Pentecost and the Human Person

In anticipation of the feast of Pentecost, which will soon be upon us, something struck me in my reading that I thought would make for a good reflection. In his book, Christ Our Joy: The Theological Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, Msgr. Joseph Murphy submits a profound understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Catholic faithful and in the mission of the Church; I am inclined to believe he is onto something here:

Rarely as in our time have people become so dramatically aware of how inaccessible others ultimately are and of how difficult it is to give oneself to another or understand the other in an enduring way.

Pentecost, says Ratzinger, is the response to this situation. The Spirit sheds light on the fundamental human question, “How can we reach one another?” More specifically, how is it possible to remain oneself and yet leave the prison of one’s solitude to encounter the other from within? The answer lies neither in a dissolution of self, after the manner of some of the Asiatic religions, nor in simple activism. Furthermore, the “I” and the “you” cannot be reconciled with each other if the “I” is not reconciled with itself.

The Christian answer is to be found in the Trinity, which is the highest unity. In the Trinity, the oppositeness of the “I” and the “you” is not taken away; instead, a mutual compenetration takes place in the Holy Spirit. (Murphy, pp. 153-4)

Really, this claim on the part of the author—and ultimately the Holy Father—is nothing more than a further articulation of the Catholic belief that man was created in the “image and likeness” of God. In other words, we were specifically designed to be Trinitarian in our relationship with others and with God himself. Just as God communicates himself to himself in the relation of divine persons (e.g. the Father to the Son and vice versa) without losing anything of himself in the process, the human person is hard-wired to do the same; that is, to realize the depth of ‘self’ in the auto-communication of that self to another (by acts of love).

This idea stands in stark contrast to modern philosophy’s notion of self-understanding, which consists in either the “dissolution” mentioned by Murphy as evidenced in eastern religions and Nietzschian nihilism, or the “simple activism” of the scientific positivist, who sees God as nothing more than the totality of material reality. Certainly in the history of his theological and philosophical pursuits, Pope Benedict has considered both of these extremes and weighed them in the balance of authentic and discernable truth. In the end, as the terms suggest, both extremes prove too extreme. For one convicted by a faith in God, who is Triune, a new reality emerges: “The relation of each divine person itself becomes the nature of that person.” In simpler terms, the very and complete giving of self, which defines each person of the Holy Trinity, also defines the human person who images the Trinity in his or her mode of existing. We are created for no other reason than to give ourselves completely to the other. The title of Msgr. Murphy’s book identifies well the result of such a self-donation: “Christ Our Joy.” In fact, true and lasting joy—as Benedict’s continuing theological work suggests—can only come from a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ, joined to God the Father in the Holy Spirit.