January 13, 2003

A Two-Sided Equation
Where John baptized with plain water, Jesus added the Holy Spirit.
When He was given plain water, He made fine wine.
When He was given five loaves and two fish, He multiplied them.
When He is given bread and wine, he makes his Body and Blood.

Minute Particulae has a particularly bracing post reminding us that things are different with us, post-Pentecost. St. Paul makes this point over and over and the Church teaches it as well - that we are fundamentally different, living in the new Dispensation. Not only that many of the old rules don't apply - meaning some of the rites of the Old Law such as dietary disciplines and circumcision - but that we are given a gift that they did not have. This is easy for the pessimist to forget. Whether we feel it, or see it in history, is quite irrelevant. As MP says, "Our baptism has freed us from such things. Our task as a people of God baptized in the Holy Spirit is radically different from John the Baptist; we are to proclaim the Good News of the Risen Lord as his friends, and as sons and daughters of the Father."

My mother and I once had the discussion abou this - she said the world seems not to have changed, human nature is such as it always is (a different point!) and that the Post-Pentecost world is not much better than pre-Pentecost. I argued contra, and also sent this rather blunt query to EWTN's online guru for more. Here is his passionate reply, which I sent to mom:

Q: Why does the world post-Pentecost look just as bad as the world pre-Pentecost? The Bible said that the Holy Spirit would usher in a new age but it looks much the same.

Answer by Fr. John Echert: Do not Imagine for a moment that the world redeemed by Christ is no better than the world apart from Christ. We have inherited a world in which the Gospel spread rapidly from one end to the other, as is evident from the early writings which comprise the New Testament. In a matter of a couple decades the Good News of Jesus Christ and the knowledge of the one true God began at its center in Jerusalem and had reached the center of the Empire of the time at Rome. What would the world look like without Jesus Christ? Think for a moment the visible indications of the breaking in of God's Kingdom. Jesus cast out demons, restored sight to the blind, gave hearing to the deaf, raised the dead to life. The physical miracle were authentic and signs of a deeper reality: Jesus had power over sin and death. Imagine the difference had Jesus Christ not risen from the dead. You would have no hope for eternal life and would see only darkness in the world. By now the darkness may have overtaken any natural hope for life and destroyed any natural goodness. Given modern methods of warfare, the world might by now have destroyed itself or be barely habitable. Yes, Thomas doubted and Saul persecuted the Church. But they were won over by the grace of God experienced in a visible manifestation of the Risen Christ. For the rest of us, we depend upon faith and the witness of those who personally experienced the Lord in the Gospel period and the Apostolic Church.

What a blessing for us, undeserved by accepted in faith. Finally, let me give you an example of a difference between pre-Pentecost and post-Pentecost times: 14:66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the maids of the high priest came; 14:67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him, and said, "You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus." 14:68 But he denied it, saying, "I neither know nor understand what you mean." And he went out into the gateway. 14:69 And the maid saw him, and began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them." 14:70 But again he denied it. And after a little while again the bystanders said to Peter, "Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean." 14:71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know this man of whom you speak." 14:72 And immediately the cock crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept. 5:26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. 5:27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 5:28 saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." 5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. 5:30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 5:31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 5:32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him." Believe me, you cannot imagine the darkness and hopelessness that would by now envelope the world, had not the Son of God taken upon Himself our humanity and redeemed us from sin and death. Yes, human freedom remains and so does sin, since each person has the ability to choose sin. But grace has made an incredible difference; a grace which does not compel but works to wear down our resistance and find a place in our hearts and minds.

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