The story is told of Napoleon Bonaparte boasting to a Vatican cardinal that he would destroy the Church. The cardinal insouciantly replied to the perplexed emperor, "Good luck, Your Majesty. We, priests have been attempting to do just that for centuries."
In effect, the bishop was doffing his scarlet biretta in salute to the Holy Spirit. That Spirit dwells comfortably and sometimes, I suspect, very uncomfortably within the Church. Try what anyone might; the Church will not go away precisely because the Third Person of the Holy Trinity is on the job around the clock. Napoleon thought the prelate was pulling his imperial leg. He took on the Church. He was rudely dethroned. The Church survived. The former emperor wound up beating off mosquitoes as a full-time occupation on the damp island of Saint Helena somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
Without the Holy Spirit, the Church would be, at best, a third rate operation or, perhaps better, a non-operation. But with the Spirit, the Church is today able to survive its many difficulties.
With the Holy Spirit the Church survived the centuries of persecution, the attempts of Napoleon and French Revolution, the efforts of the Mexican and Spain’s revolutions, the communistic domination in Russia and East European countries. With the Holy Spirit at work the church survived the diabolic attempts during the Second World War, and is still surviving the most atrocious persecutions in Communistic China. The Holy Spirit is at work in the Lord’s Church, but He is also, or at least should be, at work in us.
A brilliant man, a man of education, with Doctorate Degrees and honors from most major universities, took a sabbatical. He decided to devote as much time as it would take, one year, two years or more, and learn all he could about Jesus. He studied ancient Greek and ancient Hebrew and Aramaic so he could read the earliest texts about Jesus. He studied Ignatius, Justin, Augustine, Aquinas, and all the famous theologians of past centuries, always focusing on learning about Jesus. He read the works of modern theologians. He took courses in various foreign languages so he could understand theologians in their original language.
After studying and studying he wrote his own book about Jesus. It was an instant- success, not just in the academic circles, but in every Christian and even non-Christian Church. The man, the esteemed professor, was called upon to give talks about Jesus to all sorts of different groups, from seminarians to atheists. His lectures always ended with a question and answer period. Usually, there was no one in the audience who could ask a question that the brilliant man had not been asked before or for which he did not have an answer at the tip of his tongue.
No one, until an elderly man raised his hand after one lecture. The old man asked: “How is it that someone who has studied as much as you, has learned so little?”
What? What type of an arrogant simpleton would dare question the great scholar, the great professor? After the commotion settled down, the scholar responded, “I am sure that I have much more to learn about Jesus, but why do you feel that I have learned so little?” He had the old man. At least until the man said, “You have Jesus in your head, but you do not have him in your heart.”
Knowledge of Christ comes from the head, but knowing Christ comes from the heart. His Spirit must be within us. We have to give Him permission to work in us, to operate in our hearts. Otherwise we will not know our Lord and Redeemer.
And this is the great gift of Pentecost, the solemnity we celebrate today. The Spirit of the Lord has been given to us so that we don’t just know about the Lord, but that we know the Lord.