What is the core of new life in The Spirit?
by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa
Excerpted from Life in Christ: A Spiritual Commentary on the Letter to the Romans Published by: Liturgical Press, 1990 (www.lipress.org.)
In the time of Jesus, Pentecost for the Jews was the feast celebrating the giving of the law on Mount Sinai and of the covenant. St. Augustine exclaimed: “Who could fail to be struck by this coincidence and at the same time by this difference? Fifty days pass between the celebration of the Passover and the day on which Moses received the Law written by God’s finger on tables of stone; similarly, fifty days after the death and resurrection of the one who, like a lamb was slaughtered, the finger of God, that is the Holy Spirit, filled the faithful who were gathered together.”
Suddenly the prophecies of the new covenant become clear; “This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them and I will write it upon their hearts” (Jer. 3 1:33). “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ez. 36:26-27).
Pentecost was not just the fulfillment of the prophecies of Joel who spoke of all sorts of charisms: dreams, visions and wonders, but also and above all of the prophecies promising a new heart and a new spirit.
The Holy Spirit has written the new law on our hearts by pouring his love into them: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). The fire of the Spirit was given to us at Baptism. We must remove the ashes suffocating it so that it can once more burst into flame and make us capable of loving.
New life in the Spirit is a life of love
A Christian, St. Peter said, is someone who loves with “all his heart.” But what heart? The new heart! When we love “from the heart,” it is God, present in us with his Spirit, who loves in us; God’s own love passes to others through us.
Christian love can be distinguished from all other types of love by the fact that it is the love of Christ: “It is no longer I that love, but Christ who loves in me!” You and I can be a radiating center of God’s love! Yet there is nothing exalting or intoxicating in this thought. It is the most sobering of thoughts, because “what have you got that wasn’t given to you?” (1 Cor. 4:7). It is also a sobering thought because in order to put the new heart into action, it is necessary to silence the old one: one must die to oneself.
New life in the Spirit is a life of humility
Humility does not principally consist in being little, nor does it consist in feeling little. Humility in itself, in its most perfect state, consists in making oneself little! Perfect humility consists in constantly making oneself small, not for the sake of some personal need or benefit, but for the sake of love, to elevate others. That is what the humility of Jesus was like; he made himself so small as to “annihilate” himself for us.
Jesus said: “Learn from me for I am humble of heart.” This is an invitation to make ourselves small for love, to wash, as he did, our neighbors’ feet. In Jesus we realize the seriousness of this choice. It is not a question of stooping and making himself small every once in a while. Jesus made himself small in the same way that he became flesh, that is, permanently and to the very end. He chose to belong to the category of the small and humble. To be “meek and humble of heart” also means to belong to the humble and poor people of God.
New life in the Spirit is a life of obedience
The true basis of Christian obedience is not an idea of obedience, but an act of obedience. It is based on the fact that “Christ became obedient even unto death” (Phil. 2:8); that Christ “learnt to obey through suffering and having been made perfect he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation” (cf. Heb. 5:8-9).
Christ’s obedience is an interior, absolute submission to God. The greatness of the obedience of Jesus is measured objectively “by what he suffered” and subjectively by the love and freedom with which he obeyed.
In Christian life obedience is something essential; it is the practical and necessary counterpart of accepting the lordship of Christ. There can be no real and effective lordship without man’s obedience. In Baptism we accepted an “obedient” Lord, one who became Lord precisely because of his obedience (cf Phil. 2:8-11). Christian obedience, from this point of view, is not so much submission as likeness. To obey such a Lord is to be like him, because he, too, obeyed.
New life in the Spirit is a life of purity.
The Apostle Paul said it is not lawful to be immoral because we no longer belong to ourselves but to Christ. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ... and that you are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:15,19). The supreme value to be safeguarded is no longer to be masters of ourselves, but to let Jesus be our master. “The body is not meant for immorality but for the Lord!” (1 Cor. 6:13). The ultimate motivation for purity is, therefore, that “Jesus is Lord!”
The Lordship of Jesus
We must now resolve to choose Jesus again as the only Lord of our life. This is what makes baptism effective. We release the sacrament within us because a new strength flows from it and the charisms given to each one of us for the common good can manifest themselves. The simplest way to express this decision is by learning to say: “Jesus is Lord!” with the inner persuasion that made it possible for the Apostle Paul to say: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
To say “Jesus is Lord” in this way and with faith means to mysteriously take part in his death and resurrection. To
say “Jesus is Lord” is not only to affirm something but to make a decision; it means to freely enter into his sphere of power and recognize him as one’s Lord. It’s as if we were saying “Jesus is my Lord, the reason for my existence. I no longer want to live for myself but for him!” What power these simple words contain! Through them the Gospel is at work, which is “God’s power for those who believe.”
Reprinted with permission from PentecostToday. October/November/December 2006 PENTECOST Today Volume 31 Number 4.
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.EM Cap., is the preacher to the papal household, a position he has held since 1980. He is former professor of history of early Christianity, head of the dept. of religious studies at the Catholic University of Milan, member of the International Theological Commission and author of numerous books. He lives in Rome.