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?

Pentecost: The Soul of the Church


ACTS 2:1-11; PS 104: 1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 COR 12:3b-7, 12-13; JN 20:19-23

What exactly happened at Pentecost? As we have said, this is in some sense the most important moment of all for the Church, because the Holy Spirit is Christ giving his own life to his Church.

In fact, notice that John in his Gospel shifts the emphasis of Pentecost back to Jesus. Our reading for this Sunday begins, “On the evening of that first day of the week.” John is talking about Easter Sunday. “Jesus came and stood in their midst . . . . He showed them his hands and his side. . . . He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

Although Luke tells us of the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, John always wants to emphasize: the Spirit is given by Jesus. It comes forth from his wounded side. Indeed, in John’s account of the Crucifixion, the last moment, after Jesus says, “It is finished,” “he handed over the Spirit” (John 19:30). There are different ways to translate this, but John emphasizes that the Spirit issues forth precisely from the crucified and risen Christ. Thus he makes much, too, of the blood and water that pour forth from the pierced one’s side.

The Holy Spirit is the giving of the heart of Christ. This is what it’s all about. Pentecost is why Jesus matters to us.


But what exactly happens at Pentecost? Maybe we can see it better if we push off against two opposite misunderstandings. One view overstates the importance of Pentecost: as if the Holy Spirit was not in the world before that day.

To the contrary, already in Genesis 1:2, “the Spirit of God moved upon the waters.” Sunday’s Psalm, from centuries before Christ, says, “when you send forth your Spirit, they are created.” Our translation says, “If you take away their breath, they perish” – but the Hebrew doesn’t say “their” and the word for “breath” is “Spirit.” It makes more sense to translate it, “You hide your face and they are troubled; you take away the Spirit and they perish.” The Spirit has always sustained them.

He has spoken through the prophets! Without the Spirit the whole Bible falls apart.

And Jesus says, long before Pentecost, “no one can come to me unless the Father draws him” (John 6:44). Every motion toward Christ, long before the Church is born on Pentecost, is already a work of the Holy Spirit.


Another view underestimates the importance of Pentecost, as if all that the Holy Spirit gives is the “charismatic gifts”: the ability to speak in tongues, etc. The charismatic gifts can be for some people a way of discovering the reality of the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is vastly more important than the charismatic gifts – as Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 12-14, where we find our second reading.

Indeed, though the love hymn of 1 Corinthians 13 is well known, what is too often missed is its introduction. Paul is talking about the various gifts of the Spirit, and he says, “Desire earnestly the greater gifts. And I will show you a yet more excellent way.” The love that is patient and kind is the greatest gift of the Spirit, worth vastly more than speaking in tongues.


What then happens at Pentecost? Our readings show that what happens is that the Spirit, who has always been present, now draws together the Church, the great communion of love.

In our reading from Acts, “there appeared to them tongues as of fire . . . . And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” And “the devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem” (already a sign of the nations gathered together – and already a work of the Spirit) said in amazement, “we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.”

Here the simple manifestation of the Spirit is to overcome the division of Babel, to draw the nations together into one. At Pentecost the Spirit, always at work in the world, is given precisely to draw them together into the Church.


In our reading from First Corinthians 12, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. . . . All the parts of the body, though many, are one body.” The Spirit draws the Church together into one, the soul of the body of Christ.

And in John, Jesus twice says, when giving the Spirit, “Peace be with you.” The Spirit creates peace. And “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them”: he brings reconciliation, and he does it through the ministry of the Church.

Pentecost is the birth of the Church: the Spirit binding them all together as one.

Do we appreciate the miracle of communion in the Church? Do we pray for it?

Readings on Pentecost

pentecost-2The great feast of Pentecost comes this Sunday. In a sense, there is no more important feast for the Church, for this is when we celebrate what Christ means for us, where the Gospel penetrates our hearts and the life of the Church. Tomorrow, then, we will consider the readings for Sunday. But today we take an additional day to meditate on Pentecost.

The Lectionary gives us a nice opportunity to do this, because the Church has chosen many options from Scripture that can be read on Saturday, the Vigil of Pentecost. Let us briefly review them.


The Gospel reading for the Vigil is short and simple. Jesus says, “Let everyone who thirsts come to me and drink. As Scripture says: Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me.” “He said this,” John tells us, “in reference to the Spirit.”

The great question Pentecost poses is, what are these rivers of living water? What do we drink from the heart of Jesus? What happens within us when we believe in him?


The first two Old Testament options answer this question with a vivid contrast, between the tower of Babel and Mount Sinai.

The tower of Babel has clear ties to Pentecost. When the Spirit comes at Pentecost, as our reading for Sunday will say, the people from many nations – the reading from Acts lists many nations – proclaim “we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” Whereas at Babel, they were “all speaking the same language” until “the LORD confused the speech of all the world.” The “tongues” of Pentecost undo the punishment of Babel. Where Babel was the beginning of division, Pentecost is the beginning of the nations coming together in the one Church.

But why did God confuse their speech? Why did he create division in the first place? We can answer in part by considering literary genres. In Genesis and Exodus, everything that happens, good or bad, comes from the hand of God – even if there are created causes. These books are less concerned to defend God from doing evil than to see how everything is in his hands. We can relax a little, then, about God himself actively mixing up the languages.

But the deeper problem is simply that the Babylonians live only for themselves. “Let us build ourselves a city,” they say. God fears that they will do “whatever they presume to do.” A world without God, built only by their own power, and according to their own whims.


Contrast this with Mount Sinai. The mountain and the tower are themselves parallels: but one is from the power of man, the other, vastly greater, is from the power of God. Exodus underlines this with “peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast.” In short, God is awesome, vastly more powerful than man.

God says, “you have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians, and how I bore you up on eagle wings.” Egypt, like Babel, does everything itself. But the power of God is infinitely greater than Egypt’s, and can rescue his people from Egypt’s tyranny. Pentecost reminds us of precisely this: we are not left as orphans!

“Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God . . . at the foot of the mountain.” Here is a people that does not worship itself, but worships God. God calls them to “hearken to my voice and keep my covenant,” to acknowledge him as God. And he will acknowledge them: “you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people.” Babel is turned in on itself; Israel turns upward to God. And God loves them.

Thus the means are different (the strength of man vs. the strength of God) and so too are the ends (our own whim vs. relationship with God). This is what the Holy Spirit leads us to, what he enables.


The other readings repeat the same themes. Ezekiel asks, “can these bones come to life?” – “these bones are the whole house of Israel.” “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.” But “from the four winds come, O Spirit, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.” The Spirit is the giver of life, beyond all human hope.

In Joel, he gives the gift of prophecy, of spiritual knowledge. In the reading from Romans he teaches us how to pray.

This is the Gospel: that from the heart of Jesus flow forth rivers of life-giving water, bringing us beyond hope, back to a loving relationship with our Creator.

Is our perspective too earthly? Do we believe in the Holy Spirit?