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How the Christian life is enlivened by the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of life”

In the coming of the Spirit and in His on-going advents in the Church’s life, most especially through the Sacred Liturgy, the Kingdom becomes a present even if incomplete reality.

Editor’s note: The following homily preached by the Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., on 14 May 14, 2018 (during the novena to the Holy Spirit) at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan.

As we proceed through our novena to the Holy Spirit, let us spend some “quality time” considering the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity – His Person and His mission in the Church and in the world.

It is often alleged that Western Christianity has a very poorly developed pneumatology or theology of the Holy Spirit. The fact that the current Catechism of the Catholic Church deals with the Spirit in thirteen short pages could be brought forth as evidence to substantiate that charge, however, that would be but a most superficial reading of the work. In point of fact, the Holy Spirit is not relegated to a brief tract presented in isolation but is present on nearly every page of the Catechism. The special focus of this section, however, is an attempt to understand what it means “to believe in the Holy Spirit. . ., consubstantial with the Father and the Son, with Whom He is ‘worshiped and glorified'” [685]. We are reminded that it is especially in these “last days,” that is, in the time between the Incarnation and the Lord’s Second Coming, that the Spirit is “revealed and given, recognized and accepted as a Person” [686].

But where does this happen? Preeminently in the Church, which “is the place of our recognition of the Holy Spirit,” and in a multiplicity of ways: in the Scriptures, the Tradition, the Magisterium; in the Sacred Liturgy and prayer; “in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up; in the signs of apostolic and missionary life; in the witness of the saints where He manifests His holiness and continues the work of salvation” [688]. It is no accident, then, that the article of the Creed concerned with the Church follows immediately the one on the Holy Spirit (which will be the focus of our reflection tomorrow).

Moving on to a consideration of the inner life of the Holy Spirit within the Blessed Trinity, the Catechism recalls that the Three Persons “are distinct but inseparable” [689]. His proper name is “Holy Spirit,” given to Him by Christ Himself and used by the Church in Baptism. It goes on to explain that this title is a rendering of the Hebrew word ‘ruah‘ “which, in its primary sense, signifies breath, air, wind” and which was used by the Lord Himself to teach Nicodemus about the One Who “is personally the Breath of God, the divine Spirit.” Continuing on, we discover that while “Spirit and Holy are some divine attributes common to the three divine Persons,” both Sacred Scripture and theological language apply the two words together in a manner uniquely appropriate to the Holy Spirit [691]. We are then treated to a listing of the various names of the Holy Spirit found in Sacred Scripture: Paraclete, Spirit of truth, Spirit of promise, Spirit of adoption, Spirit of Christ, Spirit of the Lord, Spirit of God, the Spirit of glory.

As rich as the nomenclature is the variety of symbols for the Spirit found in Christian iconography to depict the ways in which the Spirit and His life are manifested in the Church and in the world:

• Water, which “becomes the efficacious sacramental sign of new birth” [694].

• Anointing
, so much so that in the Johannine literature the Spirit and the anointing are synonymous; beyond that, the name of Jesus as “the Christ” means precisely “the Anointed One” [from the Hebrew ‘Messiah’] and, similarly, in the Eastern Churches the rite of Confirmation is called “Chrismation” – all pointing to the direct work of the anointing of the Holy Spirit [695];

• Fire
, which “symbolizes the transforming energy of the actions of the Holy Spirit,” that same fire which Jesus said He had come to cast upon the earth and which came to rest upon the infant Church on Pentecost, the very same fire which Paul urged the Thessalonians not to extinguish – for it is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself [696].

• The cloud and the light, found in the theophanies of the Old Testament and reappearing in the New [697].

• The seal, used in ancient times as the sphragis identifying a soldier as a member of a particular company or battalion, which then came into Christian theology to speak about the “mark” or “indelible character” given one touched by the Spirit of God in the three unrepeatable sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders [698].

• The hand, the imposition of which brought healing and forgiveness in both Covenants, continuing to do so in the Church’s liturgy even today as the Spirit is invoked to perform His work of sanctification in the members of Christ’s Body [699].

• The finger, by which Jesus cast out demons and also the title for the Spirit in the magnificent Veni, Creator as we call upon Him as “digitus dextrae Patris” [the finger of the right hand of God] or the personal dynamism by which God works in the world and in the hearts of men [700].

• The dove, first significant after the Flood as a testimony to the earth’s inhabitability once again; similarly, it becomes prominent after the Baptism of the Lord, resting on Him and dwelling with Him and in all baptized in His Name [701].

The Catechism next reflects on “the Spirit and the Word of God in the time of the promises,” so that both Son and Spirit form part of the preparation of the Chosen People – albeit in veiled signs and symbols, awaiting the full revelation in the Person of the Incarnate Word. Such preparatory events were the many theophanies and the giving of the Law, as well as during the time of the Kingdom and the Exile [705-710]. The period of waiting reaches a high point in the Book of Emmanuel, the prophecies concerning the advent of the Messiah and in the Songs of the Suffering Servant Who, “taking upon Himself our death, . . . is able to communicate to us His own Spirit of life” [713]. For this reason, we are told, did “Christ inaugurate the announcement of the Good News in making His own the passage from Isaiah (Lk 4: 18-19): ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. . .’” [714]. Likewise part of this remote preparation for the coming of the Messiah, the One anointed by God’s Spirit, was the preservation of the anawim, those poor people of God who were content to wait for the Lord’s establishment of justice and right; it would be they through whom the Spirit would work to “prepare for the Lord a people well disposed” [716].

John the Baptist was one of those anawim; the finest example, however, was the Blessed Virgin Mary, in whom is reached the highwater point in God’s proximate preparation for the sending of His divine Son. In theological precision but also in near-poetic fashion, we read:

Mary, the all-holy Mother of God and ever-Virgin is the masterpiece of the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit in the fullness of time. For the first time in the plan of salvation and because His Spirit had prepared her, the Father finds the Dwelling where His Son and His Spirit can dwell among men. [721]

Rightly, then, does the liturgy refer to Mary as the “Seat of Wisdom.” By way of anticipation, the Catechism notes that in Mary “are begun the ‘marvels of God’ which the Spirit will accomplish in Christ and in the Church.”

How did this happen in Mary? She who was “full of grace” was conceived without sin “through pure grace” as the Spirit readied her for her sacred mission. “In Mary, the Holy Spirit realizes the marvelous plan of the Father,” her fruitful virginity being a special sign of the Spirit’s power and of her faith. “In Mary, the Holy Spirit manifests the Son of the Father become the Son of the Virgin.” Finally, by Mary, “the Holy Spirit begins to place in communion with Christ men of good will on whom His favor rests.” And then in her role as the New Eve, she becomes the Mother of what St. Augustine terms “the whole Christ” (that is, His Church), as she sits in prayer in their midst awaiting the Pentecost gift of the Spirit [722-726].

The full revelation of the Person and mission of the Spirit occurs in and through Jesus Christ, but only after His saving death and resurrection; prior to that, hints are given to the multitudes and more open manifestations are made to the inner circle of disciples. At the hour of the Lord’s glorification, He promises the coming of the Spirit of Truth Who “will be with us always. He will live with us; He will teach us all things and will remind us all that Christ told us and will bear witness to Him; He will lead us into all truth and will give glory to Christ. As for the world, He will convict it as regards sin, justice and judgment” [727-729]. After His resurrection, our Blessed Lord communicates the Holy Spirit to His disciples by breathing on them. “From that hour on, the mission of Christ and of the Spirit becomes the mission of the Church: As the Father has sent me, so do I send you” [730]. Once more, we see how the work of Son, Spirit and Church are conjoined and, in fact, are inseparable.

In the coming of the Spirit and in His on-going advents in the Church’s life, most especially through the Sacred Liturgy, the Kingdom becomes a present even if incomplete reality. The Eastern liturgy is thus quoted as demonstrating an awareness of this incipient and real presence of eternity in time:

We have seen the true Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true Faith: We adore the undivided Trinity, for it is the Trinity which has saved us. [732]

“The primary effect” of the communication of the Spirit is “the remission of sins. It is the communion of the Holy Spirit which, in the Church, returns to the baptized the divine resemblance lost through sin” [734]. Worth noting is the citation of 2 Cor 13:13, the greeting at Mass, so evocative as “the communion of the Holy Spirit” – giving to believers a share in the inner life of the Triune God. What, then, does the Holy Spirit do? “He prepares men. . . . He manifests to them the risen Lord. . . . He renders present to them the mystery of Christ, particularly in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile them, to place them in communion with God, so that they might bear abundant fruit” [737]. Very carefully, however, the Catechism instructs us that the Church “does not add” anything to the mission of Christ or of the Holy Spirit; rather, she is “the sign” of that mission: “By her whole being and in all her members, [the Church] is sent to announce and bear witness, to make real and to spread abroad the mystery of the communion of the Holy Trinity” [738].

In summary fashion, we are then shown how the Spirit is related to every other aspect of the Christian mystery. “By means of the sacraments of the Church, Christ communicates to the members of His Body His Holy Spirit and Sanctifier (the object of the second part of the Catechism). These ‘marvels of God,’ offered to believers in the sacraments of the Church, bear their fruit in the new life in Christ, according to the Spirit (the object of the third section of the Catechism). . . . The Holy Spirit, artisan of the works of God, is the Master of prayer (the object of the fourth part of the Catechism).” Neatly tied together, then, we find the entire Christian life enlivened by the Holy Spirit, Whom the Nicene Creed and Pope John Paul II’s encyclical rightly call “the Lord and Giver of life.”

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 68 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

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