June 6, 2020

The Spirit of Love

The Holy Spirit unites us with God and others in Love

RC, perhaps you have heard in St. Paul’s writings how he distinguishes the “old man” from the “new man?” Who or what is the new man in us? As I shared in another post, I believe the new man is the person we become when we are born again in Christ Jesus through Baptism. The Saints have boldly said, “we become like Christ” or we come to share in His “likeness.” The truth is that by grace the person of Christ actually becomes one with us. According to St John He ‘indwells’ the soul advanced in Grace (Jn 14:23).

St. Paul is often described as the apostle of faith, but to me his theology centers upon the indwelling of Christ in the soul. St. Paul writes to the Galatians that God “was pleased to reveal his Son in me” (1:16). He further writes, I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (2:20). At the heart of St. Paul’s theology is the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ in us!

A corollary to this is that it is Christ indwelling in me and in my neighbor that makes us one in the Holy Spirit. St. Paul will say that in Christ there is neither male of female, we are all one in Christ. Theologically we understand this unity as  the “Mystical body” of Christ. We are all united to our one Head, Christ. As the Holy Trinity is one God in three Persons, so in our unity with Christ we all participate in the oneness of Christ’s divine nature. In this life we share in His nature by Grace, we cannot see it now, but in heaven God will “be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). 

A semblance of this occurs on the natural level too. Being spiritual persons, we human beings have the capacity to unite and share ourselves with one another through love. Love unites! It is our human nature to love and be loved. God gave each of us a heart that is an image of His own Spirit. Spiritually we join with one another in our hearts through love. Of course we are sinners and we do this imperfectly. Nevertheless through the Grace of the Holy Spirit our love is elevated in God. We become united in love in Christ.

All of this is to show that without achieving loving, personal relationships with one another, even on the natural level, we will not achieve the fullness of our personhood that God intended for us. Nor have we truly come to the fullness of life. To share in a union of love with God by Grace is, of course, to share in His own eternal life… to be fully alive!

The nature of spirit is to unite in love with another spirit

Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) taught that a spirit is by nature capable of transcending itself and uniting with another spirit…  whether this be God or another human being. A spirit, according to his thought, transcends itself to be in union with another spirit. In this union Ratzinger writes that a spirit reflects the other in itself. In other words our soul, as spirit, knows itself more fully when in relationship with another soul/spirit. I believe this is what Scripture means when it says that in marriage the two “become one flesh.

Martin Buber wrote that  “all real living is meeting” (I and Thou). This is to say that we achieve the fullness of our personhood through spiritual, loving,  relationships with God and one another. And this is the mission of the Holy Spirit: to unite us all in Christ.

The Holy Spirit indwells souls in a state of Grace, and His mission is to reveal Christ in them. In this sense the knowledge and love of Christ is also a new knowledge of others and a self-knowledge of being ‘one with Christ.’ Jesus said that He will reveal Himself to those who love and obey Him (Jn 14:21). This knowledge, this truth about myself and others of being “in Christ” is a new identity. It is our true self,  the “new man” of St. Paul. With St. Paul the soul can proclaim, “it is not I that live but Christ who lives in me” and… my brother and sister. 

Just as two flames of fire move to unite together and become a single flame, so with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit our souls share in the unity of the Spirit’s divine loving and knowing. It is Christ revealing Himself as the “new man” in each of us.  In so doing the “new man,” Christ, acts through our souls. As the psalmist writes, “love and truth walk in your presence” (ps 89:16). So our minds are illuminated in His truth and our hearts united in His love. The mystery is that while we ourselves are acting… it is nevertheless Christ acting through us to the Glory of the Father.

So as we give ourselves to one another in love and in truth we transcend our personal “self-centeredness” and become one with one another. This union of love mutually edifies both persons. This is to say that in loving another I grow to share myself, my giftedness, with the other. Is this not a fulfillment of Christ’s command “to love others as we love ourselves and desire good things?”

There is a corollary to Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor. It is that if I have never learned to love myself and to respect myself in truth, then I can never truly love or respect another. Ironically, I come to love and know myself by first being loved by another. This first love that of being loved as I am begins in the family, the first church!

So we are most conformed to the “new Man” and one another, who is Christ living in us, when we know and love one another. In this sense our spiritual sharing is also His gifting us. Allow me to explain.

As I suggested above, love brings about a sharing in one another’s spiritual gifts and attributes. This is seen in the members of a family who share in the spiritual gifts of their parents, such as charity, wisdom, self-sacrifice… This is also seen in members of a religious order who share in the charism of their founder. These gifts and charisms find new and revealing expression in their members so they become a new ‘gift’ of God to the world. Is this not a fulfillment of God’s promise thru Moses, “I will bless down to a thousand generations the children of those who love me” (Ex 20:6)?

God’s ‘blessing’ gifts us a greater fullness of personhood and family through the Spirit of love. In this sense of gift, through love we are not only one in heart with another, but we share our personal giftedness. 

The mystics speak of the beloved becoming conformed to the lover and the lover to the beloved. They even say that the lover possesses the beloved as the beloved possesses the lover. In fact, the highest level of the spiritual life is a mystical marriage or the mutual possessing between Christ and the soul. In loving and possessing Christ and being loved and possessed by Him, the soul is conformed to His image and likeness. Of course this is without ever diminishing His divine nature or us becoming God.

In conclusion, these truths help us to better understand the Father’s ultimate vision for baptizing  us ‘in Christ.’ Just as God is a unity of Father and Son in the Love of the Holy Spirit, so does the Spirit create us anew “in Christ” to share in God’s Trinitarian Life of unity and love. That life begins now in the Church of Christ and will come to plenitude in heaven.

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Fr. Michael Hinken SOLT is a priest of

the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.

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