The Word Among Us

Easter 2009 Issue

Under Construction

A new book describes the "extreme makeover" that the Holy Spirit wants to do in all of us.

By: Alex C. Jones

Anytime you feel frustrated about your sins and failings, consider the first Christians in Corinth.

From St. Paul’s letters to this fledgling community, we know that serious moral, liturgical, and leadership problems had arisen among them. Pride, envy, and factionalism threatened to tear the group apart.

How did Paul respond to this crisis? By urging the Corinthians to raise their sights. He reminded them that they were called to be holy and that their very bodies were sacred temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:19). He emphasized that everyone who has been baptized is “a new creation”—a sinner who is being glorified and transformed into Christ’s own image through the Spirit’s work (2 Corinthians 5:17; 3:18).

We need these reminders no less than the Corinthians did, for we too are on the “sinner to saint” track. As Kevin Perrotta writes in his new Bible study, this means that God is calling each of us to an “extreme personal makeover.” Moved by the Spirit: God’s Power at Work in His People is an invitation to embrace this radical proposal and to get better acquainted with its “architect and chief contractor,” the Holy Spirit.

God’s Big Plan. The “extreme makeover” has to do with the fact that God wants each of us to take our place in the relationship of total self-giving love in the community of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. And so, he calls us to be saints. This is what the process of being made new, or sharing in Jesus’ glory, is all about. The early church fathers went so far as to call it “deification.”

Yet most Christians today would shrink from being identified with sainthood. We are so conscious of our sinfulness, weakness, and failures. We wonder: How am I being transformed into a saint? When will I reach such a lofty goal? How does the Holy Spirit help me? The process isn’t always obvious. At times, I certainly have questioned St. Paul’s assertion that the Holy Spirit’s transforming work is taking place in me.

Moved by the Spirit sheds light on these issues and offers help for understanding and entering into the life of the Holy Spirit. The introduction lays the groundwork by presenting some foundational theological explanations about the Holy Spirit and the inner life of the Trinity. Crafted for the average reader (no advanced theological degree required), it offers clear answers to key questions like: Who is the Holy Spirit? What is his place in the Trinity? What is his role in our lives? How can we know him and experience his work?

Three of the book’s six lessons are drawn from the Gospel of Luke; they offer vignettes of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth, Simeon, and Jesus. The other three lessons—from the Acts of the Apostles and the Second Letter to the Corinthians—present the Spirit’s activity among some early disciples, as well as St. Paul’s teachings on the Spirit’s action in the life of the believer.

Study and Grow. Each session of Moved by the Spirit includes the Scripture text, a solid and insightful commentary, and pertinent selections from the writings of church fathers and saints—Origen, Maximus of Turin, Frances Cabrini, Francis de Sales, Anthony of Egypt, and Basil the Great. Occasional references to the Byzantine liturgy and to Eastern saints can help broaden our perspective on church teaching and the Holy Spirit.

There are interesting historical items as well. One of these appears in session four, which explores the story of the Ethiopian official converted by Philip (Acts 8:26-40). Many people think this official is the person who established Christianity in Ethiopia. Perrotta sets the record straight: The credit goes to a fourth-century traveler named Frumentius, who brought the gospel there thanks to a providential “accident.”

Like the other “Keys to the Bible” guides, Moved by the Spirit includes features that encourage fruitful delving into both Scripture and personal experience. The probing questions in the “Understand!” sections are designed to help us ponder the passage and detect the Spirit’s work in the lives of the people mentioned there. The “Grow!” questions gently lead us to a deeper understanding of the Spirit’s work in our own lives. “Reflect!” and “Act!” offer helps and suggestions for personal application.

Moved by the Spirit is a fascinating exploration of the work of the Holy Spirit that will leave you both informed and inspired. It will deepen your knowledge of the Spirit and help you to recognize and cooperate with his activity in the ordinary experiences of your daily life.

Every day, “all of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is the “extreme makeover” that God offers us. Let’s not be slow to accept it!

Alex Jones, a former Pentecostal pastor, is a deacon serving the Archdiocese of Detroit. His book, No Price too High (Ignatius Press), tells the story of his spiritual journey into the Catholic Church.