The Spirit's Anointing

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Concelebrating at the Chrism Mass of the Pope one Holy Thursday, I was struck by the translation of Luke 4:18 in one of the readings: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has CONSECRATED me to bring Good News to the poor'. The use of this word helps us to understand in a better way that the gifting of the Holy Spirit is of great consequence for our lives, implying that we have made a fundamental option (or choice) about following in the footsteps of Jesus! To be 'consecrated' for something by the Lord means to be given some special responsibility and power, an account of which will be demanded of us at life's end!

In the Old Testament, 'anointings' were mostly rites of 'consecration'. Certain objects for worship were consecrated by means of an anointing-- in particular the altar, which acquired by this fact 'an eminent sanctity' (Ex 29:36; Lv 8:10f). Next, the royal anointing held a unique place among the rites of consecration. Through this anointing, the king became sharer in the Spirit of God, as can be seen in the instance of David. The anointing qualified the king for his function, and manifested exteriorly that he had been elected by God to be his servant. Finally, the priests were also anointed.

The prophets, however, were not anointed with oil; their anointing was metaphorical. Elijah received the order to anoint Elisha, however he did nothing but throw his cloak around him and communicate to him his Spirit (1Kings 19:19; 2Kings 2:9-15). And it was to explain such a prophetic mission that Isaiah wrote: 'The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me, for He has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor' (61:1).

In the case of Jesus at the river Jordan, of the disciples at Pentecost, as well as at the outpourings of the Spirit in the New Testament, the receiving of a prophetic mission involved no anointing with oil, but with the Spirit. Such anointings nevertheless qualified and empowered the recipients in real and effective ways to announce the Good News to the poor, and also to pay the price for doing so.

The mission received at the outset of Jesus' public life was still only a mission of preaching, it was that of the servant-prophet; but it had to be completed on Calvary (cf 1 John 5:6) with the final self-sacrifice of the suffering servant. The early Christians who shared in the mission of Jesus likewise had to suffer, and it was their anointing by the Spirit that enabled them to do so courageously and lovingly.

As Christians we also receive an anointing (1 John 2:20-27), where there is question, not of a sacramental rite (Baptism or Confirmation) but of a participation in the prophetic anointing of Jesus, a Spiritual anointing through faith. In other words, our anointing by the Spirit is our own 'consecration' for a prophetic mission of preaching and suffering like Jesus, in favor of the world's poor. None of us may dare sing lightly, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me', for in singing of our Spirit-anointing or 'consecration', we are renewing our consent to be set apart and made holy, to be dedicated and qualified for a sacred role as God's chosen instruments to the poor and as witnesses of a new civilization!

The early Christians understood this, and in cases where they did not, as with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) or some Corinthians (1Cor. 11:26-33), there were sad consequences. Such unworthy disciples became guilty, in practice, of 'desecration'. What the Spirit had anointed and consecrated, the spirit of this world had corrupted and desecrated. What had been qualified for society's revolution of love (by the baptism of the Spirit, a 'baptism of love') had got lured back to the kingdom of the Enemy of love.

In our case too, our consecration by the Spirit for a prophetic mission to the poor can have got 'choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life' (Luke 8:14). Hence we can find ourselves unfruitful, and our prophetic character desecrated. We then need to pray for a new outpouring of the Spirit, a re-consecration, a rekindling of the gift we received when hands were laid upon us, so that it is more clearly seen that "the love of Christ controls us... He died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him, who for their sakes died and was raised... If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation!" (2Cor. 5:14-17).

Pray for Compassion

We also need to pray insistently for the gift of compassion. This is a very special gift of the Spirit, since it is kindness, goodness, gentleness, mercy and love, all in one! Compassion is the tireless ability to identify spontaneously with those in need, to know in one's heart a solidarity with all who are suffering or underprivileged. God desires that this be a characteristic of his children!

Are our hearts filled with true compassion, or only with sweet feelings for the Lord? "This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for our brothers and sisters" (1Jn.3:16).

Earlier, I referred to the tremendous importance of Christian involvement in the context of the final judgement; but of course, that should not determine our inner motivation! It is not the fear of eternal condemnation but compassion that must move us to take real initiatives for the kingdom. Compassion alone can effectively bring us a daily willingness to forgive those who have hurt us, and the dynamism to go out daily in service to the poor and the needy. Our sharing in God's own compassion for his people must cause us to be industrious, for God's glory! (See below, 'St Frances of Rome').

Becoming a person of 'compassionate initiatives' does not happen automatically. Gifts like tongue, prophecy or healing are easily received. They are like gifts wrapped in colorful paper, hanging on the Christmas-tree. One wakes up in the morning, goes to the decorated tree and just takes ones gift. The charismatic gifts too are gratuitous gifts; the spirit gives them to us freely.

But it is different with the apples on (natural) trees and with the corn in the fields. These also are gifts of God, yet one doesn't just 'find' them on trees or fields, one has to work for them and to cultivate them. So too in our lives, there will be gifts which we can freely receive and their will be fruits which we must work at and cultivate intelligently, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Compassion, and a new mind-set, are such fruits. They are not charismatic or Christmas-tree gifts which one just discovers some day within oneself; they are fruits of the Spirit which all must work for, search for, pray for insistently.

Let us, then, both individually and collectively search for and grasp every opportunity to express our solidarity with the world's needy, to share with them our money, food and clothing in a 'renewed' way, and in fact set the pace for the rest of mankind by our totally new Christian lifestyle, making St Paul's plea for 'equality' among Christians a reality. The Charismatic Renewal has been significantly described as 'a chance for the Church and the world.' We must be its responsible stewards, concerned to develop its full potential. Led by the Spirit, we must make great, even heroic efforts to ensure a mature and complete understanding of God's Word, and to be 'doers of the Word,' even when it is particularly hard.

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