“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” — these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? — St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 2:9-12
HAVE you had a word lately with the Holy Spirit?
Tomorrow, the Catholic Church and several other Trinitarian faiths celebrate the Descent of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity on the Apostles, depicted in Scripture and religious images as flames on their heads and the ability to speak in different languages. Other representations of the Spirit include the dove, clouds, light and wind.
Being a spirit, in fact, the Holy Ghost isn’t supposed to be visible or tangible. While apparitions of Jesus and Mary abound through the centuries, after Pentecost there have been no physical events believed to manifest the Spirit.
Yet after Christ returned to His Father in heaven, as celebrated last Ascension Sunday, it is the Paraclete Who is the Person of God most present in the world. Yet most of the faithful, including many in the consecrated life and perhaps even saints, probably don’t really sense that presence.
So how can a Being we can’t even imagine — as we can Jesus, Mary, and even God the Father — be present and manifest to us? And how, as this article’s headline proclaims, can the Third Person be our closest friend? Is the Spirit even there?
To resolve those questions, let’s assume No is the answer to all three (as we did in the April 25 article, “What if there were no Resurrection?”). Suppose the Holy Ghost isn’t present, nor our friend, and does not even exist.
So on Pentecost Sunday, what was it that gave the Apostles and other disciples, saddened and subdued after Jesus left the world for heaven, unheard-of confidence and zeal to proclaim the Gospel? How did that transformation of the first Christians, suddenly brimming with unprecedented faith and courage, come about?
Non-believers may dismiss the Pentecost story, the Acts of the Apostles where it appears, and much if not all of the Holy Bible as fiction. Still, the fact remains that a handful of Jews under Roman rule, none of them possessing immense wealth, stature, power, learning and brilliance, started and spread across the vast Roman Empire a new faith after their preacher died, purportedly lived again, but eventually left the scene. What inspired this phenomenon?
Trinitarian Christians believe and preach that God, through the Holy Spirit, not only spurs the faithful to have faith, but also to see and understand His Revelation of Himself and His Truth and Will.
Thus, when the Apostle Peter told Jesus in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” our Lord replied: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” God’s action enabled Peter to recognize Jesus as the Christ.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians quoted above, the Apostle Paul declared God’s Holy Spirit as enabling the faithful to see divine truth. As the man credited with establishing the foundations of Christian theology argued, we human beings cannot on our own see God and comprehend His nature. Only God’s Spirit can show Him to us.
Okay, so not only do we need God to reveal Himself for us to see and understand Him. We need His Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and hearts for us to see and feel what the Lord is imparting to us.
And that’s because Divine Truth isn’t just some ideas expressed in words for the mind to absorb. In fact, God and His Truth and Will ultimately speak to the heart and give direction to the soul.
Like God telling Noah to build the ark before the great flood, or leading Abraham to a new homeland where God will bring forth His Chosen People from his loins. Fast-forward to the New Testament: Jesus calling the Apostles to spread the Gospel, and turning St. Paul from persecuting Christians to proselytizing them.
And the greatest response to God’s call from a purely human being: Mary’s assent to become the Mother of the Son of God, from conception to crucifixion and resurrection.
In sum, the reality of God goes beyond theological concepts and even prayerful devotions, to a fullness of a human being’s lifelong relationship with and response to the Lord’s revelation of Himself to him or her.
Now that demands more than just a bright mind figuring out lines from Scripture. All of a person’s humanity and life, every corner of his existence and consciousness, comes into play in encountering, comprehending, appreciating, and responding to God.
Now we know why we need the Holy Spirit’s help. Only the Creator knows us and our invididual beings and lives in their fullness, even things we ourselves don’t see or don’t want to see. So we need His Spirit for the totality of our being and life to meet God and move forward with Him.
Which brings us back to this article’s headline: Knowing us in full and able to penetrate our inmost being, even parts we can’t see or reach, the Holy Ghost can be our closest friend if we open our entire person, body, soul, heart and mind, to His inspiration, as many troubled men and women have done on the road to liberation.
From the great waywards-turned-saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Ignatius of Loyola, to countless killers, thieves, addicts, drunkards, and other vice-ridden souls rid of their vices, the Spirit has worked His transformative power. We just have to open ourselves to His wind, cloud, fire and flutter.