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Three Births and the Third Person of the Trinity

On the Readings for Sunday, May 31, 2020, Pentecost Sunday

Detail from "Pentecost" (c.1545) by Titian []

• Acts 2:1-11
• Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
• 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Rom 8:8-17
• Jn 20:19-23 or Jn 14:15-16, 23b-26

He is silent, yet sounds like rushing wind; he is invisible, but appears as tongues of fire; he is constantly working and giving, but is often overlooked and underappreciated.

He is the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of Life, the third Person of the Trinity. He has many names in Scripture, including Advocate, Comforter, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of grace.

In the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the coming of the Holy Spirit is described as “a noise like a strong driving wind” and his presence as “tongues as of fire.” Notice how elusive the language is: the Holy Spirit is not a driving wind, but is like such a wind; he is not a tongue of fire, but appears as one. There is a paradox here, which is so often the case with the Holy Spirit: he is both very elusive and yet constantly active. It’s as though you see something or someone out of the corner of your eye, but no matter how quickly you turn, they are gone.

Isn’t this the sense conveyed by Jesus, who said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8)? The word “born” is deeply significant for there are three very important births, or creations, described in Scripture in which the Holy Spirit moves and acts, giving life.

These three births are closely connected. First, there is the birth of the cosmos and the creation of the world: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2). There it is again: the Spirit was moving. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Dominum et vivificantem (Pentecost, 1986), further notes that the presence of the Spirit in creation not only pertains, of course, to the cosmos, but also to “man, who has been created in the image and likeness of God: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” (par. 12).

The second instance is the conception of the God-man, Jesus Christ. What did the angel say to Mary? “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). Once again, the Holy Spirit is active; he is coming with power. Once again, he is intimately involved in bringing about a man. In the first creation it was Adam; now, the new Adam.

The third birth, or creation, took place at Pentecost, fifty days after the death and resurrection of Christ. “The time of the Church began,” wrote John Paul II, “at the moment when the promises and predictions that so explicitly referred to the Counselor, the Spirit of truth, began to be fulfilled in complete power and clarity upon the Apostles, thus determining the birth of the Church” (DV, 25). At Pentecost, the Church—the family of God and the mystical body of Christ—is birthed by the Holy Spirit. And he is the soul of the Church. “What the soul is to the human body,” wrote St. Augustine, “the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 797).

Emile Mersch, S.J., in The Theology of the Mystical Body (Herder, 1952), wrote: “The Holy Spirit is continually being sent, and Pentecost never comes to an end.” The Acts of the Apostles reveals the Holy Spirit “ceaselessly coming down into the world, no longer under the form of fiery tongues, but through the intermediary of the apostles and their preaching.”

He is still coming, filling, moving, and giving life. Let’s pay attention!

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the May 23, 2010, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1196 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. I like your notion of three births of creation culminating in Pentecost. I tend to be a phi theo stickler. They make sense. We need to be ‘reborn’ thru the Holy Spirit. I was asked a question on another website regarding a critique I made regarding Card Caffara’s recent commentary on the two major assaults against God, abortion and homosexuality. Both target the family. The respondent asks “Father you correctly stated the issues but what do you have to offer for hope, for happiness. Happiness is elusive in thee troubled times. “What will bring us happiness” the Psalmist asks. “Lord let your face shine upon us.” The gift of the Holy Spirit, if we permit him will instill the rationale for happiness. And the means of fulfilling our purpose. To do Our Lord’s will caring out his commandments of charity, and purity of life. Silent prayer, distinguished from quietism which seeks to impossibly extinguish the activity of the intellect is precisely an activity of the intellect that dialogues silently with God. The Holy Spirit is that entre into our lived transforming us, enlivening, giving cause for happiness in emulating Christ’s great love and desire to save souls.

  2. I view Acts, the end of Luke, and John from a mystical point of view. The post-Resurrection period was one of withdrawing sensible consolation. At the empty tomb Mary Magdalene only recognized Christ when He spoke her name. To me the reason why Christ told her not to touch Him was to prepare her for His Ascension. The encounter at Emmaus and the Ascension both involved the withdrawal of sensible consolation, as does the Eucharist. At Emmaus it was only when the disciples recognized Christ that the sensible consolation of His presence was withdrawn. In the contemplative way the withdrawal of sensible consolation by God is done to stimulate a deeper spirituality in the contemplative. In the book of Acts we see the development of an interior spiritual life in the early Church. Pentecost marked the beginning of this interior spiritual life. The life of mystical contemplation is the work of the Holy Spirit, as was Pentecost. At Pentecost the Church needed to develop an interior spiritual life, so as to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. St. Peter came to his understanding of the Church’s mission to the Gentiles via a trance with the sheet coming down with the unclean animals on it. When the Apostles announced their decision at the Council of Jerusalem, the Council’s Letter said “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:” The sensible consolation of Christ’s presence had to be withdrawn by the Ascension so that the Apostles could give the Holy Spirit their undivided attention. The Holy Spirit is all over Acts. Acts can be called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.
    One of the primary characteristics of the Eucharist is that the Real Presence is not sense perceptible. In the Eucharist we have the hidden Christ, the wholly interior Christ Who can only be seen with eyes of faith, fostering the development of an interior spiritual life. The lack of sensible consolation in the Eucharist makes it completely compatible with every stage of Contemplative Prayer.

  3. Wonderful essay and I also liked very much the notion of the three births.
    Father Peter, I also read the interview of card. Caffara, which I found very good.

    I appreciate your thoughts, Father. At morning prayers today, the letter of St. Boniface was read and it’s amazing how it’s so contemporary.

    By the way, I’m the same Sophia, Marie is my middle name ☺

  4. In order to use CWR we must enable cookies and java, which we didn’t in the only computer we own. Our PC is used by our family of four, of which two are under the age of 13. In order to use CWR I borrowed my sister’s tablet.Though I like the new feature of being less anonymous, I don’t see the point of changing our pc policy for our family.I don’t own a mobile, neither of us do. So, Father, I will be seeing you in the other website.Peace, love, courage. Sophia

    • Thanks for your kind support Sophia-Marie. I’m glad you managed to communicate by improvising on the new CWR format. I had difficulty getting on board too but was helped by a great CWR technician Catherine Harmon.

      • Fr Morello – I am asking if you would consider critiquing my Notes of the Origins of the Persons of Trinity? My basis question is “Does St. Thomas believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds from ‘mutual love’ of Father And Son? I think not but am searching.
        Thanks Fr Brunet

    • PS: I just learned Sophia-Marie that Catherine Harmon is a tad more than a technician. She’s Managing Editor of this website.

  5. Thanks for another insightful and thought-provoking article, Carl.

    Here’s a more humble effort. Your reflections would be valued.


    It’s easy to think of Pentecost as the day when a Jewish feast was replaced by a Christian celebration. The error in this way of thinking is that it ignores the reality of all those gathered in Christ’s name being Jews themselves and so fully aware of the rich, religious significance of this particular day.

    In Acts chapter 2, historian Luke tells us that Jesus’ friends were all of one accord and sitting together in a house in Jerusalem. The reason they’d assembled was that, like all good Jews, they were celebrating the latest spring harvest and also the giving of the Sinai covenant to Moses.

    They could not have anticipated the Holy Spirit filling the whole house with the sound of a cyclonic wind; or, imagined flickering flames settling on all of their heads. Then, God’s holy presence became even more personally evident when all of them experienced the intense joy of an anointing by the Holy Spirit, breaking forth in loud and prolonged shouting out of their praises of God’s works.

    So loud was their collective, ecstatic worship that crowds gathered around their house to see what was going on. Miraculously, these loud praise shouts were understood by people of many different language groups. The crowd perceived a great sign, in that the ecstatic speakers were all Galilean Jews and yet their words were readily comprehensible in fourteen or more diverse languages. Then some cynics dismissed this sign as merely the rantings of inebriated people.

    Peter showed his new, Holy Spirit-inspired leadership qualities by correcting the cynics and delivering what is probably the most passionate evangelistic sermon ever preached (Acts 2:14-40). Thousands were baptised for the forgiveness of their sins and came under the same Holy Spirit anointing. At this stage, all of these newly anointed believers were Jewish, and thus only able to grasp what was happening to them in terms of classical Judaism.

    Turning to today’s world: almost 2,000 years after those stirring events, what could attract the Holy Spirit to anoint us and incorporate us with God? Is it good works – well no; according to Jesus those are to be routine for us. Is it submission to religious rules and rituals – again, no; these are mere machinery necessary for social cohesion. What about the ten commandments – well, carefully obeying them benefits us and all humanity and so is not specially meritorious.

    The truth is we all fail to be as good as we should be; as fully religiously obedient as we could be; and as compliant to God as the commandments require us to be.
    Something more is needed; in fact, there is one thing that is essential.

    Nearly 2,000 years ago, on that reality-changing Pentecost day, the women and men who gathered together had that one essential thing. They all loved Jesus Christ and gave up their everything to be with Him, to listen, to follow, and even to die for His sake. By and large they didn’t understand very much of what He taught them. It took years for them to gradually appreciate the full scope of His teachings and to carefully record them in the Gospels. Yet, they adored Jesus of Nazareth above all, and had offered their lives to Him.

    Their anointing by the Holy Spirit was a bit like God saying to them all: “You got it right; you’ll do!”
    And, who among us today would not want to be told that ?

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