When we make the sign of the Cross, we pray in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And while sometimes it’s easy to see the Father – He who created all things out of love and who sits on the throne, and we can find a multitude of images of Jesus depicting His birth, death & resurrection, and everything in between… the Holy Spirit seems a little more mysterious. We have a variety of images in scripture such as the dove which descended on Christ at His Baptism or the tongues of fire which inspired the Apostles at Pentecost… but when we speak of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, it just seems a little bit abstract. But the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, whom the Nicene Creed affirms we are to worship and glorify alongside the Father and the Son:
To believe in the Holy Spirit means to worship him as God just like the Father and the Son. It means to believe that the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts so that we as God’s children might know our Father in Heaven. Moved by God’s Spirit, we can change the face of the earth. (YouCat 113)
The Spirit isn’t something Christians made up on their own. Jesus often spoke of the advocate who would come after Him:
On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. (John 7:37-39)
So we’ve got the images of the dove, fire, and rivers of living water to try and understand who the Holy Spirit is. But perhaps the best way to understand who the Holy Spirit is is to understand what it is that He does. St. John Vianney said “When we have the Holy Spirit, the heart expands and bathes itself in divine love,” and YouCat affirms that “The Holy Spirit makes me recepetive to God, He teaches me to pray and helps me to be there for others.” (YouCat 120)
Scripture gives two notable examples of people impacted by the Spirit in this way:
- Mary, after being overshadowed by the Spirit, didn’t just stay home and rest on her laurels, she went out (out of love) to her cousin Elizabeth to help her prepare to have her baby (who happened to be John the Baptist.) When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the child leapt in her womb! This should be the normal image of a Christian: someone who is filled with the Spirit and reaches out to the needs of those around them, so that even a simple greeting has a profound effect on those we meet.
- St. Peter, who, after following Jesus for 3 years and having two very significant comments about Christ “You are the Messiah, the Son of God” and “You alone have the words of everlasting life, to whom else shall we go?” still ran away on Holy Thursday night and denied that he even knew Jesus. Fifty days later, after the experience of Pentecost, he preached a homily that converted 3000 people, and eventually did die for his faith.
This is the kind of transforming effect that the Holy Spirit, the giver of life can have on our lives. We don’t lose ourselves, but instead are able to become who and what God had created us to be in the first place. The gifts of the Spirit (Isaiah 11:2-3) are given to us, to strengthen us and to draw us closer to God; and the action of the Spirit bears fruit in our lives – making us a people who are more loving, joyful, patient, kind, peaceful, faithful people (see Galatians 5:22.)
The Spirit doesn’t only work in the lives of individual Christians… our creed also identifies four other areas in which the Spirit impacts the lives of all Christians:
1. The Church
“The Church (exists) to make the kingdom of God, which has already begun with Jesus, germinate and grow in all nations.” (YouCat 123) In other words, the Church is here to do what Jesus did: to share His Kingdom with the world. When we look back over the history of the Church, we see some glorious chapters and some which are shameful. The fact that the Church remains today, teaching what Jesus taught and standing as a witness to the Gospel for the world is a testament to the work of the Holy Spirit within her: if it wasn’t God’s hand keeping the Church together, it wouldn’t still be here.
2. The Communion of Saints
It’s also important to note that when we speak of the Church, we speak not only of those of us on earth who claim membership in the Church, but also of the communion of saints:
The Church is larger and more alive than we think. Among her members are the living and the deceased (whether they are still undergoing a process of purification or are already in the glory of God), individuals known and unknown, great saints and inconspicuous persons. (YouCat 146)
3. The Forgiveness of Sins
Since the time of Adam and Eve and their first sin, humanity has struggled to look beyond the temptations of this life. In spite of the saving actions of Jesus on the Cross, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us here and now, we still give in to temptations and choose to do what we know is wrong. Gratefully, God extends to us His mercy – offering forgiveness for the sins we’ve committed both before we knew Him as well as those which remain in our hearts after choosing to follow:
Jesus not only forgave sins Himself, He also conferred on the Church the mission and the power to free men from their sins (John 20:23). (YouCat 150)
This should offer each of us hope, that the Spirit can work even through our ugliest moments… as St. Paul says, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more” (Romans 5:20). This isn’t an excuse to go on sinning… but a sign of the way God loves us as we are, but also loves us too much to leave us there.
4. The Resurrection of the Body & Everlasting Life
God created us with a body (flesh) and a soul. At the end of the world he does not drop the ‘flesh’ like an old toy. On the ‘Last Day’ He will remake all creation and raise us up in the flesh -this means that we will be transformed but still experience oursleves in our element. (YouCat 153)
We believe that by the Holy Spirit God will renew the earth, and bring not only our souls into eternal life, but also a final, definitive resurrection of our human bodies as well. How this takes place is a mystery, but we see foreshadowing of this experience in things around us like seeds which go into the earth, die, and then grow into beautiful flowers, trees, or other plants.
It is by the Holy Spirit that we ultimately come what we have been made to be: God’s sons and daughters, and the saints of this millenium. We can be grateful for His ongoing action in our hearts, Church, and the world… and have hope that His choice to remain in our hearts in this way means we are never left alone.
Come, Holy Spirit! Fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in us the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit, and we shall be created, and you will renew the face of the earth. Amen.