The Holy Spirit

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Long before the Holy Spirit became an article of the Creed, he was a living reality in the experience of the early Church. The Acts of the Apostles could well be titled, 'The Acts of the Holy Spirit', since on every page the Spirit's presence is felt, more real and more active than the men and women whose names are recorded there. He is spoken of as a presence both beloved and sure: the Spirit inspires boldness in the apostles (Acts 8:29-39); he gives strength to the martyrs (7:55); he brings Peter, a Jew, to the household of Cornelius, a Gentile (10:19f); he chooses those who are to be sent on mission (13:2); he is the joy and assurance of those who are persecuted (13:50ff); he presides over the decisions made in the new-born Church (15:28); he guides the apostles' travels (16:6f); he especially directs Paul's missionary life (20:22-24); etc.

Over the last twenty centuries too, the Holy Spirit has influenced the great decisions that have determined the course of the Church's mission. This was especially true of the II Vatican Council held 40 years ago. Therefore, Pope John Paul II asked the whole Church to have a clearer understanding of the person of the Holy Spirit; a "renewed appreciation of the presence and activity of the Spirit" in the whole world and especially in the Body of Christ; and a more vivid devotion to the Holy Spirit in our personal lives.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, and his wish is to glorify both of them; he never calls attention to himself. In John's Gospel, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are clearly referred to as persons, each of them distinct from one another. Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit, using several times the personal pronoun "he"; and at the same time, throughout the farewell discourse, he reveals the bonds which unite the Father, the Son, and the Spirit to one another: "The Spirit of truth …proceeds from the Father" (Jn.15:26), the Father "gives" the Holy Spirit (14:16); the Father "sends" the Spirit in the name of the Son (14:26), and the Spirit "bears witness" to the Son (15:26). The Son asks the Father to send the Spirit-Counsellor (14:16), but likewise affirms and promises, "If I go, I will send him to you" (16:7).

God's self-gift to us

The Holy Spirit can be called, "God's Self-Gift" to us. Pope John Paul II taught that from the day of Pentecost onwards begins "the new salvific self-giving of God, in the Holy Spirit …The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father, as the words of the farewell discourse in the Upper Room witness. At the same time he is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, as the Apostles and particularly Paul of Tarsus will testify …In this way there is definitively brought about the new beginning of the self-communication of the Triune God, in the Holy Spirit, through the work of Jesus Christ" (DeV, 11,14).

God's first "self-giving" is when the Father creates each human person "in his own image and likeness." God's second "self-giving" is in sending Jesus into our world to become fully a part of humanity and its Savior. And from Pentecost until the end of time, the third "self-giving" of God is when the Holy Spirit fills our hearts and lives, to renew the face of the Church and of the earth!

The Holy Spirit, therefore, can be pictured in our minds as God delighting in us and rushing to clasp us all in an embrace of love! All the symbols (below) of the Holy Spirit, and terms like "the outpouring" of the Spirit, confirm this mental picture of movement, of God moving towards us in love and power to stay with us and to bless us: to sanctify, and heal, and purify, and strengthen, and comfort…

The Proper Name of the Holy Spirit

"Holy Spirit" is the proper name of the One whom we adore and glorify with the Father and the Son. The Church has received this name from the Lord Jesus and she professes it in the baptism of her new children (Mt.28:19). The term "Spirit" translates the Hebrew word ruah, which means, in its primary sense, breath, air, wind. Jesus uses the sensory image of the wind to suggest to Nicodemus the transcendent newness of the divine Spirit (Jn.3:5f). On the other hand, "spirit" and "holy" are divine attributes common to the three divine persons; by joining the two terms, Scripture designates the inexpressible person of the Holy Spirit.

Titles of the Holy Spirit

Jesus calls him "Paraclete" (Jn.14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7), a Greek word which means, "He who stands at one's side," Counsellor, Advocate, Encourager. Jesus also calls him "the Spirit of truth" (Jn.16:13). St. Paul calls the Holy Spirit "the Spirit of sonship/adoption" (Rom.8:15), "the Spirit of Christ" (Rom.8:9), "the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Co.3:17), or "the Spirit of God" (Rom.8:14). St. Peter refers to him as "the Spirit of glory" (1 Pt.4:14).

Symbols of the Holy Spirit

The Spirit is personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified as its source (Jn.19:34), as promised earlier by Jesus when he proclaimed, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water'. Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive" (Jn.7:37-39). St. Paul too teaches that we are "made to drink of one Spirit" (1Co.12:13). Hence, the symbolism of flowing water signifies the Holy Spirit's action in the sacrament of Baptism.

While water signifies birth and the fruitfulness of life given in the Holy Spirit, fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit's actions. Jesus said of the Spirit, "I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled!" (Lk.12:49). So too, in the form of "tongues as of fire" the Holy Spirit rested on the disciples and filled them with himself at Pentecost (Acts 2:3). St. Paul continues to use this symbolism when he writes, "Do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thes.5:19).

Anointing with oil:
Jesus is the Christ (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew) which means "the one anointed" by God's Spirit (see Lk.4:18; Acts 10:38; etc.), hence the symbolism of anointing with oil signifies the Holy Spirit. Anointing is the sacramental sign of Confirmation or "chrismation", corroborated for example, by 1Jn.2: "You have been anointed by the Holy One" (v.20), and "the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true" (v.27).

It is by "the finger of God" that Jesus casts out demons (Lk.11:20). God's law was written on tablets of stone by "the finger of God" (Ex.31:18), and the "letter from Christ" is written "with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Co.3:3).

Christian art traditionally uses a dove to suggest the Spirit, since the Gospels record that when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, "the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him" (Mt.3:16).

All these symbols represent the action of the Spirit and should not be mistaken for the Person of the Holy Spirit (for instance, the dove is a symbol, and not a photo, of the Spirit). They signify movement, dynamism, divine energy, and tell us that the Holy Spirit is God-in-action, achieving our sanctification and bringing us new life.

Worship of the Holy Spirit

As we profess in the Nicene Creed, each Person of the Blessed Trinity individually, and all Three together are worthy of praise, worship and glory. They are equal in holiness, and majesty, and power, yet the Father takes precedence over the Son and the Spirit, he is the first among equals. Without loss of majesty and power, the Son and the Spirit obey the Father's will and do everything for the glory of the Father - such is the profound mystery of the Holy Trinity. In practice, to worship the Spirit means to be docile and open to his action, yielding to his promptings with love, as the Virgin Mary and the Saints did. It also means that we will express our love for him in prayer, by singing his praises and inviting him into our lives.

The Sin against the Holy Spirit

"Whoever says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Mt.12:31f). Why is this speaking against or "blasphemy against" the Holy Spirit (Lk.12:10) unforgivable? Pope John Paul II explains: "If Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven either in this life or in the next, it is because this 'non-forgiveness' is linked, as to its cause, to 'non-repentance', in other words to the radical refusal to be converted. …This 'blasphemy' does not consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the Cross" (DeV, 46). Thus blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the sin committed by the person who claims to have a 'right' to persist in evil - in whatever sin - and who thus rejects Redemption. This is a state of spiritual ruin, because sinning against the Holy Spirit does not allow one to open oneself to the Divine Source of purification and forgiveness of sins. St.Paul exhorts all, "Do not quench the Spirit"; "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit" (1 Thes.5:19; Eph.4:30).

Joint Mission of Jesus and the Holy Spirit

The Spirit of his Son, whom the Father has sent into our hearts, is truly God (1 Co.2:11). He is inseparable from the Father and the Son. But when the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath. Hence, their's is a joint mission, in which the Son and the Spirit are distinct but inseparable. It is Christ who is seen, "the visible image of the invisible God" (Col.1:15), but it is the Spirit who reveals him (1Cor.12:3b). Whenever God sends his Son, he always sends his Spirit: their mission is conjoined and inseparable. God's Spirit prepares for the time of the Messiah: neither Word nor Spirit are fully revealed but both are already promised. Therefore, when the Church reads the Old Testament, she searches there for what the Spirit, "who spoke through the prophets", wants to tell us about Christ (see 2 Co.3:14; Jn.5:39, 46).

Main Objective of the Spirit's coming

"For God has called us for holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you" (1 Thes.4:7-8). The very name, Holy Spirit, indicates that he is the Spirit of holiness, who makes holy all those who are open to his sanctifying action. The Holy Spirit works among all God's children, among the disciples of Jesus in a special way (through the sacraments, the word of God, and Christian fellowship), but also among others who sincerely seek God: "the Spirit blows where it wills" (Jn.3:8). In order to glorify Jesus, God's Spirit makes every effort to influence all human beings to receive the gift of eternal life: "Walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Gal.5:17; see also 5:22).

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