Depiction of the Holy Spirit as a dove, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), in the apse of Saint Peter's Basilica.
Acts 8:4-8, 14-17
Psa 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
1 Pet 3:15-18
How would you answer this question: “Who do you think is the most mysterious and enigmatic person in the Bible”?
There are a lot of great answers. Here is mine: the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit is indeed mysterious, even somewhat nebulous, and I
sometimes wonder if there isn’t a temptation to sometimes think less of
him or less about him than of the Father or the Son. But, of course, the
Holy Spirit is as fully and completely God as the Father and the Son.
He is identified in the New Testament with titles such as Paraclete, the
Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of the Lord, and the Spirit of glory
(see Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 692-3). He is
represented by or associated with many symbols, including water, oil of
anointing, fire, clouds and light, and a dove.
which turn us even more deliberately toward Pentecost, speak of the Holy
Spirit in relation to the sacraments, divine life, and truth.
first glance, the story of Philip is a perplexing one. Philip, one of
the seven men chosen and ordained as a deacon by the apostles (Acts
6:5), was preaching among the Samaritans, to the north of Judea. Having
performed signs, including the exorcism of unclean spirits, he
apparently baptized many of the people who had “accepted the word of
God”. But it wasn’t until Peter and John, who arrived afterward, prayed
over and laid hands upon the converts that they “received the Holy
It’s not that Philip’s work was unworthy or faulty; on
the contrary, his labors had prepared the way for the apostolic blessing
given by Peter and John, who validated and completedby and through the
sanctifying power of the Holy Spiritthe sacramental work already
begun. The Holy Spirit, who is the soul of the Church, unifies and
directs the Apostles, their successors, and the members of the Mystical
Body of Christ (see Catechism, pars. 797-8).
statement about Christ’s death is also difficult and has been the source
of much discussion among theologians and exegetes: “Put to death in the
flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to
preach to the spirits in prison…” (1 Pet 3:18-19). The identity of these
imprisoned spirits is not completely clear; they may have been those
who perished in the Noahic flood or fallen angels whose rebellion
against God was associated in Jewish tradition with that same flood.
Regardless, we see that the Holy Spirit gives life, and this is why
Peter further states, “This prefigured baptism, which saves you now…” (1
The work of the Holy Spirit in the giving of divine
life is fundamental, revealed by Jesus when he told Nicodemus, “Amen,
amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being
born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5). This new birth is entrance into
communion with God, for as the Apostle Paul wrote, “in one Spirit we
were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free
persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13).
in his last great discourse in the Gospel of John, promised his
disciples a gift: another Advocate (or Paraclete), “the Spirit of
truth”. Just as the Father shows his love by sending the Son, so the Son
shows his love by sending the Spirit. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “What
is first given is love; that is the first gift. The Holy Ghost comes
forth as the substance of love, and Gift is his proper name” (Summa Theologica, I, 38, 2). The Byzantine churches have a great hymn that expresses these truths most beautifully:
King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, who are everywhere present and fill
all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and dwell
within us, cleanse us of all stains, and save our souls, O Gracious
(This "Opening the Word" column was originally published in the May 29, 2011, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)