May 20, 2013

The Holy Spirit - The Church's Towering Lighthouse

In the remarkable visions of Saint Hildegard of Bingen ecclesial and sacramental truths are proposed through a vast array of rich images to draw us into new horizons of mystical wisdom.   In her vision of the Sacrament of Confirmation, she describes the Holy Spirit as a kind of brilliant lighthouse towering behind the Church.  This vision does not shy away from the mission of the Redeemer or the Church through which His saving work is extended.  If we will be saved, we must be reborn in Christ Jesus and in this new birth we must live by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit.  Saint Hildegard sees the delicate work of the Motherhood of the Church in this context.

In a dangerous world in which many Christians live languid lives, the Holy Spirit is the strength of the Church.  If there is darkness that constantly threatens the children of God who the Church endeavors to nurture, this darkness is not a defining feature of what the great Saint sees.    Instead, standing firm against irrational darkness, this daughter of Saint Benedict beholds a dazzling white tower decorated with emerald trimmed windows in its cone shaped roof.   Her imagery is symbolic in both color and form: the tower and the light speak to the transforming strength and enlightenment that constantly perfect the Church's maternal efforts while the white and emerald green suggest the purity and hope that only the Holy Spirit can give.

This Doctor of the Church sees the sweet power of the Holy Spirit drawing men and women into a spiritual drama, the battle of all kinds of forces of insane darkness against the glory of God unfolding in the world.  The clear golden splendor of the truth pouring through frames of hope is no static image.  Nor is the immense lighthouse meant to convey a non-personal force.  Instead, the peaceful strength of heaven that the Benedictine Abbess sees towering over Mother Church is a torrent of tenderness from the Trinity.

This flowing presence of God in the world constitutes the basis of Saint Hildegard's appeal that those who are baptized should be confirmed and sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.   The truth and power flaming forth from this Gift are dynamic and warm in their invitation to sanctity, evoking a very individual response from each one who will welcome it.  Here, the Holy Spirit is "a burning and shining serenity, which cannot be nullified, and which enkindles ardent virtue so as to put all darkness to flight."  (Scivias, Book 2, 4th Vision, 2, as translated by Mother Columba Hart and Jane Bishop in Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, Classics of Western Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 1990) 190.)