The Spirit of the Lord
In the Gospel Reading of the Pentecost Vigil Mass, Jesus invites people to come to him to drink. The Gospel explains that Jesus was talking about the Spirit; and the Gospel comments that, as yet, there was no Spirit.
But what could the Gospel mean by this? The Old Testament is full of references about the Spirit’s coming on somebody. So, for example, in Judges 15:14-15, the text says that the Spirit of the Lord rushed into Samson, and he became so strong that he killed a thousand of the enemy with nothing more than the jawbone of a donkey.
It is worth seeing here, though, that the Old Testament itself distinguishes the way in which the Spirit was in the world in that Old Testament time and the way in which it was given in the time ushered in by Christ. As Joel 3:1-5 explains it, in the messianic times God pours out his Spirit into the minds and hearts of his people. And this way of putting the point is helpful.
When the Spirit comes upon Samson, it seems to take him over. With the Spirit taking him over, Samson flies into a supernaturally strong fury, which ends only when hundreds of his enemies lie dead. In that battle, Samson looks as if even Tasers would have had a hard time taking him down.
But in the time of Christ, when a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit does not take her over. The Holy Spirit comes into her, to be with her, even while her own mind and heart continue to be her own and to operate as her own. The result of this kind of giving of the Spirit is not a superhuman, wild strength and violence. The result is the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, and long-suffering. (The last thing anyone would think about Samson is that he was characterized by patience and long-suffering!)
And so this is what the Gospel means. Before Christ, the Holy Spirit might take over a person. But in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given to Christ’s people, to be in them and with them always, in loving peaceful union with Christ, available to anyone who will come to Christ to drink.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University