The Empire of the Dove (Part 2): An Embracing Motion

Happy Pentecost to you all!

This great feast shakes us awake to the cosmic scale of the Christian mission. The Kingdom we are the instruments of realizing encompasses all time and space and every human soul who has or will ever live, in their tens of billions. Keeping this before our mind’s eye, humbles us and makes us more ambitious at the same time. Serenity and urgency characterize the Christian who knows what has to be done and Whose motive power energizes all good activity.

Titian, “Pentecost” (c. 1545)

The micromanager in us must die; the Spirit-drunk fool must take over. God’s revolution cannot be programmed. Diocesan blueprints for a “new evangelization” or schemes of communal self-segregation or bureaucratic impositions of progressive proceduralism: if we want control, we are modern pneumatomachians, contenders against the Holy Spirit.

Whenever we are desperate to run the whole show, we are succumbing to a (possibly covert) form of secularism, operating according to the conviction that the only directing spirit is the human spirit. Or, more precisely, my own spirit writ large is the only worthy providence.

But the Holy Spirit in fact exists, a divine intentionality beyond our control. And if it were not so, there could be no justice (for as Adorno ruefully notes, there can be no justice without the resurrection of the dead); there could be no wisdom (for truth is beyond our compassing); there could be no true love (for love intends eternity).

The Spirit works the coming kingdom of infinite knowing and loving through our free decisions to learn more and love more, repeated in event after mundane and irritating daily event.

Sanctifying grace in the soul of each baptized person is the pneumatic correlate of the Incarnation. When God the Son and God the Holy Spirit enter the “foreign” country of creation, the ultimate destination is human heart, mind, flesh: first in Jesus, then in the prolongation of the Incarnation that is the Church. God continues to become flesh in each believing, hoping, loving heart. When I taught the doctrine of God, this was one of the most striking points from Saint Thomas Aquinas’s magnificent Treatise on the Trinity, to be found in the culminating question on the divine missions (Summa theologiae I, q. 43).

We prayed at matins a few days ago an excerpt from Saint Basil’s On the Holy Spirit, that great extension of anti-Arian logic in favor of the consubstantial divinity of the Third in God undertaken between the first two ecumenical councils. He writes, “To the Spirit turns everything which is in need of sanctification; Whom all living things desire according to their character; Whose breath, as it were, irrigates and helps each thing so that it attains its proper and natural end.”

The orders of nature and grace coincide in the Holy Spirit. The motion of every single thing, from Higgs-field excitations to the first good thought you had when you woke up this morning, has one ordained goal: a life without end. This is equivalent to limitless love, love according to the Spirit of God.

The patristic anthropological notion, classically expressed by Saint Maximus the Confessor, is that all the levels of creation are contained in the human as microcosm, who in turn is to mediate all visible motion into the infinite motion of God’s loving understanding.

The integral human development that can only happen in the atmosphere of divine love (for there is only one ultimate end of each human: divinization) means the sanctification of this world so hard pressed by our manifold lovelessness.

The Second Vatican Council sets it before us: “the fundamental law of human perfection and therefore of the world’s transformation is the new command of love [love one another, as I have loved you]” (Gaudium et spes 38). The New Law of the new creation flowing from the pierced side of Christ, Saint Thomas explains, is the grace of the Holy Spirt given through faith in Jesus and working through charity.

The law of the Kingdom of God is limitless love, a love freer and more surprising and more creative than we can imagine. The Spirit of this unconquerable love wells up in your heart this day, to pacify the turbulent seas of self. A new City rises, in peaceable and charitable hearts, towards heaven, knit together by the Spirit of universal reconciliation.

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