“Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to heaven.” – St. Ephrem the Syrian, Doctor of the Church (306-373)
Although the chocolate is long gone and the decorations have been packed away, it may come as a surprise for some to discover that – at least for Catholics – Easter is not over. Eastertide – the 50 days that follow the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord – is a time of waiting and prayer, a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Jesus Himself instituted the liturgical season of Eastertide, saying, “Don’t leave the city of Jerusalem, but wait there for the promise of the Father. This is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:4-5).
Jesus’ disciples were no strangers to the Holy Spirit. After all, if it hadn’t been for the overshadowing of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, Jesus would never have been born. Yet Jesus seemed to be announcing something different: the fulfillment of a new era of Salvation, a new way of God being present to us in our lives that could only come about if Jesus departed. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). Who is this Counselor, this Paraclete (“advocate” or “helper”), and why do we – like the first disciples – eagerly await His coming?
Who is the Holy Spirit?
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.” Nicene Creed (325)
We confess our belief in the Holy Spirit each time we recite the words of the Nicene Creed, but the Holy Spirit is perhaps the least understood Person of the Holy Trinity. We do not always think of the Holy Spirit as God Himself; we sometimes (mistakenly) limit our understanding of the Spirit to that of a ‘force’ or a ‘power’ that emanates from God.
After all, we have seen the effects of the Holy Spirit working in the world and in our lives. It was the Spirit of God that moved over the waters at the time of the Creation (Gen 1:2), and the disciples themselves were transformed from timid followers into bold witnesses of the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we have grown in our faith, we too have experienced the increase in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that is a sign of the Holy Spirit working within us (cf. Gal 5:22-23).
It is (relatively) easy for us to imagine God as Father and Jesus as Son, but it is much more difficult for us to expand our understanding of the Trinity to grasp the essence of God as ‘Spirit’. We might imagine a dove descending on Jesus at the time of His Baptism at the River Jordan, or perhaps we think of the tongues of fire that descended on the disciples on the day of Pentecost. But while these are visible signs of the Presence of the Holy Spirit, “it is difficult for us to attach the meanings of personality or divinity to a dove or a tongue of fire.”1
Despite the limitations of human understanding, Catholic teaching is very clear in proclaiming that the Third Person of the Trinity is not just a force or power. The Holy Spirit is God, the Lord and giver of life. It is the Holy Spirit Himself – God – who comes to us in the Sacrament of Confirmation, and blesses us with the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and the fear of the Lord (cf. Is 11:2-3). It is the Holy Spirit – God – who prays for us “with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). And it is the Holy Spirit – God – who moves within us and transforms us.2 Yet many of us are not sensibly aware that God is working within us – nor do we think of tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit by inviting Him to act more powerfully in our lives.
What is the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
Some Catholics receive the Holy Spirit at the time of their Confirmation and assume that’s the end of the story. This is simply not true. The Holy Spirit – God – is always near to us; He is always waiting and desiring to act within us. St. Maria Faustina was convinced that … “The shortest road [to holiness] is faithfulness to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.”3 When we invite Him into our lives, He fills our hearts with love (cf. Rom 5:5), He reveals the truth (cf. Jn 16:13), and He draws us into closer union with one another (Jn 17:21). He helps us to become holy and prepares us to be witnesses for Christ. Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI writes, “The Holy Spirit gives us joy. And he is joy. Joy is the gift in which all the other gifts are included. It is the expression of happiness, of being in harmony with ourselves, that which can only come from being in harmony with God and with his creation. It belongs to the nature of joy to be radiant; it must communicate itself. The missionary spirit of the Church is none other than the impulse to communicate the joy which has been given.”4
In his encyclical, “On the Holy Spirit” (Divinum Illud Munus), Pope Leo XIII wrote, “We ought to pray to and invoke the Holy Spirit, for each one of us greatly needs His protection and His help. The more a man is deficient in wisdom, weak in strength, borne down with trouble, prone to sin, so ought he the more to fly to Him who is the never-ceasing fount of light, strength, consolation, and holiness. And chiefly that first requisite of man, the forgiveness of sins, must be sought for from Him: “It is the special character of the Holy Ghost that He is the Gift of the Father and the Son. Now the remission of all sins is given by the Holy Ghost as by the Gift of God” (Summ. Th. 3a, 1.iii., a. 8, ad 3m).”5
Apart from God, we can do nothing (Jn 15:5); but with God, all things are possible (Mt 19:26). Are you facing a big decision in your life and feeling uncertain about what to do? Turn to the Holy Spirit to ask for the grace of wisdom and discernment. Are you feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of daily life? Invoke the Holy Spirit. Do you find yourself giving in to temptations again and again? Ask the Holy Spirit for the grace you need to overcome them. There is no problem that is too small, nor any challenge that is too hard for God (cf. Jer 32:27). In our every need, we can invoke His help, praying: “Holy Spirit, my light, my life, my love, my strength, be with me now, and always: in all my doubts, perplexities and trials, come, Holy Spirit; in hours of loneliness, weariness and grief, come, Holy Spirit; in failure and in loss, in disappointment, come, Holy Spirit; when others fail me, when I fail myself, come, Holy Spirit; when I am ill, unable to work, depressed, come, Holy Spirit; now, and forever, and in all things, come, Holy Spirit. Amen.”6
- Sharon van der Sloot
1 “The One and Triune God: Spiration of the Holy Spirit,” International Catholic University; available from https://icucourses.com/pages/025-08-spiration-of-the-holy-spirit; Internet; accessed 24 April 2017.
2 In his treatise On the Holy Trinity, St. Augustine sets out the essential points of our Catholic doctrine:
- The Holy Spirit is a Person – the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.
- The Holy Spirit is God. – “Though really distinct, as a Person, from the Father and the Son, He is consubstantial with Them; being God like Them, He possesses with Them one and the same Divine Essence or Nature.” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07409a.htm
- The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. – “He proceeds, not by way of generation, but by way of spiration, from the Father and the Son together, as from a single principle.” Quotes from Jacques Forget, “Holy Ghost,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, 7 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910); available from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07409a.htm; Internet; accessed 24 April 2017.
The term ‘spiration’ comes from the noun, ‘spirit’, which means ‘breath’. “[It] designates the loving activity between the Father and the Son which results in the term of their love, namely, the Holy Spirit. So they say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son through spiration. This doctrine was taught clearly by the Second Council of Lyons in 1274.” Quoted from “The One and Triune God: Spiration of the Holy Spirit, International Catholic University; available from https://icucourses.com/pages/025-08-spiration-of-the-holy-spirit.
3 St. Maria Faustina. Quoted by Fr. Jacques Philippe, Introduction to In the School of the Holy Spirit (New York, NY: Scepter Press, 2007), 10.
4 Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2008, “The Holy Spirit Gives Us Joy, and He Is Joy.” Available from http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8675; Internet; accessed 24 April 2017.
5 Pope Leo XIII, Divinum Illud Munus (“On the Holy Spirit” – May 9, 1897), #11. Available from http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_09051897_divinum-illud-munus.html; Internet; accessed 24 April 2017.
6 “Prayer to the Holy Spirit in Every Need,” Companions of the Cross; available from http://www.companionscross.org/sites/default/files/priests/Prayers%20to%20the%20Holy%20Spirit.pdf; Internet; accessed 25 April 2017.
*Hardman and Co. (1870s). By Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24579501. The Good Shepherd represents love, an angel holding a scroll of Gloria in excelsis Deo represents joy and Jesus Christ, the image of Job represents longsuffering, Jonathan faith, Ruth gentleness and goodness, Moses meekness, and John the Baptist temperance.
** Andrei Rublev – The Trinity. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54421. For more information on the interpretation of the icon, see the excerpt from monk Gregory Kung’s book, Thoughts on Iconography, available at http://www.holy-transfiguration.org/library_en/lord_trinity_rublev.html.