It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. It fills life with something impersonal, a numinosum. A man who has never experienced that has missed something important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respect is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world. Only then is life whole.
— C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
To us, though, God has given revelation through the Spirit, for the Spirit explores the depths of everything, even the depths of God. After all, is there anyone who knows the qualities of anyone except his own spirit, within him; and in the same way, nobody knows the qualities of God except the Spirit of God. Now, the Spirit we have received is not the spirit of the world but God’s own Spirit, so that we may understand the lavish gifts God has given us.
– Paul to the Corinthians, 1: 2:10-12
Today’s celebration – Pentecost Sunday – focuses on the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit of God in the Church and in the baptized. But oddly, the Holy Spirit is (in Roman Catholicism, as distinct from the Orthodox Church) largely ignored.
I suspect that is a large part of why many people find Catholicism uninspiring and unattractive.
Until a few decades ago, we lived in a culture that generally supported, if not Catholicism directly, at least what we could call a “spiritual” outlook on life. There was a framework – often largely taken-for-granted, but there if one cared to explore – that linked one’s daily actions to an eternal and cosmic dimension. (We were “created in God’s image,” “destined for eternal life,” “to be judged and eternally rewarded/punished for our actions,” and all the rest.) Now that’s almost completely gone.
The result is, for many of our contemporaries, a life that’s “flat” – one-dimensional, and thus without ultimate meaning. Filling that sort of life with pleasure, or trinkets, or accomplishments, or the like seems to be the only alternative. But it doesn’t work. I suspect that this is, in no small part, at the root of so much addiction and so much violence around us.
The quote from Carl Jung at the top of this column captures Jung’s description of what’s missing in such lives; the passage from Saint Paul points to – not an answer, but a direction to find what’s missing. It is exactly because the human mind cannot capture the Holy Spirit that the Spirit leads us on. As Jesus says to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but no one knows where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [Jn 3:8] The Spirit doesn’t answer questions; the Spirit entices adventurers.
It seems to me we’ve lived in a church too often fixated on answers; and now, we have answers to questions that no one is any longer asking. But we’ve lost the spirit (Spirit?) of adventure into a great mystery, one that is illuminated and guided by the wisdom of the saints but ultimately remains mysterious even in its attractiveness.
If people are again to find the message of Christ attractive, making room for the mysterious Spirit Who has been given to us with all the discomfort that the Spirit’s unpredictability causes will be critical. Discipleship isn’t just about answers. Until next week, peace.