Pentecost and the Holy Spirit have been on my mind. Last week I was looking for a prayer Karl Rahner, a Jesuit theologian, wrote and couldn’t find it, but I did find this homily on Pentecost. It’s long so I’ll present it here in segments.
Pentecost: Fear of the Spirit
We are told in the Act of the Apostles (19:1-2) that Paul found some disciples at Ephesus and asked them: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered: “We have never even heard of the Holy Spirit.”
Many Christians today, if they were faced with the same question, ought really to answer: We We were told of the Holy Spirit in our religion instruction at school, we were baptized and confirmed, but that’s about all we’ve had to do with the Holy Spirit; we’ve not yet seen any trace of Him in our lives.
In fact, in this age of technology, of rational planned leadership of human beings, of mass media, of rational psychology and depth psychology, it isn’t easy for people today to discover within the field of their experience anything they might venture to call the efficacy of the Holy Spirit. There seems to be no scope for anything that is not secular within a “system” of intramundane causes and effects, without exit or entrance.
If we want to get rid of the impression of a secular world, in which there is nothing like a Holy Spirit, then we shall have to stop looking for him only under explicitly religious labels of the kind to which our religious training has accustomed us. If we look out for inner freedom in which a person, regardless of herself, remains faithful to the dictate of her conscience; if someone succeeds, without knowing how, in really breaking out of the prison of her egoism; if someone not only gets his pleasures and delights, but possesses joy which knows limit; if someone with mute resignation allows death to take her and at the same time entrusts herself to an ultimate mystery in which she believes as unity, meaning and love: when these things happen, what we Christians call the Holy Spirit is at work, precisely because in these and similar experiences what is involved is not a controllable and definable factor of the world of our experience. The Spirit is at work precisely because this world of experience is delivered up to its comprehensible ground, to its innermost center which is no longer its very own.
We Christians least of all need to think of this nameless Holy Spirit, “poured out upon all flesh,” as locked up within the walls of the church. Rather do we form the church as the community of those who confess explicitly in historical and social forms that God loved the world (not merely Christians) and make his Spirit the innermost dynamic principle of the world, through whom everyone finds God as his absolute future, as long as he does not cut himself off from God through the deep-rooted sin of the a whole life. If we see the gift of the Spirit to the world in this way, then it is perhaps not so difficult to find in this world the Holy Spirit in whom we profess our faith at Pentecost as our innermost mystery and even more as God’s mystery.
From The Great Church Year, Karl Rahner, New York, NY, 1993. pages 215-16.