For a great number of people the date, January 1, 2000, is of immense significance. They conceive of this date as, literally, something that comes along only once every thousand years. Moreover many see this particular transition to a new millennium as more than just an extremely rare calendar event. Sectarian groups of all kinds, Christian fundamentalists and neo-pagans alike, are making special preparations, expecting either the end of the world or some kind of supernatural intervention that will usher in a new age of peace and harmony.
Being one of those persons who does not believe in the magic of numbers, I have no doubt that January 1st, 2000, will dawn and end just like every other day. However, while there is no magic in numbers, there is a symbolism in them and an occasion like this one, the turn of a millennium, just as any important birthday or anniversary, offers an important symbolic opportunity for renewal in commitment, gratitude, and reconciliation. We can ignore the symbolism of this date of course, just as we can ignore a birthday, but then we botch an opportunity for grace.
It is with this in mind, that our present Pope, John Paul II, has asked that, for Christians, the year 2000 be a Jubilee year. In biblical terms, this means it should be a year of sabbath, a year of special reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, and making peace. But none of this will happen without proper preparation. Hence, the pope has asked us to make, in a manner of speaking, a three-year advent leading up to the year 2000, with each of the years dedicated to celebrating one of the persons of the Trinity. Thus, last year, 1997, was designated as the year of Jesus Christ; this year, 1998, is to be the year of the Holy Spirit; and next year, 1999, is intended as the year of God the Father.
So this year, 1998, is to be the year of the Holy Spirit. How might we celebrate that? What might we do to make 1998, for ourselves and the world, a year of the Holy Spirit?
Thomas Aquinas once defined the Holy Spirit as “the love between the Father and the Son.” That definition is valuable, though more theologically than spiritually and pastorally. In terms of appropriating the Holy Spirit more personally, the biblical definition of the Holy Spirit is, I feel, more helpful.
Biblically, the Holy Spirit is more described than defined and there are various ways, all of them rich, in which the Spirit is described in scripture.
For example, St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, tells us that there are two kinds of spirit, the spirit of the sarx (a spirit that opposes God) and the spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. The former is the spirit of envy, anger, gossip, factionalism, idolatry, impurity, self-centredness, and bitterness. This spirit, he tells us in simple language, brings division and unhappiness. Conversely, there is the Holy Spirit, the spirit of charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, fidelity, and chastity. This latter spirit, he assures us, brings unity and happiness into our lives.
Hence, in terms of personal renewal, one of the things we might do to make 1998 more a year of the Holy Spirit is to stop deluding ourselves about what spirit we often live within. If my life habitually contains more envy than admiration, anger than joy, gossip than praise, factionalism than community, impurity than chastity, and impatience than perseverance, then I am not living in the Holy Spirit, irrespective of whatever religious or liturgical activities I am involved in and might feel good about. But that is the Holy Spirit at one level.
John, in his Gospel, describes the Holy Spirit as a paraclete, an advocate … a lawyer for the poor. What an interesting concept! John tells us that the crucifixion of Jesus will set free the paraclete and that it will convict the world of its wrongness in crucifying an innocent person, Jesus. Among other things then, the Holy Spirit in John is the defender of the accused, of the victim, of the scapegoat, of anyone whom society deems expendable for the sake of the culture. To live in the Holy Spirit, therefore, is to be an advocate, a lawyer, for the poor and for those who are being victimized and scapegoated by the culture.
Biblically the Holy Spirit is the person and the principle both of private renewal and of social justice. By living in the Holy Spirit we come to selflessness and joy in our lives and we become, as well, advocates for the poor.
Let us each make 1998 a year of joy and of advocacy.