When St. Paul was writing to the Corinthians in his second letter, chapter 3, he makes an astounding claim with the words, “the letter brings death but the Spirit gives life.” What is Paul referring to? In a very bold way Paul is telling us that, while the ten commandments received by Moses and inscribed in stone are an important means of leading us to Christ, it is ultimately the Holy Spirit, the heart and soul of the new covenant, who brings us all to the new life that Christ intended through his suffering, death, and resurrection. In these exciting days of the early Church, days filled with a mighty presence of the Holy Spirit, Paul is overwhelmed with the excitement that following Christ can mean for one and all. Remember how Paul was once a servant of the law, the old law and the old covenant? So dedicated to it that he would hunt down all those following the new way of Jesus and put them to death! But now, having himself encountered Christ and experienced an amazing conversion, Paul is filled with the thrill of being a disciple and eager to share this with the community in Corinth. Speaking from personal experience he knew what a difference the new law and the Spirit sent by the risen Lord could make even during the difficult times the Church would be asked to endure.
And Paul’s excitement was not a short lived thing like some conversions. I remember hearing stories about people who “found the Lord”, then slipped into their old ways (maybe with a little good moonshine or something close to it!) and then had to find him all over again! When they were not drinking they knew the Lord. But when the drink – or other vices — got ahold of them, well, somehow they had to be saved all over again! Instead, Paul, whose own identity was transformed by Christ in the Spirit, was a new man forever.
In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus is also having to address the question of the old law and the prophets and its relationship with the new law that his teaching unmistakably proclaimed. Very clearly Jesus reminds his listeners that he is not denying the prophets or the laws of their ancestors; rather, he has come to fulfill it. As one writer puts it: “The great concern in Matthew’s Gospel is to show that the Old Testament, Jesus of Nazareth and the life in the Spirit cannot be separated. The three of them form part of the same and unique project of God and communicate to us the certainty of faith: The God of Abraham and of Sarah is present in the midst of the community by faith in Jesus of Nazareth who sends us his Spirit.” So, the question for you and me today is, Am I alive in the Spirit, eager to live fully the faith that I have been given in Christ? Will the way I live out this gift of faith reveal what a joy it is to follow Christ and live in his Spirit? If we can say yes to this, imagine how contagious we will our faith and discipleship be!
Fr. Pat Brennan, C.P. is the director of Saint Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.