The Holy Spirit

The Feast of Pentecost closes the Lenten and Easter cycle of the liturgical year. The forty days of Lent, the forty days to the Ascension, and the ten days to Pentecost constitute the Church’s yearly renewal of the mysteries of the Passion, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and the Coming of the Holy Spirit.

Christian prayer is distinctive. We pray first and always to the Father, through His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. When we address God in His fullness and properly pronounce His reality, we always find the Three Divine Persons, the one God. We address God in this way not because of some philosophical conclusions, but because we were taught to pray this way by Christ. We find on reflection that these revealed truths about God lead to profound reflections on what is.

In Scripture, we find the Father. What we know of the Father, we know through His Son. “He who sees me has seen the Father.” The Holy Spirit is less clear to us. His personal reality is difficult to imagine. Scripture speaks of “fire” and “wind.”

The Holy Spirit is also referred to as the Comforter, the Advocate. The Holy Spirit is the end or completion of the Godhead, the three persons in one God, fully contained in the divine reality. Nothing else is needed. When asked His name, God said, it is “I Am.” If something else exists, as it obviously does, it does so after the manner of “love” and “gift,” words associated with the Holy Spirit. What exists outside of God is love and gift, not necessity.

Christianity is accused of being too complicated for most folks. This business of three persons, two natures, one God seems in need of simplification. The Jews and the Muslims do not bother with these differences. But we Catholics do “bother” about them, because we must. We are not concocting God after our image or as a product of what we would do if we were God. We have one basic duty.

  The Descent of the Holy Spirit by Anthony van Dyck (c. 1619)

We are to know and keep what is handed down to us from the beginning. God evidently did not say to us: “Look, I am only going to reveal to you what you can easily understand about me.” Rather He said something like: “What I reveal to you in Christ, I want you also to think about. It will make sense and answer many questions that would otherwise remain obscure to you.”

In his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Dominum et vivificantem, John Paul II wrote: “The supreme and most complete revelation of God to humanity is Jesus Christ himself, and the witness of the Spirit inspires, guarantees, and convalidates the faithful transmission of this revelation in the preaching and writing of the Apostles, while the witness of the Apostles ensures its human expression in the Church and in the history of humanity.” (5)

Thus, what Christ essentially taught to the Apostles is what we hold today in the Church. Christ’s sending of the Advocate was the sign of the Father’s abiding concern that the purpose of His creation and redemption of men through Christ be actually present and attained “in the history of humanity.”

We remain free to reject what has been revealed, of course. One thing that God never impinges on in His dealings with us is our freedom even to reject Him. The individual and frequent exercise of this freedom to reject explains, I suspect, the length of time between the Ascension and the end of all things as we know them.

The Holy Spirit is concerned with countering the effects of such free sins. “‘Sin’ means the incredulity that Jesus encountered among ‘his own,’ beginning with the people of his own town, Nazareth. Sin means the rejection of his mission, a rejection that will cause people to condemn him to death.” (D et v, 27).

In his sermon for Pentecost, 2010, Benedict explained that “the Church never remains a prisoner within political, racial, and cultural confines; she cannot be confused with States nor with Federations of States, because her unity is of a different type and aspires to transcend every human frontier.” The unity of the Church is the work of the Holy Spirit who assures us that our ultimate end is not political. It transcends in each of us, no matter what the political regime we live in.

“Jesus always lives his intercessional priesthood,” Benedict explains, “on behalf of the people of God and humanity and so prays for all of us, asking the Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We exist to reach eternal life, again if we choose it. We do so in the context of the actual lives we lead, surrounded, as we are, by those too called to eternal life.

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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