This Sunday, See How the Holy Spirit Configures Your Body to Christ’s

On Pentecost Sunday Year C, we are faced with two realities. One is mysterious and one is matter-of-fact.

What is mysterious is that we have a mystical relationship with the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Divine Love and Breath of God who has appeared in dramatic ways, in wind, fire and speaking in tongues.

But on the other hand, the Holy Spirit is present and active in our daily lives, including at Mass this Sunday, in the ordinary actions of our life that we take for granted.

The Holy Spirit’s relationship with our bodies is a secret hiding in plain sight in Sunday’s Gospel.

“Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he said this he showed them his hands and his side,” John reports.

We heard this Gospel passage before, as Easter evidence of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus. But to read it on Pentecost Sunday says something more — especially after hearing the First Reading about the dramatic entrance of the Holy Spirit with a driving wind and tongues of fire.

Think of it like Elijah finding God not in the storm or the earthquake but in the whisper of God. Jesus brings peace — shalom — a right-ordering of our lives, by his very presence in our midst and, specifically, through the horrific tragedy of the cross evident in his wounds. And he expects us to be vessels of his peace in exactly the same way.

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” he says. That’s significant. How did the Father send him? The Father, who exists spiritually in heaven, sent his only Son to do his will in the flesh on earth. Now Jesus will be the one at the right hand of his Father in heaven sending us to do his will in the flesh on earth.

Next, Jesus gets even more literal. “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained,” the Gospel says. “Sacraments are ‘powers that come forth from the body of Christ,” says the Catechism. “They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church.”

So Jesus is literally turning his Apostles’ bodies into his body on earth, doing his will. Just as God breathed into the dust at creation, just as Ezekiel prayed and the dry bones came to life with the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit remakes our bodies into his.

That explains what happens in the first reading, from Acts. His apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit, which means filling their bodies with a new purpose.

The way the Spirit appears in the upper room in both the Gospel and Acts is significant.

In his post-Resurrection appearance in the upper room of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is breath from the mouth of God — Jesus Christ, God the Son, re-vivifying his creation, filling his Apostles with his presence.

In his post-Ascension appearance in the upper room of Acts, the Holy Spirit is a strong driving wind — like a backwind pushing us to do God’s will, the way the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism.

The Holy Spirit also appears as tongues of fire. On Mount Sinai he appeared in fire and wrote his words in stone; now he writes them on the hearts of his people.

Last, the Holy Spirit inspires the words of his Apostles, understandable in every language — just as the Church proclaims his words in all the languages of the world today.

That’s the dramatic version. The Second Reading option from Roman shows how this works in Christian daily life.

“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you,” Paul writes to the Romans.

He is saying that  two paths are open to each of us: the way of death and the way of life. We often follow the way of death, forcing our spirits to conform to our body’s desires. This diminishes us, limits our possibilities, and snags the life of the Spirit, holding God back, as it were. But we can also choose the way of life — demanding that our bodies conform to the Spirit’s desires, expanding our possibilities and allowing the Spirit to renew the face of the earth.

Then Paul says that we can take his language quite literally: “You received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

That makes us the literal children of God, adopted siblings of Jesus, heirs to what the Father promised. The Church takes this promise utterly seriously, teaching that Baptism guarantees that each of us will be configured to Christ as partakers of the divine nature, guaranteed faith, hope and charity.

You can see how this works at Sunday Mass.

When you make the sign of the cross, your hand to your head indicates that your mind is God’s; your hand to your chest indicates that your heart is Christ’s; your hand from side to side says that your whole soul is filled with the Holy Spirit. What your body does at each Mass also expresses the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit:

  • When your eyes look toward the altar and the host, the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom allows you to see Christ there.
  • When your ears hear the readings and prayers and your brain applies them to your life, that insight is the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding.
  • When your heart is encouraged to face your life’s troubles with God, that is the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude.
  • When your voice answers back the responses at Mass, your expression is made possible by the Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge.
  • Your feet brought you to Mass and will bring you to communion, because the Holy Spirit gives you the gift of counsel, knowing God’s will and following it.
  • Your knees will bend and your neck will bow because the Holy Spirit has given you the gift of the fear of the Lord.
  • Your folded hands and closed eyes in prayer will express the Holy Spirit’s gift of piety, which is the gift of consolation in prayer.

But of course, this configuring of your body to Christ doesn’t only happen in Mass. I composed a prayer (find it here, or under the Prayer REsources Tab at Ex Corde) that expresses how the Holy Spirit configures our daily life to Christ in the same way.

This is the straightforward way our whole lives become Christ’s life on earth, through the Holy Spirit.

Other religions may express a desire to become “one with the universe.” They are saying “take away my personality; I want to join the Unity, even if I leave my Singularity.” Christians who become “one with Christ” are saying “transform my personality; I want to join the Trinity, where my Singularity remains.” Our human activity becomes God’s — because the Holy Spirit fills our minds and forms us in very human way.

So, Come, Holy Spirit, we pray. Fill our lives, each of our particular lives, with your life. Amen.

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Author

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story on Ex Corde. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.