click here for readings
Imagine the Holy Spirit. It’s hard to do, isn’t it? The Third Person of the Holy Trinity defies our attempts to hold a picture of Him in our minds. With the Father and the Son it is relatively easy. Even though we know that God the Father really isn’t a bearded old man sitting above the clouds, we know what “fatherhood” is. We can relate to that image of God. God the Son became Incarnate and dwelt among us. Images of Jesus abound in our faith He is the perfect Image of God.
But what about the Holy Spirit? How are we to envision Him? As a dove? A breath? Tongues of flame? A mighty wind? Even though they each tell us something true about the Spirit, none of these images seem “personal” to us. It is no wonder so few of us “get” the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, like the wind, the flame, or a bird in flight, is elusive. He cannot be confined by our imaginations. You cannot cage the wind.
Yet the Holy Spirit is not entirely beyond our grasp. The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies eight ways in which we can know the Holy Spirit (CCC 688):
- In Sacred Scriptures.
- In Sacred Tradition.
- In the Magisterium.
- In the liturgy & sacraments.
- In prayer.
- In the charisms and ministries of the Church.
- In apostolic and missionary life.
- In the witness of saints.
All of these ways to know the Spirit are found in the Catholic Church. The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost has traditionally been considered the birthday of the Church. Just as God gave life to Adam by breathing His Spirit into him (Gen 2:7), God gives life to the Church with the breath of His Spirit. The Church is the Body of Christ, and just as our bodies have souls, the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.
Ironically, even though the Holy Spirit is the most enigmatic of the three Persons of the Trinity, He is the one with whom we have the most intimate relationship.
Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as the “Paraclete” or “Advocate.” These words both mean “he who is called to one’s side” (CCC 692). The Holy Spirit stands at our side throughout our lives as Christians, consoling us, sanctifying us, and leading us into the light of truth. This is, not coincidentally, also what the Church is called to do. This is because “the mission of the Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church” (CCC 737).
Perhaps we can say that the Church is the image of the Holy Spirit, just as our bodies are the image of our souls. We cannot separate the work of the Spirit from the work of the Church.
The best place, then, for us to come to know the Spirit of God better is within the Church, by participating fully in the sacramental life she makes available to us. The sacraments, by their very nature, are established by Christ to bring us closer to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The goal of the spiritual life is to grow closer to God. The Holy Spirit is God, as we profess in our creed: He is the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son He is adored and glorified. We can come to God only through the power of the Holy Spirit.
One of the most venerable prayers offered to the Holy Spirit is this: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your love. Let us invite the Holy Spirit anew into our hearts this day. Let us cooperate with His grace, and allow His love to infuse our wills so that we may be drawn by the Spirit into eternal union with the Triune God.