Glory to the Holy Spirit

massacio trinity with virginThere are many ways to dig into the Glory Be.  It is an astonishingly rich little prayer.  In the past I have written about it as a meditation on the Father-Son: to know God, in his glory, as the relationship of Father and Son – with the Holy Spirit as the reality of their sharing, shared with us, and the affirmation that Father and Son is the eternal reality, in the beginning, now, at all times, and in the “forever and ever” to which we look forward.

Another way to approach the Glory Be, as we approach Pentecost, is as a statement of faith: the simplest and most essential Creed, taking us to the very heart of Christianity so that we can see the realities around which everything else revolves.


We begin with “Glory to the Father.”

“Glory” translates a Hebrew word for majesty, even heaviness.  God is the weighty one, the only immovable and truly substantial one.  Everything else floats away, but God remains.  Everything else is poor, but God is rich, infinite riches.

Of course the angels remind us that God’s glory is “in the highest” – but though that turns our ideas of weight literally upside down, the point remains that he is more substantial than the changing world under our feet.  For the ancients, the heavens were a sign of what is always the same: life slips by, with all its challenges, but there the stars remain, forever and ever.  And God is “heavier,” more substantial than that.  More glorious, luxurious, more wealthy, than even the Sun.

The Greek and Latin traditions add to this idea of glory the idea of light: God is the radiant one, the dazzling one, the brilliant, fascinating, beautiful, resplendent one.  Imagine coming into the presence of the Sun – and having the transfigured eyes to look directly into it – and you have only a faint glimmer of the glory of God.

“Glory to the Father” gets us started by thinking about how fabulous God is.  Though we can say much about Father and Son, here, “Father” just stands for “not the Son.”  Before we talk about the other members of the Trinity, we start with the one we know is above all.  We ponder for a moment how glorious the First one is, the Eternal, the Source.


But we contemplate this glory of the Father so that we can immediately say, “so too the Son.”  As if we say, not just, “Glory to the Father and to the Son,” but “the Glory which belongs to the Father, the very same Glory, belongs also to the Son.”

“Glory to the Father and to the Son” is an affirmation of the divinity of Jesus.  It says, this man who came among us, whose words we hear, whose sacraments we touch, who unites himself to us – he is no less than the Father.  All of that eternal splendor and majesty and awesomeness that we can ponder as belonging to the “Glory of the Father” – that’s who Jesus is!  That’s what bursts out in the Transfiguration, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and his Final Coming.  In heaven we will see all that more-than-the-Sun gloriousness of the Father shining out of the person of Jesus.

It is a way of saying how awesome our redemption is: that our Redeemer, who was one of us, is no less than the Father.  And it points us to the most awesome part of that: that our Redeemer shares in the glory of the Father.  How great, how glorious, is Jesus!


But then comes one more: the Holy Spirit shares in that same glory.

We can think of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in terms of their missions.  The Father is simply the glorious source of all.  The Son became incarnate as Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit is what is given to the Church, what dwells in our hearts.

But the Glory Be says, this is so much more awesome than you can imagine.  Just as that Jesus who comes to save you is not less than the Father, but shares in the very gloriousness of the Father – so too the Spirit he gives us.  This is not just the Spirit of “inspired” ideas, or speaking in tongues, or whatever other humanized ideas we might have about the Holy Spirit.  No, he is far more than that: the Holy Spirit is God – or, to make it more vivid, the Holy Spirit shares in the Glory of God, brings all the majesty and splendor of God himself into our souls.

The rest of the prayer, “as it was in the beginning,” only says, this isn’t a passing thing, not a “kind of” thing – the saving glory given to us is the eternal glory of God, the always-and-forever glory of the Father, shared equally and always by the redeeming Son and the Holy Spirit who is given to us.


That is the stunning, overwhelming truth of Pentecost.  That is the gift of the Gospel: the Glory which is the Father’s is also Christ the Redeemer’s – and he gives that very glory to us, in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What would it mean for your life – for your prayers and for your works – to believe that the glory of God was being poured into your soul?

The Ascension and the Power of the Spirit

After the hectic end of a hectic school year, I return to this website.

ascensionLast Sunday (or, some places, the Thursday before) we celebrated the feast of the Ascension.  It is in a sense the culmination of the Easter season.  The whole Easter season is the passage from the Resurrection of Christ, the firstfruits, to Pentecost, in which the power of Christ is given to his Church.  This is the whole Christian mystery: the power of Christ is given over to his body, the Church.


The first reading, the beginning of of the Acts of the Apostles, has three key moments.

First, it says, “wait.” “Wait for the promise of the Father . . . in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  The waiting is key, because it manifests that the power is not theirs, but his.  It is not that the Church is automatically holy – our holiness is a gift from Christ.  At that first Pentecost and again and again in our lives, Christ makes us wait, to experience that it is a gift.

Next, it says, “to the ends of the earth.”  “You will receive power . . . and you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.”  Christ, who is the fullness of God, wants to fill the world with his power.  This transition to Pentecost is precisely so that the power of God which was localized in that one man can spread out to the Church throughout the world.  Christ’s body is no longer in just one place, it is everywhere, throughout time – and filled with the same power of his divinity that was present in Christ “under Pontius Pilate.”

And third, it says he “will return” – “in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”  It is another variation on the “waiting.”  We wait for his fullness, wait for his kingdom, wait to see him face to face – but as we wait, his power is at work in us, to build up a worldwide Church that longs for him.


Our Gospel reading in this year of Mark was the end of Mark’s Gospel.  “Go into the whole world,” Jesus tells his disciples, “and proclaim the gospel to every creature.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”

His power in the disciples makes them witnesses: they can speak of him because he lives in them.  And they make his power available to all: “whoever believes.”  Faith is necessary: to know Christ, to know him as Savior.  The power flows only from him.  And yet that power is available to the whole world, “whoever believes” – even “to every creature.”


Mark adds a strange section, one of the strangest in the New Testament: “in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages.  They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.  They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The first thing to know is that the first generations actually did these things.  In Acts 28, for example, “when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand . . . .  he should have swollen, or fallen dead suddenly: but after they looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god” (Acts 28:3, 6).

God manifests his spiritual power in physical ways: shows the resurrection of the soul through the resurrection of the body, the giving of the Spirit through physical flames, the power of his witnesses through miracles of serpents and deadly drinks.  These aren’t the point, and so they don’t always happen, but they do serve to show the reality of his power.

But these things point to our spiritual gifts.  We may not be bitten by physical vipers, but the world attacks us in many ways – and the power of Christ, only the power of Christ, lets us pass through unharmed.  We are given many poisoned cups; the world often tries to kill us; but through the power of Christ, and only through his power, we are saved.  These signs make clear to us that it is not our cleverness – no cleverness can save you from physical poison, and no cleverness can save you from spiritual poison.  But Christ is in us.  That’s the point!


The readings are too rich, and we have not the space to consider the readings (there are a couple options) from Ephesians, Paul’s fabulous letter on the spiritual nature of the Church.  Let us only say: it is the Spirit of Christ who builds the Church.  The Spirit who saves us from poison also builds up the faith, the various ministries which give us hope, and the unity in love which is the Church.  This is no natural body, but the power of Christ at work in us who believe.

How is Christ calling you to “wait” for his power to descend on you?

Fifth Sunday in Easter: Words and Deeds


ACTS 9:26-31; PS 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-321 JN 3:18-24; JN 15:1-8

As we continue through Easter, we move deeper into the risen Christ’s presence in his Church.  This week’s reading have an interesting back-and-forth between words and deeds.

We are moving towards Ordinary Time, toward the time after the Ascension: the life of the Church once Christ has gone to heaven.  How does Christ continue to live in his Church?  We will find, as Easter launches us into Ordinary Time, that Christ dwells in his Church especially through his words.


Our meditation begins with our reading from John’s First Letter.  It begins with an opposition between words and deeds: “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

I think we are sometimes tempted to read the same opposition into Jesus: we care about his deeds, not his words.  (It is surely clear by now that a central theme of this blog is the importance of Jesus’s words – all the words of Scripture – and not just our meditation on pictures.  A word of Scripture is worth a thousand pictures.)

In fact, the reading goes on to emphasize that though we must love more in action than in words, it is his words that cause us to love.  We “do what pleases God,” he says, when “we obey his commandments.”

“And his is God’s commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

Now, I have taught and meditated on First John for years, and honestly, it’s not clear me what he means by Christ’s commandments.  I’m certain he thinks that the “new commandment” (that’s an idea John gives us in his Gospel) never contradicts the “old commandments,” the Ten Commandments.   Jesus’s command to love as he loved includes – among many other things – never breaking the Old Law.  But whether John wants us to think about the Old Law or only about the New, I don’t know.

In any case, we must obey the commandment to “love one another” and we must “believe in the name.”  It is his words, about himself and about our neighbor, that transform our deeds.  We must let his words be active in us.


The reading from Acts is remarkable, for Paul/Saul’s most important deeds are his words.  In the reading, he is still notorious for persecuting the Church: “he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him.”

But Paul proves himself to them by words: Barnabas testifies (by words) that “in Damascus Saul had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.”  Then Paul did the same in Jerusalem: “He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him.”

For us, the point is that he has to prove his sincerity to them.  That requires more than words, it requires deeds.  But Paul’s most powerful deeds are his words: his willingness to speak out, to witness to Christ.  It’s “words not deeds,” in the sense that he doesn’ft just say, “trust me,” he shows them they can trust him.  But he shows them through the boldness with which he speaks of Jesus.

And his words, again, are rooted in the word he has heard: Barnabas “described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him.”


Our Gospel is about the vine and the vinegrower: “He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.  Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”

But how does he prune us?  By his word: “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.”

This is important: the word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.  Consider the commandments: they are important because those words prune our actions, they point out what we don’t see.

This might be what John is talking about in our Epistle: “And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything.”

How do we get past our impressions, our feelings, our fallen, misguided, unjust sense of justice, intemperate sense of temperance, imprudent sense of prudence?  God speaks to us, and his word penetrates our darkness.

His word prunes us, reminds us of the power of what is good, shows us the evil of what is bad.

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you,” he says in our Gospel, “ask for whatever you wish.”  If his words abide in us, they will show us what to wish for, show us the power of prayer.  But we need to cling to those words.  They are powerful, they are the source of good deeds.

Where is Scripture in your daily life?