(Readings: Acts 4:32-37 & John 3:7-15)
Nikos Kazantzakis, in his novel based on the life of St Francis, has Francis speak to an Almond Tree, “Almond Tree, Almond Tree, speak to me of God.” And the Almond Tree blossomed! Who has ever seen summer? You know it’s summer because everything is blooming. How do you see God in your life? It will be in your blossoming, when you are changing into the image and likeness of God, when you are a mirror of Christ.
Now this is surely a way of reading the message of Jesus to Nicodemus, the Pharisee who is sounding him out in a very personal encounter. Our Lord tells him that he must be, “born from above” and “born of the Spirit.” He must follow Jesus and embrace a radically new way of life where the Spirit will blow him in new directions, ones he could never imagine.
Here, this Holy Spirit of God is compared to a wind, a wind that will appear again at Pentecost in the room where the disciples are gathered, but can also reveal itself in a breath when Jesus on Easter morn comes into the Upper Room and breathes forgiveness on his fearful friends, then sending them out to spread that peace and reconciliation to a waiting world.
That very same Spirit is the chief actor in the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the early Church. In today’s reading, for example, the Spirit is the source of the heart and soul unity of the group of believers, a unity which is translated into ethical action of sharing goods so that “none of their members was ever in want.”
Of course, this is an idealised picture of the Church, the way the Church ought to be, a caring and sharing community. But soon, in the Acts, we will see members falling far short of the ideal set by Barnabas in today’s text. Some will hold back some of the proceeds of their sale of property and hide their dishonesty. The Apostles will find themselves burdened by the role of distributing alms to needy brethren and pass on the role to deacons so that they can focus more on preaching the good news.
As Jesus says, “The poor you shall always have with you” and the community of believers struggles constantly to alleviate their plight.
But here in this ideal image, we see the Spirit as the person who brings unity by addressing one of the great obstacles in our world, namely inequality! Then and now, the human family is cruelly divided between rich and poor, evident in our own country in the housing crisis, where so many people struggle to find affordable accommodation.
The reference in today’s reading to people selling land and houses has a very contemporary ring to it, reminding us that these issues are not just material and social ones, but literally “Spiritual!” The Spirit of God is fundamentally concerned with overcoming unnecessary inequality blocking the unity God wants for his creation. When you think about it, no society can be united as long as there are gross disparities in wealth and the way in which the resources are shared.
But this mission of the Spirit to unite creation in line with the plan of God is a small thing when seen in the light of the more fundamental expression of unity, seen in the incarnation and the life of the Trinity.
In the account of the Annunciation to Our Lady, she is informed by the angel that her child will be conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Now Jesus Christ is a most unique creation, a perfect unity of two distinct natures, the divine nature of the Second Person of the Trinity and the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth. Only the Spirit of God could bring this about, the Spirit of Unity, of oneness.
But more profound still is the role of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity as the love between Father and Son. If it doesn’t sound too irreverent, the Holy Spirit is the glue holding the Trinity together as three distinct persons united in one Supreme Being.
It will come as no surprise, then, that the unity predicated of the Holy Spirit, should be central to the Prayer of the Church, notably the Eucharist. In the conclusion to the opening prayer (Collect) of each Mass we offer the prayer to the Father: “Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit.”
These words are more or less repeated in the concluding words of each Eucharistic Prayer, “through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.” In the Second Eucharistic Prayer, we pray, “that partaking of the Body and blood of Christ, we may be gathered INTO ONE by the Holy Spirit.”
One could give further quotations, but these are sufficient to show that the Mass is the Sacrament of Unity, par excellence.
If you are looking for a sure sign of the Spirit of God in our world today, you need go no further than your local church when Mass is celebrated. But it doesn’t end there! The Spirit is sending us out to our society to be instruments of unity, to blow away all those obstacles to the expression of our equal dignity as members of God’s family.