The Catholic Thing
Third Person Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Sunday, 02 August 2009

When I was as a Protestant kid, mention of the Holy Ghost unnerved me; made we want to shriek and look behind me for the spectral form coming to . . . well, I didn’t know what it might be up to. My people believed in the Trinity, but you never heard much in church about the Third Person. And I confess that Roman Catholic emphasis on the Holy Spirit (a term that doesn’t spook me) was not among the reasons why I “poped.”

After my conversion, I spent time among some Charismatic Catholics, who in the course of a meeting one night in a church basement in Columbus, Ohio, exploded into what they swore was genuine glossolalia, the Spirit manifest in their yammering, but which none could actually understand. There were flushed faces and tears and elevated pulse rates and not a few angry looks at me, because I bore an expression of bemused skepticism.

And I suppose it didn’t help that every artistic depiction of the godhead in churches and galleries I saw throughout the world depicted the familiar human forms for the Father and the Son but for the Spirit tongues of fire or more likely a dove but never with eyes you might gaze into and always, it seemed, in a supporting role. All in all, I had a rocky start when it comes to understanding and loving the Holy Spirit.

And how fascinating that, although the Spirit has spoken through the prophets and is that power of God who makes us Christians, he does not speak for himself. As the Catechism puts it: “[W]e do not hear the Spirit himself.” We speak daily of the Father in prayer, and we celebrate the Son in our holiest of days, Christmas and Easter, but Pentecost, when we celebrate God’s full and final revelation of himself and the real beginning of our Church, isn’t even a Holy Day of Obligation.

And it seems as though this has always been so. Until that moment fifty days after the Resurrection, the followers of Jesus of Nazareth had heard their rabbi speak of the Spirit, but they surely did not know the Spirit. At the last Passover Seder they shared on the night before he died, Christ had told them: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate.” The “Spirit of truth,” he called it, and he promised it would always be with them. What comfort! And yet he also told them the world cannot accept the Spirit, “because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.” We know it, they must have thought. He has told us so.

Wait. What do we know again?

Peter, John (whose Gospel relates the story), and all the others could not have known that their Lord was speaking to them of the Trinity. They did not know it until they were together that day seven weeks later and a whirlwind swept among them, like the pillar of fire in Genesis, splitting into fingers and singeing their souls, sending them tumbling onto the streets of Jerusalem speaking whatever tongues the astonished people they met spoke themselves – languages, in other words, that people actually understood, not the gibberish I heard in that church basement in Columbus.

Thirty-five years ago – before I’d returned home to Ohio and was still living in California – I’d been reading about Catholicism and visiting churches, and one morning in bed I prayed to God for guidance. I said the prayer to the Father that Jesus taught. And I lay there – more than half asleep, it must be said – and suddenly felt the sensation of a silent explosion, of something entering almost violently from outside inside, like a vacuum filled, and then, yes, felt-heard a fluttering of wings. Terrified, I tried to wake up and did and then wept with joy, because . . . I believed.

I got up, threw water on my face, got into my car and drove to the nearest Catholic church, walked up to the rectory door and rang the bell. An Irish priest stood there with his spectacles in one hand and a book under his arm.


“I want to be Catholic,” I said, and he stood to one side and let me come in.

I would never have done it had the Spirit not given me the knowledge of things not seen. At some point, you can read and read, and listen and listen, and visit and admire the literature, liturgy, music, art, and even the singular odors of a Catholic church, but, if you’re a pared-down Protestant, the distance between where you are and where exotic Rome is remains a chasm too wide and deep to cross alone. It’s the Spirit who gives you faith in these things – who steels your soul for a journey you never imagined taking, not in your wildest dreams. “Because,” as the poet/priest Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “the Holy Ghost over the bent/ World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

Brad Miner, a former literary editor of National Review, is senior editor of The Catholic Thing. He is the author of
The Compleat Gentleman.


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Comments (9)Add Comment
I was just thinking
written by Willie, August 03, 2009
I have wondered why the Hebrew word for God in the first line of Genesis is plural. Was the wind in the Garden of Eden the Holy Spirit? What was this Spirit that Elijah and Elisha were refering to? Is this the same Spirit present at the baptism of Jesus? Realizing that the revelation of the Holy Spirit had to wait for the Logos, was there possibly a hint in the Old Testament? Was this Wind in the Garden witness to man's evil and the promise of the Saviour? Just some Monday morning thoughts!
A Fellow Poper
written by Jeff Hendrix, August 03, 2009
As a fellow convert, my experience resonates, Mr. Miner. I rec'd the Sacrament of Confirmation 9 years ago and have been a Catholic school teacher ever since.

Cancer has been a foe for 2 years, but even so, the Holy Spirit has brought great grace to me thru' the experience (a small miracle: the publication of A Little Guide for Your Last Days, Bridegroom Press). Cheers/blessings
written by Pio, August 03, 2009
I just finished a biography of Blessed John XXIII. If one questions the presence of the Holy Spirit in the institutional structures of the Roman Catholic Church, then read about this pope's faithfulness and his decision to convene an ecumenical council of the Church.(BTW - Mr. Miner - Pentecost is always a Holy Day of Obligation because it always falls on a Sunday.)
my own Pentecost
written by debby, August 03, 2009
SO delightful how God draws&woos us each as His own, so singularly, like lovers looking into each other's eyes...yet your story is familiar as well. i was "sneaked" into a Catholic Charismatic prayer group as a falling-fast-away Baptist & saw & heard very scary things. BUT! the H.S. WAS there & over time not only "baptized me" but directly led me to Rome. He spoke this to my heart/soul: "I want you to become part of the Mother Church." Truly a foreign tounge "to a dyed in the wool Anti-Catholic!
Lee Gilbert
written by Lee Gilbert, August 03, 2009
"Make love your aim, but earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God, for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, he who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues...etc. I Cor 14:1-5 In short, you err.
A Small Error
written by Claire, August 03, 2009
Brad, I love your essay (and the many others you've written here), but I feel compelled to point out a factual error:

Saying that Pentecost is not a Holy Day of Obligation is like saying Easter is not a Holy Day of Obligation. Neither is explicitly on the List, but that's because both always fall on Sunday (remember that every Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation).

That doesn't lessen the truth in your essay; it just means that one paragraph needs to be tweaked.
Holy Day of Obligation
written by Brad Miner, August 03, 2009
To Pio and Claire, I say Thanks. That there are holes in my education, there can be no doubt. (But once published, such an error must stand.)
I opened the door
written by Becky Bianco, August 04, 2009
During an especially rough patch in a now almost 29 yr marriage, grace was offered to me when my husband asked me to attend church with him. The Holy Spirit allowed me to see the black nothingness that would be mine unless I answered the knock. I opened the door. The Light prevails.
written by Fr Thomas Kocik, August 04, 2009
As at least one Church Father said, "To know the Father one must know the Son, and to know the Son one must have the Holy Spirit." And this is the thrust of the Sacred Liturgy: to the Father, through the Son, with and in the Holy Spirit.

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