We are familiar with the story of how God created the first man, Adam. After forming him from clay, he blew into his nostrils the gift of life. This is different from the way God created any of the animals or any of the plants. By giving Adam his very breath, God was sharing his life with him. Breath is life. We are aware that someone is alive if he or she is breathing. To stop breathing—or to be unable to breathe—is to die.
The word “spirit” is closely related to the word for breath. We call breathing “respiration.” To stop breathing or to breathe out is to “expire.” Both of those words are related to the word for “spirit.” In this way we can understand the Holy Spirit to be the breath of God, the life of God. We have that life not only because we have been created by God, but also through the gift of faith. Through baptism and confirmation, in particular, God breathes the Holy Spirit into us. God shares with us his very life.
Paul speaks of this in the second reading. The Spirit who worked so powerfully in the life of Jesus is the same Spirit we have received through faith and baptism. This is the same Spirit who empowered Jesus to speak with authority. This is the same Spirit who empowered Jesus to perform miracles. This is the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. That Spirit is with us here as we gather to worship.
What does this mean for us? If God’s Spirit is the very life of God within us, then the eternal life of heaven is not something we receive after we die. That eternal life of God is already in us. We are already living it. Heaven is already within us and around us. To be sure, it is still in seed form. It hasn’t yet reached its fullness. We are not always aware of it. But it is at work in us just as surely as our breath is filling our lungs with oxygen.
We see that eternal life at work in the words of Martha and Mary. They are distressed at their brother’s death and distressed at Jesus’ apparent neglect of them in their need. Nonetheless, in the midst of their grief, they confess their belief with the words: “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” And Jesus does not let them down. When Jesus says that they will see their brother again, Martha misunderstands and thinks he is talking about the resurrection on the last day. But Jesus has something else in mind. He has in mind the life of the Spirit that is already at work in him and is beginning its work in the world. Jesus’ life was not something that Martha and Mary would experience in some far-off day in the future. They were to experience it that very day with the raising of their brother Lazarus from death. Because they believed, they saw the glory of God.
Jesus came to earth for one reason—to redeem us from our sins and to restore us to life with God. Sin cuts us off from God’s life. Sin strangles God’s breath of life within us. Sin inevitably leads to death. When Jesus weeps in today’s Gospel reading, he is not just mourning for Lazarus. He is not just sympathizing with Martha and Mary. He is weeping for all of humanity that suffers death because of sin. But Jesus will conquer death by himself suffering it and by rising from the dead to give us the hope of everlasting life with him now through faith, and in fullness with him forever in heaven.
All life needs food to sustain it, and the life of God in us is no different. Not only does God provide us with the breath of his Spirit, he also nourishes us with the body and blood of his Son. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will transform simple bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ to give us the power to live as he lived.
Now that we have tasted the life of God—now that we have breathed it into our lungs—why would we ever go back to living just for ourselves? Why would we ever want to let sin cut us off from that life again? No matter what choices we have made in the past—even if it seems that our souls are buried deep in a tomb—God can roll away the stone and breathe new life into us. Today is a new day. If we believe, we can see God’s glory at work in us and at work in our lives. We need only believe to breathe deeply of God’s eternal life, which he offers through the Holy Spirit.
Douglas Sousa, STL
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
—A Prayer of Trust, Thomas Merton