You may remember that in Sunday’s second reading on February 19th, St. Paul made reference to the Spirit being given to us as the first installment. In fact, he said, “But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.” (II Corinthians 1:21-22) It is a safe bet that the meaning of the first installment of the Spirit escapes many of us. But St. Paul mentions this installment, promise or pledge of the Spirit several times in the New Testament. As such, it must have some importance. It also begs the question: If there is a first installment, then is there a second installment or others to follow?
Quite often our relationship with Christ is characterized in marital terms (i.e. parable of the wedding banquet etc). But the suggestion throughout the New Testament is that we are only “engaged” to Christ on earth. The wedding day comes when we enter heaven.
Engagements can be dissolved, but marriages can never be. And this is where the “first” installment of the Holy Spirit comes in. It is kind of like an engagement ring. Through baptism and the Sacraments, we are given a pledge or a promise from God that he will always be faithful to us. And if we are faithful in return, a wedding is sure to follow. As St. Paul said in Ephesians, “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God's possession, to the praise of his glory.” (1:13-14)
However, before we had received the promise of the Spirit, we were married to another; that is, to the law of sin and that which it leads to, namely, death. But in order for this “marriage” to be dissolved, Jesus Christ had to give up his body in death. Interestingly enough, St. Paul uses an analogy of divorce and remarriage to drive the point home:
“Are you unaware, brothers (for I am speaking to people who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over one as long as one lives? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her living husband; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law in respect to her husband. Consequently, while her husband is alive she will be called an adulteress if she consorts with another man. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and she is not an adulteress if she consorts with another man. In the same way, my brothers, you also were put to death to the law through the body of Christ, so that you might belong to another, to the one who was raised from the dead in order that we might bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:1-4)
Just as the death of a husband’s body releases his wife to marry another, so too does the bodily death of Christ release us from the law of sin and death. Notice that immediately after giving this illustration, St. Paul continued by using the words, “In the same way…” As if to say, that just as our bodies are the sacramental material or stuff that binds ( or releases) a married couple in their indissoluble union, so too does the body of Christ and our body bind us together as one. But first Christ had to die. That was the first step. Then he gave us his Spirit as if to propose to us. And if we are to accept his proposal, the Holy Spirit is given to us as the first installment, promise or pledge. Again, even after receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit- which initiates our engagement to Christ –we have the freedom to “call off the wedding.” That is, we can always walk away. It isn’t until our bodily death that our engagement with Christ (assuming that we have been a faithful fiancé) transforms into a marriage, never to be undone.
This is where penance, fasting and acts of self-denial take on a new importance. These spiritual exercises are a rehearsal for our wedding day. But they are also a reminder that we are no longer wedded to the flesh, the world and Satan. Indeed, whenever we accept physical suffering from the hand of God or whenever we initiate spiritual sacrifices such as fasting, we call to mind and prepare for that second and final installment of the Spirit when we will enjoy God’s fullness in heaven.