The Person Gift
If you were to think of the best going-away present ever, what would it be? How about the gift of always being present? When transitions occur and people have to depart, or when a person we love passes away, we encounter the real poverty of our finite existence. Love would bind us together with those we love and keep us together forever. But as weak, finite humans, this is impossible.
For Jesus, though, it was not impossible. He was a weak, finite human, but he was also the eternal Son of God. And his greatest prize was his relationship with his Father, the union he shared with him from all of eternity and which his humanity participated in by being united to his divine nature. Jesus’ greatest treasure is the love he shares with the Father, and his “going away present” is nothing less than this love. And this love is a person of the Trinity, co-equal with the Father and the Son and eternally one with them in the godhead.
When he goes away, Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit, who binds us to Jesus and to the Father. The night before he gave himself up for us on the cross, Jesus spoke to the Father in a beautiful, earnest prayer for us, asking that “the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” St. John Paul II explained in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Dominum et Vivificantem, “It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the Triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons and that through the Holy Spirit God exists in the mode of gift. It is the Holy Spirit who is the personal expression of this self-giving, of this being-love. He is Person- Love. He is Person-Gift”
The Spirit is the Love between the Father and the Son, and on Pentecost Jesus’ prayer was fully consummated. The Holy Spirit came down upon his apostles in full form, and it not only bound them to Jesus and the Father, but it bound the Church together. Pentecost is reverse of the Tower of Babel: the various nations of the earth are brought together by one common language, rather than divided into a confused cacophony. Peace replaces discord. Unity replaces division. The differences of each culture aren’t erased, but the unity between them is stronger than anything that divides them, because the unity is God Himself, the Holy Spirit.
Today we live in our own Babel. People in the media make money off of dividing us into camps and exaggerating discord. Politicians thrive when they can pit one camp against another. And the person who loves this discordant chaos the most is Satan, the diabolos, who seeks to throw apart all of those whom our loving God wants to unite.
We see the work of Satan in our country, our families, and even our Church. The very fact that there are multiple denominations with competing doctrines is an affront to Jesus’ prayer “that they all might be one.” Our families are often torn apart by grudges and lack of forgiveness, or by insurmountable differences. And of course our country appears to be more strongly divided than it has been for a very long time.
We should take a realistic assessment of the problems that we face, and we shouldn’t slap a Band-Aid of false unity or passive aggressive “tolerance” onto it. No, we should be unafraid to give a cold, honest assessment of the state of things. That is because the more a situation appears impossible, the more evident it will be that only God can heal it. And the more humbled we are in the face of such an impossible task, the more apt we will be to step back and ask, “Where is the Holy Spirit in all of this?”
We shouldn’t forget that Jesus chose the most horrible moment in history to begin to unveil his plan for love and unity. Jesus formally introduced us to the Holy Spirit, the “Person-Love” and “Person-Gift” the night before he endured his excruciating death. This was also the night when his disciples seemed the most divided – in accord with the evil’s one’s plan, they all scattered. Traumatic events seem to either bind people together or break them apart. I’ve seen many seemingly strong marriages that have separated when a tragic death or great financial loss occurs. But somehow this group, which seemed so irreparably shattered, was not only brought together, but made stronger through Jesus’ resurrection and the sending of the Spirit.
Instead of being overwhelmed by the disunity and discord that seem so inevitable in our families, our Church, and our country, we can instead renew our faith in Jesus’ desire to send us the Holy Spirit, the Person-Gift who has existed from all of eternity as the love between the Father and the Son. We can humbly turn to him and entrust our seemingly impossible situations to him. He may not resolve them with a quick fix. He may ask us to suffer through them, as he asked his disciples to suffer through his crucifixion. We may even turn away and sin and fall into Satan’s plan. But that’s the glory of the Holy Spirit: He is stronger even than sin, and his plan will always win out over the evil one’s. Every evil and suffering in the universe will, in the end, be wrapped up into his plan through the workings of Divine Love.
Jesus left us an incredible gift. He did not abandon us, nor will he ever abandon us. If there are moments in our loves when we have felt betrayed or abandoned, and we carry that hurt with us, it’s time to let the Holy Spirit heal those memories. He is powerful enough to do that. If there are grudges that we’re hanging on to, or things that we just can’t forgive someone for, it’s time to let the Holy Spirit in so that we can forgive with his power. He is powerful enough to do that. If there is an impossible situation – a tragedy or conflict – in front of us, our first step should be to pray, like Jesus, for the Holy Spirit to descend into the situation.
And those inevitable separations – whether they occur because of death or simply through life circumstances – need not be inevitable. The Holy Spirit has the power to bind us together in the present, and even to bind souls back to bodies and raise from the dead. He did it once and He will do it again. He is the principle of unity, the Love between the Father and the Son, the fire that burns away all sin and evil and suffering. He is Jesus’ greatest treasure, and he is ours, because we are His.