superficial level. When it comes time for teenagers to engage the faith as their own, they lack the commitment to the particular beliefs and practices.  One cause of this is the lack of discussion with adults. Parents and other adults may avoid deeper discussion about faith with teenagers due to a loss for how to begin, or because they think it might be beyond their understanding or because they believe the teenagers are not interested. However, I think there is great potential for adults to show teenagers the beauty and depth of their faith, through example and through conversation.

With the ever increasingly individualistic and pluralistic society that we live in, individual opinions and beliefs are valued over those of authority, so it’s difficult to use the perspective of authority and tradition to guide individuals and educate in a certain faith tradition. In the interest of getting along with others, it is easier to accept the type of “faith” Moralistic Therapeutic Deism offers – it’s enough belief and direction for most people, but without the challenges and inconveniences.  Also, with the emphasis that society puts on feelings and personal preferences it is more and more common for people to dabble in various faith traditions, trying to find one that ‘fits’ them and one that they personally feel good in, instead of seeking truth and committing to one faith tradition because of the deeper beliefs and teachings.

With respect to the socialization in religious faith traditions, Christian Smith says, “serious induction into a religious tradition requires the inductee to be formed and reformed in new and perhaps demanding ways according to the teaching of the faith.”  I am reminded of my experience preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation. My preparation for Confirmation lacked that substantial formation, the serious and challenging engagement of our minds and hearts; instead it was merely another step – a checklist of classes and activities to complete, something that was widely accepted and expected that you would complete – a continuation of our surface-level commitment to the faith.

While we were then considered adults in the Church, we had not delved into complex issues of the faith, or even fully understood the fundamental aspects of the faith that we were accepting as our own. This conflict of adolescence and adulthood coincides with Smith’s discussion of the separation of adults and adolescents. For multiple and varying reasons, we do not engage adolescents in these deeper questions, we do not ask them what they believe and why they believe it, but if we are to welcome and recognize them as adults in the Church, we must also educate and treat them as adults.

I found it particularly interesting and striking that Smith calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism a “parasitic” religious faith, one that is feeding off of others and in turn, destroying them. This is an important image to keep in mind, because it demonstrates the urgency of changes that may need to be made in the way we approach and encourage the education and practice of individual religious faith traditions.

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Christian experience according to Jean Mouroux

As Mouroux says, “the heart of the Christian experience is the soul’s movement towards God.” What most characterizes the Christian experience is that it is a constant movement in pursuit of the Last End. Its final goal is unity with God, but “the Last End is situated at infinity and never completely possessed here on earth” so the Christian experience must be a dynamic, continuous movement, toward something that does not have an end in this earthly life.

In order for Christian experience to occur, there must be a foundation and this is “faith working by charity.” Mouroux makes it clear that charity in the Christian experience must have its base in faith, because “faith provides charity with its object.” However, charity does not merely build on the already existing faith, but rather transforms it and makes it active. Likewise, faith cannot complete its orientation and realize its purpose without charity, which is evident as Mouroux quotes Corinthians: “If I should have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

The grace received in baptism is the starting point of faith, and an invitation to the Christian experience: a seed that we are called to nourish and develop in openness and self-gift “beyond any assignable limits.” This is what the Christian experience consists of: a dynamic, continual process of learning to open oneself and give oneself more completely. Initiated in baptism, this process guided and oriented by charity. According to Mouroux, the Christian experience is an integrating experience. This integrating aspect of the Christian experience is led by charity, and is opposed by sin: “sin dissociates, whereas charity unifies… [sin] dissipates desire amongst an endless sequence of passing goods, and shatters the soul upon the rocks of multiplicity” while charity concentrates the soul on the unifying goal — the love of God. Charity guides and leads the soul not to the division and multiplicity produced by sin, but rather to unity by constantly orienting it to God.

The Christian experience is a movement that literally takes us out of ourselves. We can see this through the signs that Mouroux discusses: we conform our will to the rule of the Church – this is right faith; we insert ourselves in the Church and follow the teachings of the Church – this is keeping the Commandments; we humbly recognize our sins and our gifts given by God, seeking forgiveness and glorifying God – this is self-judgment; and above all, our soul inclines towards God, searches for God and rejoices in God – this is the soul’s movement towards God.

All of these signs involve our whole selves: our intellect, our actions, our body, our freedom, our will, but center on God. Therefore, the Christian experience is the continual movement of the soul that starts with faith, is oriented by charity, and consists of a constant death to ourselves and resurrection in Christ. “We can never finish dying to sin that we may live to God.”

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