Today, we celebrate the birthday of the Catholic Church on the feast of Pentecost. As Jesus’ time here on earth was coming to a close, He promised He would not leave us alone.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)
Jesus was only with us in public ministry for three years. He had quite a bit to teach us in that time regarding how we get to heaven. Obviously, the goal of heaven extends to all the generations that have followed. Since humanity has a fallen nature, it is necessary that we receive divine assistance in our endeavors so we can know the Truth with certainty. After the Ascension of the second person of the Trinity – Jesus – the third person was revealed in the Holy Spirit as He descended upon the Apostles in the upper room on the first Pentecost (cf. Acts 2: 1-4).
The descent of the Holy Spirit has brought about all sorts of spiritual goods for us. He inspires us, gives us His gifts, leads us, teaches us, and bears His fruit within us. The Holy Spirit is the very breath of God within us and we would be empty shells without Him. However, today, we are going to focus on one particular role of the Holy Spirit as He protects and guides the Church in her mission for the salvation of souls.
Very common themes in Catholic theology are that of diversity and unity. Let’s unpack how the Holy Spirit is responsible for both, how they work together, and the implications for us as Christians.
We’ll begin with diversity. We see, in scripture, that the first thing to immediately happen with the descent of the Holy Spirit is that He brings with Him the gift of diversity. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). If the very reason for Jesus coming and establishing the Church, led by the Holy Spirit in His absence, is to lead all souls to heaven, there must be a way to reach all souls. When Jesus told the Apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19), they understood that they were being called to leave Israel and journey out into the world, to other countries and cultures, in order to evangelize them. This cannot be done without a diversity of gifts, beginning with languages, which were therefore given by the Holy Spirit for distribution.
This diversity of gifts does not begin and end with the Apostles. As members of the Catholic Church, each and every single one of us is charged to do our individual part in helping to save as many souls as possible. We are the representatives of Jesus and His Church on earth and as such, we have each been given our own gifts to bring Jesus and the Faith to others. The Catechism tells us:
Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church…there are furthermore special graces, also called charisms…charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church. (CCC #2003)
This means that you and I have been given a set of gifts and charisms, by the Holy Spirit, which are unique to each of us, in order that we might participate in Jesus’ salvific work in leading others to heaven. Likewise, the gifts and charisms of those around us will help us on our journey to heaven. These gifts are not meant to be hidden away or wasted, rather, they are intended to work together for the benefit of all of humanity, beginning with those closest to us and then working outward.
Another aspect of diversity can be found in the various expressions of faith and devotion amongst different nations around the world. The Catholic Church is meant for everyone and can be found in countries all over the world, each with their own unique cultures. The Catholic Church allows for a diversity of expression in order to meet the cultural needs of all, rather than forcing everyone to conform to one form of expression. If you attend Mass in Mexico, it will look different from a Mass in the Virgin Islands. A First Holy Communion Mass in China will be culturally different from one in Ireland. The music will vary widely from one country to the next, to allow each culture to uniquely express themselves. There is only one way to heaven – through Jesus – but there are many ways to Jesus, and our Church honors the diversity in expression, as they are the ways the Holy Spirit moves through each culture.
Now that we have seen how the Holy Spirit bestows us with diverse gifts and expressions of faith, we can see how He unifies us in our diversity. Even though we each have very different gifts and charisms, they were all given to us with the same intention – that we use them to bring others to Christ and Christ to others. The Holy Spirit expresses Himself differently within each of us, but He remains one, undivided Spirit. The Catechism quotes St. Cyril of Alexandria (412-444AD) saying:
All of us who have received one and the same Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit, are in a sense blended together with one another and with God. For if Christ, together with the Father’s and his own Spirit, comes to dwell in each of us, though we are many, still the Spirit is one and undivided. He binds together the spirits of each and every one of us… and makes all appear as one in him. For just as the power of Christ’s sacred flesh unites those in whom it dwells into one body, I think that in the same way the one and undivided Spirit of God, who dwells in all, leads all into spiritual unity. (CCC #738)
Here, St. Cyril tells us that in our diversity, we are bound by the Holy Spirit into one single Body of Christ. In all of our differences, we can thank the Holy Spirit for holding us together as one unit with one common goal in Christ.
We live in a time of incredible division. We see it amongst family members, neighbors, and countries. Now, more than ever, it is vital to recognize the beauty of our differences, to the extent that they are unique gifts of the Holy Spirit and that each person we encounter has something to offer us on our journey to salvation. We need only to be open to receiving it. As you find yourself struggling within diversity, ask yourself what you can learn from a particular situation and how it might help to bring you closer to the Lord. It is also worth reflecting on how we are all unified by the Holy Spirit. The same divine breath that is moving within you is also moving within every person you encounter. Each person in your life is spiritually connected to you by the Holy Spirit. When we focus on our diversity bringing about unity rather than division, we can find more peace in a world that seeks to upset us. This week, meditate on how diversity and unity work together for the salvation of all. How can you help to foster unity in diversity in the various situations in which you find yourself?