THE HOLY SPIRIT: The Baptism Of The Spirit by Raniero Cantalamessa

Meditations on the Veni Creator

The Baptism Of The Spirit by Raniero Cantalamessa

From: Come, Creator Spirit

The first verse of the Veni Creator is given muscles, so to say, by the three verbs positioned strongly at the beginning or at the end of a line: “Come, visit, fill!”  They give the verse a rhythm of tremendous energy, like a musical crescendo.  But these three verbs, if you think carefully about it, also pose a problem for our theology.  How can the church now invite the Holy Spirit to “Come, visit, and fill!”?  Does not the church believe that she has already received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and that we have already received the Holy Spirit in our individual baptism?  What sense can it make to say, “Come, visit, fill!” to someone who is already present?

The problem is there in scripture as well.  On the day of Pentecost all were filled with the Holy Spirit, but just a few days later we find a kind of second Pentecost when all over again “all were filled with the Holy Spirit,” and among them were some of the apostles who had been present at the first Pentecost (see Acts 4:31).  Paul recommends to certain Christians, who at the time were already baptized and active in the community, that they be filled with the Holy Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18), almost as though up to that moment they had not been “filled” in that way.

What appears to be a contradiction is, in fact, a very valuable clue that can lead us to a deeper understanding.  Thomas Aquinas has this theological explanation to offer concerning the new “comings” of the Holy Spirit upon us.  He notes, first of all, that the Holy Spirit “comes” not in the sense of moving from that place to this place, but “because by grace he begins to be, in a new way, in those whom he makes temples of God.”  He writes:

There is an invisible sending of the Spirit every time any progress in virtue or increase in grace takes place when someone enters upon a new activity or into a new state of grace: for example, when a person receives the grace to work miracles, or the gift of prophecy, or when spurred by the fervor of love a person risks martyrdom or gives up possessions or undertakes some difficult or exacting task.

But more important than the explanation he gives of it is the fact itself.  The new Pentecost is actual and it is happening now.  It always was so, but in the last century it has taken on new proportions of a scale never known before.  At the beginning of the twentieth century the Pentecostal phenomenon emerged, and later, began to appear within the traditional churches.  Many seriously believe that this is the greatest spiritual upsurge in all the history of the church: in a mere eighty years, from zero to about four hundred million people.

In this context we need to take note of what is called the baptism of, or in, the Holy Spirit, which is the special grace at the core of all of this vast spiritual revival.  It occurs as a rite of very simple gestures, shared in an attitude of humility and repentance and personal readiness to become little children, “for of such is the kingdom.”  It is a renewal and a reactivation and actualization, not only of baptism, but of all that Christian initiation involves.  Those who want it prepare themselves, not only by confessing and repenting sincerely of their sins, but also by taking part in meetings where they receive teaching and where they come into a living and joyous contact with the great truths and realities of the faith: the love of God, sin, salvation, new life, transformation in Christ, charisms, and the fruits of the Spirit.  And all of this in an atmosphere marked chiefly by a profound sense of belonging and being loved and cared for.

At times, on the other hand, it all happens unexpectedly, without any intention or forethought or planning, and comes as a “surprise” of the Spirit.  One man tells how it happened to him:

I was in an aeroplane, on a journey, and I was reading the last chapter of a book on the Holy Spirit.  Suddenly it was as if the Spirit came out of the page and entered into my body.  Tears began to stream from my eyes.  I began to pray.  I was overcome by a Power much greater than I.

The most common result of this grace is that the Holy Spirit, who before was the more-or-less abstract object of a person’s intellectual assent of faith, becomes a fact or experience, as we have seen that of the Spirit’s very nature the Spirit should always be.  A well-known theologian has written:

We cannot doubt that in this life we can experience grace in such a way that it gives us a sense of freedom and opens up horizons that are entirely new, making a profound impression on us, transforming us and molding in us, even over a long period of time, a more inward Christian attitude.  There is nothing that prevents us calling that kind of experience a baptism of the Spirit.

Through what aptly has come to be called the baptism in the Spirit, we experience the Holy Spirit, the Spirit’s anointing in our prayer, power in our apostolic service, consolation in our trials, light upon the choices we make.  More basic than any manifestation of the Spirit in the charisms, this is the first way we perceive the Holy Spirit, as transforming us from within, giving us a desire to praise God and a taste for praise, leading us to discover a new joy in life, opening our mind to understand the scripture, and above all teaching us to proclaim Jesus our “Lord.”  Or perhaps giving us courage to take on new and difficult tasks in the service of God and neighbor.

This is the description of the effects of the Spirit given by a person who took part in the retreat in 1967 that was the start of the charismatic renewal in the Roman Catholic Church:

Our faith has come alive, our believing has become a kind of knowing.  Suddenly, the world of the supernatural has become more real than the natural.  In brief, Jesus Christ is a real person to us, a real person who is our Lord and who is active in our lives.  We read the New Testament as though it were literally true now, every word, every line.  Prayer and the sacraments have become truly our daily bread instead of practices which we recognize as “good for us.”  A love of scripture, a love of the church I never thought possible, a transformation of our relationships with others, a need and a power of witness beyond all expectation, have all become part of our lives.  The initial experience of the baptism in the Spirit was not at all emotional, but life has become suffused with calm, confidence, joy, and peace.  We sang the Veni Creator Spiritus before each conference and meant it.  We were not disappointed.  We have also been showered with charismata.  This also puts us in an ecumenical atmosphere at its best.

How could we explain the extraordinary efficacy of this simple little gesture in making Pentecost alive and present to us?  One explanation we find in the words of Thomas Aquinas quoted earlier.  In a person’s spiritual life or ministry, every time the person is faced with a new need or a new task that calls for a new level of grace, there is a new sending of the Spirit.  In the normal course of events, this “stepping up the pace” in the life of grace is linked to the reception of the sacraments, but not always, as Thomas Aquinas himself pointed out.

Saint Ambrose, too, speaking in that special style of his that was more poetic than conceptual, expresses the same conviction.  He says that, besides the Eucharist (the cup of salvation) and the scriptures, that is, besides the sacramental signs, there is another way we can become “soberly drunk” on the Holy Spirit: the Pentecostal way, free, unanticipated, not linked to the institutional signs, but arising wholly in God’s sovereign and free initiative:

The kind of inebriation that comes to us from the cup of salvation is a good thing.  But there is another kind of being drunk that comes from drinking long and deep of the scriptures, and yet a third kind that comes upon us when we are soaked in the dew of the Holy Spirit.  It was because of this third kind of being drunk that, according to the Acts of the Apostles, those who heard people speaking in various tongues thought they must be drunk.

Pentecost was the very first baptism of the Spirit.  Telling of the Pentecost to come, Jesus said: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now,” (Acts 1:5).

John the Baptist presented Jesus to the world as “the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit,” (see John 1:33).

Not only through the sacrament of baptism that he instituted, but throughout the whole of his work, Jesus “baptizes in the Holy Spirit.”  His entire messianic mission consists in pouring out the Holy Spirit upon the world.  The baptism in the Holy Spirit, that once again we have started to recognize and discuss in the church, is one of the ways in which the risen Jesus continues his essential work, which is to baptize all of human kind “in the Spirit.”  It has been described as a renewal of the Pentecost event and, as importantly, also of the sacrament of baptism and of Christian initiation in general, even though the two realities coincide and therefore never come about separately or in opposition one to the other.  The most important fruit of the dialogue between the traditional churches and the Pentecostal churches will be achieving this aim: to recognize that Pentecost does not cast sacrament into a lesser role (especially the sacrament of baptism with water), and neither does sacrament cast Pentecost into a lesser position.

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