Ampleforth Abbey

14 December 2017

First Reading: The Birth of the Church (Acts 2.1-11)

The ministry of Jesus starts with the coming of the Spirit at his Baptism, and so the ministry of the Church begins with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. There can be no witness to Jesus or to his message, no spreading of the Kingship of God, without the Spirit of Jesus. Another lesson from this parallelism is that the task of the Church and the life of the Church are the same as those of Jesus himself: to bring God’s kingship to its fulfilment by bringing healing, love and joy through the message of the Risen Christ. The rushing wind and the tongues of fire are an allusion to the coming of God’s Spirit in the Old Testament upon Moses and the elders. So the new message is the fulfilment of the Old Testament, breaking out beyond the boarders of Judaism to include all peoples of the world. The union of all these peoples, all understanding one language in their own way, is a deliberate contrast to the scene at the Tower of Babel, when all the peoples of the world were split up by their inability to understand one another’s languages. The list of unpronounceable peoples is itself a witness to the universality of the Church!

Questions: How can the Church claim to be the Spirit at work in the world? Mention three outstanding ways in which the Church shows Christ at work today.

Second Reading: The Works of the Spirit (Galatians 5.16-25)

In writing to the Galatians Paul insists that it is not necessary for Christians to obey the prescriptions of the Jewish Law. To prove this he appeals to the works of the Spirit which they can see among themselves: these must come from Christ, not from the Law. Since Paul adduces them as proof, the works of the Spirit must have been clearly visible. The behaviour of Christians must have been distinctly and noticeably different from that of others. In the modern world does the behaviour of Christians mark them out unmistakeably? Now Paul gives a full list of works of the Spirit and their opposites, the works of the flesh, that is, the works of natural, unreformed and selfish behaviour. Christ has sent his Spirit so that our behaviour may be completely changed, and so that we may live with his life. The works of the flesh are not merely the gross, ‘fleshly’ distortions of greed, avarice and sexual licence, but include also such failings as envy and quarrels. Paul’s list is a useful little check-list to apply to our own way of life. Has the coming of the Spirit made a difference to us? Are we notably more Christ-like than many of the good pagans around us?

Question: What does Paul mean by ‘the flesh’?

Gospel: The Advocate (John 15.26-27; 16.12-15)

In Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples, gathered together at the Last Supper, he gives them four little promises about the Advocate whom he will send, send from the Father. ‘Advocate’ is really a legal term, in both English and the original Greek, and the Spirit will ‘testify’ on behalf of Jesus. The certainty and definitiveness of this terminology is important. In other sayings Jesus promises that the Advocate will lead his disciples into all truth, enabling them to understand what they cannot yet grasp. With these promises, therefore, we are celebrating the continuing presence of the Spirit, leading the Church into all truth, into a continuously fuller and more profound understanding of the mystery of Christ. It is through the Spirit that, under the guidance of the Church, each generation and culture is enabled to assimilate and express – sometimes with a wobble or two - the great truths in its own terms, each generation building on the truths perceived by previous guidance. There must be a constant renewal in our personal understanding, under the guidance and testimony of this Advocate speaking through the Church. The Advocate guides our minds, but above all the mind of the teaching Church.

Question: What aspect of Christian teaching is the Spirit stressing to us in these days?

Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB