In a recent talk, National Catholic Reporter publisher Tom Fox contrasted Western Catholic theology with Asian Catholic theology. One of the major differences revolves around how each culture deals with contradictions in its faith.
"In the West," Fox said, "we draw a line between contradictions to keep them apart. In Asia, the line separating the two is regarded as a force pulling the two sides together."
Asian theologians tend to interpret Scripture more according to the mentality of the sacred authors than Western theologians. This is certainly the case when it comes to the Holy Spirit and Sunday's three readings. Each author stresses the contradictions that lie at the heart of the Spirit's presence in the Christian community. But they never just present the contradictions, draw an "uncrossable" line and walk away. Instead of a separating line, each writer inserts the Christian between the Spirit's contradictions. The follower of Jesus becomes the force which pulls both sides together.
In Corinth, Paul faces a situation in which some Christians are trying to divide and isolate the Spirit's contradictory dimensions instead of bring them together in their own ministry (I Cor 12: 3-7, 12-13). On one hand, he reflects on how the Spirit is responsible for the most unique parts of an individual's personality. This divine force gifts each person with talents and abilities which no one else possesses in quite the same combination.
"There are different kinds of spiritual gifts," Paul writes,
"different forms of service,...different workings." On the other hand, after each statement of uniqueness, he reminds his readers, "There is...the same Spirit,... the same Lord,...the same God who produces all of them in everyone."
We in the West are tempted to pick one side and ignore the other: to stress our individuality and reject our sameness, or zero in on our sameness and exclude our individuality.
Fortunately, Paul comes from the East. The force which pulls the unique and the same together is found in his statement: "To each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit." Only when we imitate Jesus' love for others do we see the necessity of integrating both sides into our life at the same time.
Luke follows a similar tack (Acts 2: 1-11). Though the recipients of the Spirit on Pentecost Sunday begin to "speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim," it's only when they use their specific gift to proclaim Jesus to others that their audience can remark, "We hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God."
Their individual talents draw people of different races and cultures into one community -- when they're used for the benefit of that community.
Even John -- whose Spirit arrives on Easter Sunday, not Pentecost Sunday -- tries to bridge the gap between both sides of the Spirit's activity in the Church (Jn 20: 19-23). How unique can someone be who first hears the words, "As the Father has sent me, so I sent you," then feels the warm, secure breath of the Spirit encompassing him or her from head to toe?
Yet that same consoling Spirit forces those gifted individuals to recognize the power they have of including or excluding others from their community. The Spirit drives them to forgive others even when those others have caused division and separation by their sins.
Maybe the reason the Spirit has so little effect in our lives revolves around our knack for separating the contradictory dimensions of the Spirit instead of pulling them together. Of course, our sacred authors remind us that we only pull them together in those instances when we're giving ourselves for others.