This study of the Gospel is based on the contemplation of the text (2 Cor 3:1-18). This passage of Scripture develops the ministry of the New Covenant, which Paul calls the ministry of the Spirit, in contrast to the ministry of the Old Covenant, that of the Law. Those who have been ordained have received the ministry of the Spirit, and they are bearers of that ministry: a ministry of truth, of freedom, which reflects and makes present the Risen Christ. The Holy Spirit is the one who enables us to exercise and develop this ministry.
The ministry of the Spirit is the ministry of the New Covenant. It takes place in a completely new context. It goes far beyond external mediations: victims, sacrifices, the law. It refocuses everything on the relationship with God. This relationship is made possible by the action of the Spirit sent by the Father to make all things new.
I - The ministry of the Spirit
Light and closeness to the Father
The ministry of the Spirit is the ministry of the New Covenant. Through the Spirit, we have access to God. Through Christ's death and resurrection, he removes the veil that hid God's presence and prevented communication with him: "To this day, when we read the Old Testament, the veil remains. It is not lifted, because it is Christ who removes it. Yes, to this day, when Moses is read, a veil is laid over their hearts". (2 Cor 3:14-15). The resurrection of Jesus Christ lifts the veil that hides the light and reveals God's closeness to us. Through the ministry of the Spirit, we have access to God just like Jesus, who is the revelation and transparency of the Father: "Then Jesus cried out again and gave up the ghost. And the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook. The rocks split. The tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints who had passed away were raised. They came out of the tombs after his resurrection, entered the Holy City and showed themselves to many people". (Mt 27:50-53). This is the dynamism, the newness that embeds the ministry of the Spirit in the life of the Church, in the very exercise of this ministry in which we participate and which has been entrusted to us. The Spirit renews everything. He makes all things new. He is the one we must aim for through all the necessary but relative mediations. It is the Spirit who brings us into relationship, into communication with God in a way that is close and transparent. Fears are dispelled. God becomes close, familiar and lovable.
Reflecting the glory of Christ
Jesus Christ, having lifted, by his death and resurrection, the veil that hid the face and presence of God, we can, in our turn, with unveiled face, reflect the very glory of Christ. This is what the Holy Spirit achieves in us: what we ourselves are called to reflect by becoming part of his ministry: "All of us who, with unveiled face, reflect the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are transformed into that same image, ever more glorious as befits the action of the Lord who is Spirit". (2 Cor 3:18). The Holy Spirit transforms us into the image of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who makes Christ dwell in us, who makes our being similar to Christ's being and refers everything to him: "The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he dwells with you and is in you". (Jn 14:17). Through this breath and this ministry of the Holy Spirit, we know Jesus Christ and we are called to make him known.
Making Jesus Christ known
It is the Spirit who makes Jesus Christ known, who bears witness to him, who is the main witness, whom we must believe: "When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will bear witness to me. And you too will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning". (Jn 15:26-27). He is the very first to reveal to us who Jesus is, the whole truth: "When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will lead you into all truth, for he will not speak for himself, but whatever he hears he will speak and declare to you. He will glorify me, for he will take of my good and share it with you". (Jn 16:13-14). The Holy Spirit is above all the Spirit of truth. He leads us to the truth. We are bearers of a ministry of truth. The truth is Christ, the Son who lives to do the Father's will and who, in him, finds his freedom and his greatness. To follow Christ is to know the truth, to live in the truth as the path that leads man to his full development and fulfils his deepest desires: "If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free". (Jn 8:31-32; 14:6; 18:37-38).
The Holy Spirit is also the one who involves us in his mission to make Jesus Christ known. It's a sublime mission. It is a grace that makes us overflow with gratitude: "Thanks be to God who, in Christ, leads us in his triumph and who, through us, spreads the fragrance of his knowledge everywhere". (2 Cor 2:14). The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the breath, the good odour of life that gives life. This knowledge of Jesus Christ is one of the messianic goods produced by the Spirit of the Lord coming on the trunk of Jesse, on the Messiah: "There shall be no more hurt or destruction in all my holy mountain, for the land is filled with the knowledge of Yahweh as the waters fill the sea". (Is 11:1-9).
The Spirit knows everything, probes everything, penetrates everything to the very depths of God. This is why knowledge of Jesus Christ is so important, because it is the work of the Holy Spirit: "No one knows the secrets of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may know the gifts that God has given us. And we speak them, not in the language of human wisdom, but in the Spirit". (1 Cor 2:10-16).
Father Chevrier received a light that made him discover that the starting point for everything is to know Jesus Christ and to have the Spirit of God: "Knowing Jesus Christ is everything". (VD 113; 103, note 1). "Having the Spirit of God is everything". (VD 511). How do we welcome the Holy Spirit and allow ourselves to be led by him? Are we truly men full of faith and the Holy Spirit, as was required of those chosen to exercise a ministry in the first Christian communities? Do we experience as a struggle the tension between the spirit of the world that insinuates itself into all our lives and the breath and strength of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and who has indeed been given to us with the ministry we have received? For it is the Spirit of truth that truly fulfils our aspirations to become truly free people.
Ministry of Freedom
The ministry of the Spirit is a ministry of freedom. His action is not based on submission to the force of the law, but on love and free giving. The Holy Spirit makes us truly free. This is the great challenge we face in today's world: to bear witness that the Christian faith is a source of joy and freedom. The newness of faith places us in this climate: "In possession of such a hope, we behave with great confidence and not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to prevent the children of Israel from seeing the end of what was temporary". (2 Cor 3:12-13). The law has been a valid teaching tool, but it has obscured access to a full encounter with God in joy and freedom. The Spirit tears away the veil and enables us to experience the freedom of love. For us, conversion is the leap from the Old Testament to the New Testament: "It is when we are converted to the Lord that the veil falls, for the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom". (2 Cor 2:16-17).
How do we live and pass on this experience that the ministry of the Spirit, which has been entrusted to us, makes us truly free and brings about the new creation, the new humanity? We are not talking about a capricious freedom that would regulate our lives according to our own desires and the desires of the old humanity. That would be to fall into slavery, a constant temptation (Gal 3:1-5), even though we have been set free by Christ. "Christ set us free so that we might remain free. So stand firm and do not put yourself under the yoke of slavery". (Gal 5:1). The path to true freedom, which is the path of truth, is not an easy one. It is lined with false prophets, charmers who seduce under the guise of freedom but, in the end, lead to slavery because they deceive and sow snares.
True freedom is inseparable from the truth which is Christ himself, the living word of the Father: "If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (Jn 8:31-32). We are aware that living in the truth and achieving freedom is a contested path, full of difficulties and contradictions. The Spirit of truth is in conflict with the spirit of the world, which is usually seduced by lies.
In the Cross and the contradiction
Those who allow themselves to be led by the Holy Spirit enter into conflict and tension with the world, with what we might call "the flesh" (Gal 5:16-18). Jesus, led by the Spirit, proclaims the Good News in the synagogue of Nazareth. What the Spirit leads him to proclaim triggers a conflict with his compatriots. The newness of the Spirit is opposed to the law and the spirit of the world: "He got up. They pushed him out of the city and led him to a cliff on the hill on which their city was built, and threw him down". (Lk 4:29).
The Spirit scrutinises everything, illuminates everything, down to the most secret and hidden. He reveals hidden intentions. This is why old humanity does not open up easily to the Spirit of truth. On the contrary, it often chases it away and tries to extinguish it in and around itself: "Man, by nature, does not accept what comes from the Spirit of God. It is foolishness to him and he cannot know it, for it is by the Spirit that it is judged". (1 Cor 2:14). But we have been given the gift of seeing things with the mind and eyes of the Spirit, with the mind and mentality of God, which contrasts so much with the spirit of the world: "The spiritual man judges everything and is himself subject to no one's judgement. Who then has known the mind of the Lord to lecture him? And we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:15-16).
Like Jesus, these messengers of Jesus encountered resistance to the action of the Holy Spirit. This is achieved through trial, struggle and confrontation with the spirit of the world, with Satan, as the story of the temptations reminds us. The obedience of faith is essential. Likewise, the Son's fidelity to the Word of the Father, for the Son is possessed by the Holy Spirit who leads him to fulfil the mission with which he has been entrusted (Lk 4:1-13). From the beginning, the mission of Jesus made its way in the midst of confrontation with the world, among those who resist believing in the One whom the Father has sent: "Whoever believes in him is not judged. He who does not believe has already been judged because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. The judgement is this: the light has come into the world and men preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil. (Jn 3:18-19). The Holy Spirit is the one who leads us towards the whole truth, who illuminates all the darkness, who brings everything to light. Resistance arises within us because we do not accept this truth, because we protect ourselves in our own fortress. This is why the ministry of the Spirit, which constitutes the prophet, will come up against tension, the cross, conflict: "When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will confound the world in matters of sin, in matters of justice and in matters of judgement: sin, because they do not believe in me; justice, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no more; judgement, because the prince of this world is condemned". (Jn 16:8-11).
This is the great work of the Holy Spirit. We have also become bearers of his ministry, not by ourselves, of course, not on our own initiative, but by choice and call from God. This ministry is beyond us, and we are not capable of it. It is he who, by his continuous presence and by ordination, enables us to carry out this sublime service.
II - God makes us fit for the ministry of the New Covenant
This ministry of the Spirit is a gift. No one can give it to himself on the basis of his qualities, virtues or merits. It is the Spirit who makes and constitutes us ministers of the New Covenant. It is not, therefore, a function that anyone can carry out on his or her own initiative or decision, or because he or she belongs to a tribe or priestly family: "No, it is God who has qualified us to be ministers of the New Covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3:5-6).
We who have received the ministry of the New Covenant belong to the Spirit of God. He is the source and soul of our ministry. He makes possible a personal and living relationship with the Trinity. He helps us to overcome the tendency to ritualise ministry and religious events, as happened in the Old Testament.
The Spirit qualifies Jesus and the apostles for mission
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit and, in so doing, fulfils the mission entrusted to him by the Father to proclaim and make present his kingdom, which is Good News for everyone, especially the poor.
The beginnings of Jesus' ministry present themselves to us as an outpouring of the Spirit in his person and in his apostolic action. This is clearly shown by the baptism in the Jordan (Lk 3:21-22), the temptations in the desert (Lk 4:1) and the first discourse in the synagogue of Nazareth (Lk 4:14-19). All of Jesus' abundant exorcist ministry, which he then entrusted to the disciples, reflected this reality: Jesus was possessed by the Spirit of God and overcame the spirit of evil, the evil spirits, thus showing that the Reign of God was already at work: "If I cast out demons with the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come for you". (Lk 11:20).
At Pentecost, the apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-13). The apostles entrusted the ministry to those who were chosen, by means of the laying on of hands, through which they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, as happened to Saul : "Then Ananias left, went into the house, laid his hands on Saul and said to him: "Saul, my brother, the one who sent me is the Lord, the Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came. And it is so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit". (Acts 9:17; 6:6; 13:2-3; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6).
Bearers of the ministry of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit we have received enables us to enter into communion with Jesus Christ and with the Father, and to see everything with the eyes and mentality of God. It is the Spirit who truly transforms us into Christ and enables us to make him present in the world today, even though he is not easily received or perceived. "Man does not naturally accept what is of the Spirit of God: it is foolishness for him and he must not know it, for it is by the Spirit that he is judged. The spiritual man, on the other hand, judges everything and is himself subject to no one's judgement. Who then has known the mind of the Lord to teach him a lesson? And we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:14-16).
Possessed by the Holy Spirit, we have the spirit of Christ and are in full communion with him. It is the Spirit who enables us to carry out our ministry. It is the Spirit who also carries out a whole action of recreation and transformation of the heart of man and of the world. This is the great newness of the covenant that God has sealed with humanity in Christ, through the Spirit: "Our letter is you. A letter written in our hearts, known and read by all men. Yes, you are clearly a letter from Christ written by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of flesh, on your hearts". (2 Cor 3:2-3; Jer 31:31-34). How do we welcome and reconvert the Spirit's action in us, in the poor, in the environment and the world in which we live? Do we see ourselves as a work written by the Holy Spirit that reflects his creative action in this world and at this time?
We are ministers of a Word that is not our own. It is the Spirit who has written this Word in people's hearts, not in stone, or even in a book. We are called to read, to learn to read what the Spirit has written in people's hearts. This Word, which the Spirit makes present, is the Word, the risen Jesus Christ. This excellent Word surpasses that of the Old Testament: in fact, it is the Son himself, in other words, all that the Father wished to communicate. In this way, the law is overcome, and we enter into a personal encounter lived out in faith and love. That is the great new thing: "If the ministry of death, engraved in letters on stones, was surrounded by such glory that the children of Israel could not stare into the face of Moses because of the glory, however fleeting, of that face, how could the ministry of the Spirit not know more?" (2 Cor 3:7-9).
The word we proclaim is not based on eloquence, nor on the ability to reflect, nor on the rhetoric of a well-crafted, well-constructed speech, but on the action of the Spirit, on that solid foundation which is God himself, in whom we place our trust and from whom comes the gift of faith: "My word and my message were not the persuasive speeches of wisdom. It was a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that our faith might not rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God. (1 Cor 2:4-15).
But such a sublime mission is truly out of all proportion to our poverty and fragility. We are qualified for ministry. It is the gift of God that renews and transforms us through the dynamism of the Spirit: "Who is up to such a task? We are not like most people who tamper with the Word of God. No, as sincere men, as envoys of God, we speak before God in Christ. (2 Cor 2:16-17). The real actor is the Spirit. We are but servants, collaborators in his creative action.
III - Supporting the action of the Spirit
As for us, we have been entrusted with the ministry of the Spirit. The Lord wanted to continue his work through the action and dwelling of the Holy Spirit in us. For this reason, our ministry carries within it the dynamism of the Spirit and the ability to produce its fruits, well aware as we are that it is not we who produce them but the Spirit of God himself: by raising Jesus from the dead, the Spirit makes all things new: "So we no longer know anyone according to the flesh. Even if we have known Christ, we no longer know him in this way. But if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17; Is 43:18-19).
Through us, and in us, the Spirit continues the ministry begun in Jesus, his anointed, whose irruption into this world establishes the newness of the Reign of God. Impelled by the Spirit with whom he was filled, Jesus continued his ministry in Galilee, announcing the Good News, provoking admiration and also perplexity and hostility before the innovative and disconcerting proposal of his proclamation, which challenged the religiosity of the Law and the Temple, to reveal a God who is present and acts especially in favour of the poor and the excluded (Lk 4:14-30; Jn 3:5-8; Jn 4:21-24).
The new justice system
The Messiah is a man possessed by the Spirit of God. He is the one who restores the new justice, the justice of the Kingdom, the justice that watches over the rights of the poor and the marginalised, the justice that exalts the weak and the defenceless: "The Spirit of Yahweh will rest upon him... he will judge with justice and righteousness the weak and the poor of the earth". (Is 11:2-5; Ps 72:3-4; 12-14). The new justice is above all the defence of the humble, the marginalised and the forgotten, of those who have no opportunities. It is not limited to the parameters of the legal system and the mentality of the day. It opens up to new horizons, those that God himself has imprinted on the human condition, and that is his own image (Mt 25:31-46). The Spirit who dwells within us also urges us to promote this justice and to work to make it effective in human relationships, as Jesus emphasises in the parable of the labourers in the vineyard: "call the workers and give each one his wages, going from the last to the first". (Mt 20:1-16).
The justice of the Kingdom has love as its garment and mercy as its heart. This is how Jesus reacted to the quick judgements of the Jews in certain circles and also to certain personal behaviours. The Pharisees were scandalised to see Jesus welcoming publicans and sinners and eating with them. This was forbidden by the law. The Spirit sees further than the law and reaches into the depths of man to save him: "Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?"... Go and learn what "I want mercy, not sacrifice" means. "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners". (Mt 9:11-13). He reacted in the same way to those who claimed to judge the adulteress. Jesus shows them how blind and unjust their way of exercising justice is, and he proposes a new justice, that of mercy, forgiveness and repentance: "Woman, has no one condemned you? ... I don't condemn you either. Go now. And from now on, don't fish any more". (Jn 8:1-11; Mt 9:13; 12:7). The new justice, inspired by the Spirit, is that of the Beatitudes. It goes beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees: "I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven". (Mt 5:20).
This is the ministry of the Spirit that we have received: it is the ministry that brings about the new justice that must take its place in society through the life and witness of Christian communities: love and defence of the poor and the little ones, mercy: this is the path that the Spirit of God leads us along. This is indeed the ministry we have received, to which we have dedicated our lives in order to work together to bring fraternity and reconciliation to light.
This is another fruit of the Spirit, of the Messianic Kingdom. The Spirit breaks down boundaries. He is capable of creating harmony and reconciliation between those who seem determined to oppose and confront each other. For him, reconciliation is a new creation, one that illuminates the new Adam, the risen Christ, and makes us all sons of God and brothers to one another: "The waiting creation yearns for the revelation of the sons of God... All creation groans in labour to this day. We ourselves, who possess the first fruits of the Spirit, also groan inwardly as we await the redemption of our bodies". (Romans 8:19-23).
The Spirit who animates all creative work illuminates the new humanity by tearing down the wall of separation and bringing together in a single people the diversity and multitude of peoples who understand the language of the Spirit : "For he is our peace, who made the two into one people by breaking down the barriers between them... so that in his person he might create the two into one new man. And by making peace, reconcile both to God in one body... Through him, both have free access to the Father in the same Spirit". (Eph 2:14-18). The Spirit who unites the Father and the Son is the one who makes possible the unity of the human race in its rich diversity. A reflection of this is given to us at Pentecost, where people from all over the world then known heard, each in their own language, the same message of unity (Acts 2:1-13).
The Spirit leads us along paths of reconciliation, forgiveness, harmony and unity between individuals and peoples, overcoming confrontation, hatred, the thirst for power and oppression - in a word, the power of sin, for it is sin that damages and destroys creation. The prophet Isaiah announces and foresees the messianic times in which the Spirit will pacify and reconcile creation: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the camel... the lion shall eat straw like the ox... There shall be no more hurt or destruction in all my holy mountain, for the land shall be filled with the knowledge of Yahweh as the waters fill the sea". (Is 11:1-9).
This is the great mission that God has entrusted to us: to be ministers of reconciliation, to support the Spirit's creative, unifying and reconciling action in this world, because in certain areas this world appears divided, confronted, subjected to the idolatry of power, pleasure and money. The Spirit frees us from this divine "I", to open us up to a relationship with the Father and with our brothers and sisters: "Everything comes from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation, for it was God who, in Christ, reconciled the world to himself, no longer taking into account the faults of men and putting the word of reconciliation on our lips". (2 Cor 5:18-19). The work of reconciliation takes us into the depths of God's love and mercy. Beyond the regime of the law, reconciliation introduces us into the reign of grace, jubilation and total amnesty.
The reign of grace
The Spirit floods us with joy and gladness, cancelling debts and making us forget the offences and sins linked to our fragility, so that we can be truly seduced by the force of love's gratuitousness, its creative dynamism that renews everything. Jesus, filled with the Spirit, proclaims that the mission he undertakes surpasses all calculations and all expectations. The Reign of God is the year of grace, the perpetual jubilee year. This is God's plan for humanity: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the Good News to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour". (Lk 4:18-19).
These words uncover and present a face of God that arouses admiration, surprise and a sense of joy and liberation, but also discomfort and opposition in those who live a ritualistic, formal religiosity, subject to very rigid rules that prevent them from opening up to the newness of the Spirit : "They all bore witness to him and marvelled at the gracious words that came from his mouth". (Lk 4:22).
This ministry of the Spirit that we have received is a ministry of grace, of gratuity. It's about welcoming God's gift so that it can transform us, renew us - in a word, it's about being reborn: "Whoever is not born of water and the Spirit cannot enter the Kingdom of God". (Jn 3:5). To be born is painful, of course, but it is a source of joy and delight" (Jn 16:21-22). That is the great work of the Spirit: he is the source. That's why everything is grace: "From his fullness we have all received grace for grace". (Jn 1:16).
The Christian, and more especially the priest, must be imbued with the Holy Spirit, possessed by him because he has received a spiritual ministry. Father Chevrier discovered and experienced what the Spirit is in the life of the Christian and the priest. "Having the Spirit of God is everything. It's everything for yourself. It's everything for a community. (VD 231). We could add: "That's all for a presbyterate", for a local church. Once again, Father Chevrier reminds us that the Spirit of God is the greatest treasure, the most beautiful gift that God gives us. This presupposes that we have the attitude to receive it and also to ask for it for ourselves and for others: "The Spirit of God? to give him to someone is the greatest treasure God can give him. And God's greatest treasure on earth is to give his Spirit to certain people so that others can see him, consult him, follow him and benefit from him". (VD 229). Once again, we are called to put into practice and bring to life these words of Father Chevrier, so often read and meditated upon, on what we must do to acquire the Spirit of God: "By studying the Holy Gospel and praying a lot". (VD 227).
Xosé Xulio RODRIGUEZ FERNANDEZ