The older gentleman had some questions about the Holy Spirit. He said, “I understand God-I believe in Him. And I sort of get Jesus-He’s God’s Son. However, this Holy Spirit thing-I just don’t get that.” So I thought to myself, “Where do I begin?”
I learned about the Holy Trinity since childhood. The Holy Spirit ﬁt into the scheme of things quite well. And since baptism in the Spirit, I see ever more clearly the reality of the Holy Spirit. But how do I explain the Holy Spirit to an inquirer?
When speaking of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures use images that communicate life and power. John the Baptist said, “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8) When John contrasts “water” and the “Holy Spirit”, he is really describing the Spirit as one who cleanses and gives life in an inﬁnitely greater way than water. By using the word “baptize” he tells us that the Holy Spirit is to saturate people with the presence of God. Jesus also used words that speak of the Spirit in “liquid” terms when he describes the Spirit as “rivers of living water”. (John 7:38-39) The Holy Spirit gives us life.
St. Irenaeus, who was martyred around the year 180 AD, described the work of the Holy Spirit as water to ﬂour. Without the water, the ﬂour could never become dough. With water, ﬂour becomes dough, a united substance that can feed others. The Holy Spirit unites as well as gives life.
Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as power. Like electricity to a light bulb, the Holy Spirit brought light to the apostles. Without the Holy Spirit the apostles were still asking the wrong questions, even after the resurrection.
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:5) Jesus patiently told them not to be concerned about those things. They needed to be ready to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. And when they did receive the Holy Spirit, they had no questions. The lights went on. . The apostles proclaimed Jesus, the one who was cruciﬁed and raised, as Lord. The Church was born.
Like fuel to a car, the Holy Spirit propelled the early Church throughout the known world. We are more familiar with gospel spreading west from the Holy Land throughout the Roman Empire. However, the recent wars in Syria and Iraq have brought to light that the gospel also spread from the Holy Land in an easterly direction as well. These churches, such as the Church in Damascus, where St. Paul was converted, date back to the ﬁrst century. Again, the Holy Spirit empowered the Church to go out with the gospel to all peoples.
In light of what I just wrote, perhaps the best way to see the reality of the Holy Spirit is to think about what Christianity would be like without the Holy Spirit. People would not experience the power of the Spirit to cleanse and give new life. They would be spiritually in the dark, dull to the things of God. We would not be united by love and truth. There would be no impetus to spread the gospel. As the Bishops of the Eastern Church reminded Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, “No Spirit, no Church!” The Holy Spirit makes all we believe in alive.
As we approach the heart of Lent and the coming Easter season, let us remember: the purpose of the death and resurrection of Jesus was to regenerate humanity. Jesus came to give us a new birth by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the gift of the Father given to the Son who pours this gift upon the Church. The risen humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ is the means by which the Holy Spirit comes to us. At great cost and with utmost love Jesus went to hell and back so as to bring us a new life in the Holy Spirit!
As children of the Father, let us pray to grow in gratitude for the Father’s immeasurable mercy toward us. And empowered by the Holy Spirit give clear witness in deed and word to the great mercy of God!
Come Holy Spirit!!!
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Bob Franco
Bishop’s Delegate to Catholic Renewal Ministries