David Meconi is a writer and lecturer in interiority and behavior management. He is a widely published author on doctrinal topics in the early Church and is now lecturing globally on issues surrounding nonviolent crisis intervention. He holds degrees from Marquette University, the Pontifical License in Greek and Latin Patrology (Liz. Theol.) from the University of Innsbruck in Austria, and his doctorate in Late Antique Ecclesiastical History from the University of Oxford (D.Phil., Oxon.).
This time of year is extremely special for David Meconi and all Christians. Despite the wonder and beauty of Christmas, the child who appears in the wintry white of December had been already alive and present in the womb of Mary for 9 months before then. It is really the Annunciation (March 25th) and not so much Christmas (December 25th) that changes all of human history (but it’s hard to get most retailers to celebrate the hidden and fragile unborn!). Moreover, as essential as the Cross is on Good Friday, alone that would mean nothing—just one more cruel instance of imperial capital punishment—if it were not for the empty tomb of Easter. Yet even Easter itself is not complete, as Jesus himself teaches on that lovely, freeing morn: “Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (Jn 20:17). “Stop holding on, Mary…” there is still one more person to come, one more divine Comforter whom I am sending! “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). Given this understanding of Pentecost as the pinnacle of the Christian calendar, David Meconi has been invited to provide an overview of what people should know about this great celebration of the Spirit’s descent.
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language (Acts 2:1-6).
David Meconi says Pentecost means 50 days and after 7 weeks of Easter joy, the Christian people celebrate the coming of the Spirit. Christ has now ascended and has unlocked the fullness of heavenly presence for his people. His Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity, descends upon Mary and Apostles and first disciples in order to unite them out of the division of sin and the despair of persecution. Whereas Babel (cf. Genesis 6) was marked by discord and division, the Spirit has come to unite all men and women back into a single family, a harmonious whole where proud competition and The Spirit appears as one as lithe as fire yet as powerful as God. He rests gently only to empower, unites in order to proclaim one faith, one Gospel. This day is the fulfillment of all that had gone before and David Meconi notes that what was hinted at in the Old Testament has now come to perfect fulfillment in the New. That is, we first meet the Spirit as he hovers over the waters at the beginning of creation (cf. Gen 1:3). Whereas the first appearance of the Spirit was to command creation and bring its initial chaos into a fitting order, the consummate appearance of the Spirit was wholly personal. The Spirit is no longer hovering but indwelling in the souls of those humble enough to cry out to him. David Meconi feels this is the difference between being at the sold-out concert of a famous singer versus being invited backstage to have an intimate one-on-one conversation.
He [the Holy Spirit] has ever been the secret Presence of God within the Creation: a source of life amid the chaos, bringing out into form and order what was at first shapeless and void, and the voice of Truth in the hearts of all rational beings, tuning them into harmony with the intimations of God’s Law, which were externally made to them. Hence He is especially called the “life-giving” Spirit; being (as it were) the Soul of universal nature, the Strength of man and beast, the Guide of faith, the Witness against sin, the inward Light of patriarchs and prophets, the Grace abiding in the Christian soul, and the Lord and Ruler of the Church. Therefore let us ever praise the Father Almighty, who is the first Source of all perfection, in and together with His Co-equal Son and Spirit, through whose gracious ministrations we have been given to see “what manner of love” it is wherewith the Father has loved us (St. John Henry Cardinal Newman, Parochial Sermon, no. 19).
The Spirit now takes up a personal and intimate residence in the lives of each of Jesus’ friends. This indwelling is what Pentecost is ultimately about and that is why David Meconi would have us turn to a deeper awareness of who the Spirit is and what he is sent to accomplish. As Cardinal Newman wrote, he is the Giver of true life, Guide, the Witness, the Light, the Grace and the Ruler of all that is longing for truth and goodness in us. He is sent by the Father and the Son in order to consecrate creatures who want to live as saints already. This is the key to understanding the fullness of the Christian Faith: having been made in the image and likeness of a Triune God, no one of us has been created to be content with creation alone. David Meconi says, we are made for heaven, but we can have that reality even now.
That is why Pentecost appears in Scripture as a globally unifying reality, notes David Meconi. Only in the Holy Spirit can the human family come to recognize its organic oneness, men and women and children from anywhere now united in the One from whom all have come, symbolized by the unity of understanding when the Fire first fell: “but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.”
That is why Pentecost next points us to the words of the Messiah as recorded by St. John, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (Jn 14:12-13). In “going to the Father,” the Son can finally send us the fullness of his Spirit and in so doing, we can do “greater” things than Jesus did. Greater than Jesus?
David Meconi says that is his promise, and this is the essence of Christ’s Church. Alone on earth, Jesus could talk to maybe a few 1000 people per day, heal maybe a few people each day, and so on. But in and through his Church, Christ now sends his Spirit to heal countless infirmed and needy people in Christian hospitals and places of healing, in and through his Church, Christ now speaks not just Aramaic and Hebrew but thousands of languages, he now teaches millions in Christian schools, and is certainly alive in every corner of the globe. In his Spirit, Christ has now extended and hence continued his life in every baptized soul alive today. David Meconi feels it is important that the 50 days leading up to Pentecost are when all Christians are to take note of the living power within each of them.
David Meconi on Baptism
But how can any of us match, let alone outdo, the works of Christ? To ask the question that way is of course ridiculous. The question, rather, is: Why does Jesus rely on us to accomplish “even greater things” than when he ministered alone confined in Jerusalem? You see, David Meconi wants us to spend this time between Easter and Pentecost realizing the life that the graces of baptism have brought about in our souls. As Catholics hear at Mass, we have been found worthy to be in God’s Presence and minister to him (2nd Eucharistic Prayer). We have been found worthy because God has infused his own life in us; we can minister to God only by loving our neighbor.
The Christ-life by which everlasting acts of love can be accomplished is infused into otherwise fallen creatures through the Sacrament of Baptism and later strengthened and sealed through the Sacrament of Confirmation, says David Meconi. Traditional Christianity has maintained that all recipients of baptism receive not only the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity but also the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit along with the 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The fruit of Baptism, or baptismal grace, is a rich reality that includes forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins, birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son [or daughter] of the Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. By this very fact the person baptized is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ… The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit (CCC §1279, §1830).
The moral life is technically never “mine” or “yours,” it is Christ’s and in his generosity, he gives us the power to overcome our sinfulness and partake in his endless mercy and charity toward all. In Christ we are no longer natural beings but have been made supernatural lovers, now able to act as children of the Father, empowered to overcome our own sniveling instincts and fearful concerns in order to love unabashedly and no longer based how we might feel at any one given time. In this way we show the world that it is the Spirit in us and not anything we have devised of sustained on our own.
In our next installment, David Meconi will explain the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit which not only complete the theological virtues but are precisely what enable us to be docile to the Spirit’s promptings, and he shall then explain the 12 Fruits as earthly foretastes of the perfect life we shall enjoy in heaven.
David Meconi says, for now, let us spend these weeks before Pentecost as the pinnacle of our Christian calendar pondering how much we have been given, having received the Spirit of the Risen Christ in whom all fear and all stress can finally cease.