Pentecost and Saint Cyril of Jerusalem on the Holy Spirit

The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.Jesus  (see John 4:14)

Christians celebrate Pentecost this Sunday, the feast commemorating the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the Liturgy of the Hours, there is a lovely meditation on the Spirit by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, a famous teacher in the ancient church.

Like other church leaders of his age, Cyril reads the story of the woman at the well with an eye for symbolic imagery. He views the water that Christ offers the woman as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Cyril writes:

The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is alway the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

This is a lovely way to describe the eternal, unchanging nature of the Spirit while at the same time explaining the dynamic way the Spirit moves and acts in our lives. Like a “personal trainer” or an intimate friend, the Spirit works one-on-one with each person in the way best suited to his or her personality, giftedness, life situation, etc.

Cyril also explains that the Holy Spirit enters the soul like water enters a dry tree. The tree produces fruit because of the action of the water; so too, the human soul “bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit.”

These fruits of the Spirit vary from person to person:

The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.  

St. Cyril’s reflection makes me think of the theological prinicple of “unity in diversity.” It reminds me that my calling maybe different than your calling, my gifts, prayer style or spirituality may be different than yours, but that’s okay. God didn’t create us to be clones of each other.

We are united not through having identical gifts or even precise agreement on every doctrine, but rather, it is the water of the Spirit, the presence of God within and among us,  who unites us with bonds of love. In this life, we will never have perfect agreement among all peoples, but we can be united in the Spirit, the water of eternal life, that nurtures all of us together to grow into the one Mystical Body of Christ.

For me, and I hope for you, that’s good news.

Until next time, Amen!

Notes: Passages quoted from Cyril of Jerusalem are from volume 2 of The Liturgy of Hours (Catholic Book Company), pages 966-967. Photos on this post by Julie McCarty, 2011.

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