Our very identity as Christians, as members in communion with the one Body of Christ that is the Church, comes only through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit fills us with God’s presence so that we can truly become adopted children of our heavenly Father. Restoring through baptism the divine likeness that was lost through sin, the Spirit gives us a rebirth into the Church so that we can be called children of light and given a share in eternal glory.
In his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Saint John Paul II tells us that “man’s intimate relationship with God in the Holy Spirit also enables him to understand himself, his own humanity, in a new way. Thus that image and likeness of God which man is from his very beginning is fully realized” (Dominum et vivificantem, 59).
The Holy Spirit makes true conversion possible. This conversion, this turning for the better, is a necessary part of Christian life. Our purpose in life is to be transformed into Christ. This is why Jesus came among us. Nothing could be more transformative than this “divinization” of the human person. However, this transformation is not imposed upon us without our consent. We need to accept this grace.
No doubt we all could tell stories of some gift we received that we did not know what to do with. If we leave the present under the Christmas tree or stick it in the closet unused, it is of little benefit. If we write “return to sender” on the package that arrives at our doorstep, we do not gain from it. Grace too is a gift and like any gift, in order to benefit from it, it must be accepted, it must be utilized. Grace which is offered but spurned or ignored is a gift not received.
In the recent major motion picture Son of God, there is the scene where Simon Peter first encounters Jesus. The fisherman is on his boat when Jesus asks from the shore, “Do you need help?” Peter responds, “I’m not looking for any help.” The Lord, who has been holding a rock, then begins to wade out into the water.
“Hey! You can’t just climb into my boat!” yells Peter. Jesus agrees, saying, “Yeah, you’re right. Give me a hand.”
Peter reaches down and helps pull Jesus into his boat, but then the clearly annoyed Peter asks Jesus what he is doing. “We’re going fishing,” the Lord responds with a smile. Of course we know what happens next – Peter hauls in a boat-load of fish.
Astonished beyond all imagination, the man chosen to be a fisher of men asks, “What are we going to do?” Jesus tells him – and us – “We’re going to change the world.”
In this scene is a little lesson on Christ and the grace he offers us – it is necessary for us to take the Lord into our boat. Each of us is called to a sublime destiny – to live in the everlasting joy and glory of God. But he will not force himself on us; he will not climb in without our consent. The Lord might be persistent and we might think him annoying at times, but he will not impose himself on us.
Those who have accepted and cooperated with the grace of the Spirit can testify to exactly how powerful a gift it is. With his grace, we can do that which otherwise would be very difficult or impossible for us to do on our own. It is not just a movie, not just a story in a book, it is true life. And if we say “yes” to Christ, if we give him a helping hand, we will change the world.
This is another installment in an on-going series based on excerpts from the pastoral letter, “Manifesting the Kingdom.”