Giving Us Living Water
Pentecost Sunday | Fr Richard Conrad explains the images associated with the Holy Spirit to show that he is vital to our Christian life.
In the Gospel reading for today’s Vigil, John tells us what Jesus said the autumn before his Passion:
“Let him drink, the one who believes into me;
“As Scripture says, ‘Out of his womb shall flow rivers of living water’.”
Jesus was referring to the Rock that was struck in the desert, to the Temple from which Ezekiel saw life-giving water flow, and to Zechariah’s vision in which the Beloved Son was pierced so that a cleansing fountain might be opened. John then explains that “Living Water” refers to the Spirit, who is “on the scene” only because Jesus was glorified, that is, raised up on the Cross.
Jesus had already likened the Holy Spirit to living water, an intimate and “tactful” image: water enters living things to refresh and enliven. Speaking about the Holy Spirit to those preparing for Baptism, Cyril of Jerusalem pointed out that rain “fits itself” to the various natures that receive it, to make them flourish. Likewise the one Spirit gently enhances the people who receive him, that they may flourish through virtues and gifts appropriate to their needs and vocations. St Paul says the same: the one Spirit beautifies Christ’s Body with a variety of gifts.
Jesus also spoke of the Spirit as “the wind that blows where it will”. The wind is the air that keeps us alive all the time; we only notice it when, occasionally, it gives us a push.
When we are confirmed, the Spirit who anointed Jesus overflows to us – but the Chrism with which we are anointed is not distinctly visible, and instead makes our foreheads radiant and fragrant.
At the Last Supper, Jesus spoke of the Spirit as the Paraclete, the Friend to stand by us. Not the kind of friend we look at, but the kind we look with. He opens our eyes to see, and our hearts to hear, in love, the Father’s one and only Word, Jesus Christ, and so to say, “Jesus is LORD!” The Spirit also opens our eyes to share his creative vision for others – and for ourselves.
Jesus also called the Spirit “the Spirit of Truth”. The Biblical word that means “truth” also means “loyalty”, and being loyal is an act of love (think of the words of the old Marriage rite: “I plight unto thee my troth”). The Spiritus is the Impulse of Divine Love flowing eternally from the Father and the Son, from the Father through the Son. St Thomas Aquinas says that in that Love the Father and the Son eternally love us.
So of course the Spirit is “on the scene” because Jesus was raised up on the Cross. Jesus’ Sacrifice is the New Covenant, the ultimate pledge of God’s loyalty, and hence the perfect “channel” for God’s Personal Love to flow into the world from the Father through the Incarnate Son. Recounting Jesus’ Death, John says “he bowed his head and paredoken to Pneuma – handed over the Spirit.” He insists he saw Blood and Water flow. In Biblical imagery, blood means life. John saw the Living Water given.
In Jesus’ Sacrifice, the Father and the Son express the love between them: in love, Jesus gives himself into his Father’s hands; in love, the Father receives the Sacrifice. In the same Act they powerfully enact their love and loyalty towards us, and the Personal Love who flows eternally from the Father and the Son flows into the world, to make people into God’s friends, creating a loyalty towards the Father whose Personal Word we receive in love.
The Risen Jesus keeps on imparting the Gift his Sacrifice won. On Easter Sunday he breathed the Spirit on his disciples. Ascended to the Father’s right he poured out the Spirit publicly at Pentecost. In Confirmation and Ordination, indeed in all the Sacraments, Jesus continues to say, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit.”
In the Holy Eucharist, the Risen Jesus again stands among us to breathe on us the Fruit of his Sacrifice: we who are nourished by his Body and Blood are filled with his Holy Spirit. Pentecost is renewed. With the Spirit as Friend we can go forth to be Christ’s Body in the world, sharing Christ’s mission as ministers of the Father’s gentle – and sometimes challenging – love and loyalty.
Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a window in St Dominic’s church in San Francisco.