Understanding the Holy Spirit

Understanding the Holy Spirit

May 23, 2021 | N W | Deacon Eddie, Holy Spirit, Love, Pentecost, Sacraments, Trinity

Pentecost Sunday
May 23, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Acts 2:1-11 / Ps 104 / 1 Cor 12:3B-7, 12-13 / Jn 20:19-23
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon

On this day we celebrate the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, which is also the birthday of our Church.

This week I was talking on the telephone to my friend, deacon candidate, and acolyte extraordinaire, Mark DeLaHunt. He said to me, “The Holy Spirit is the most powerful person of the Holy Trinity, because He’s the only one of the Three whose name no one takes in vain.”

I don’t know which person of the Blessed Trinity is the most powerful; that is wa-a-ay above my pay grade. But you have to admit that the Holy Spirit is the most active. He certainly is active this weekend. At the first Mass today, we celebrated the sacrament of Confirmation, where one of our brothers was sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday, I was at the cathedral in Richmond, where seminarian Dillon Bruce was ordained to the diaconate and, God willing, in about a year he’ll be ordained to the priesthood.

But for me, and probably for most of you, the Holy Spirit is certainly the most confusing person of the Blessed Trinity. Father – I got that. Son – pretty straightforward. But the Holy Spirit, especially when you have readings like the second reading today.

St. Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” Really? I believe just about anybody could utter those words. What in the world is St. Paul talking about?

In every liturgy, we profess our faith by the Creed, and in the Creed we talk about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and Son. With the Father and Son, He is adored and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.” That clears it all up, right? It doesn’t for me.

Let’s start at the end: “He has spoken through the prophets.” If you look throughout the scriptures, you see that in play often. In 2 Kings: “Elisha answered, ‘May I receive a double portion of your Spirit.’ Elijah replied, ‘You have asked something that is not easy. Still, if you see me taken up from you, your wish will be granted, otherwise not.’ As they walked on, still conversing, a fiery chariot with fiery horses came between the two of them, and Elijah went up in a whirlwind.” Fire is one of the images we use of the Holy Spirit. A whirlwind is another one.

In chapter 61 of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.” The Holy Spirit acted through all of the prophets, in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

More from the Creed: “the Lord, the giver of life.” The very first sentence in Genesis: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss, a mighty wind swept over the waters.” In chapter two of Genesis: “The Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

In the Gospel of Luke: “And the angel said to Mary in reply: ‘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.’” Later, in Mark: “Jesus was baptized. He came up from the water and, behold, the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove.”

It’s that way through all of scripture. Sometimes we miss it, but the Holy Spirit is fundamental. Over the years, I’ve heard different explanations to help try to describe the Holy Spirit. One of my favorites is that the Holy Spirit is the spiritual fuel that powers our spiritual life. That’s most evident in the holy sacrament of the altar when, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. He provides us food for the journey of this life.

Another explanation I’ve heard has confused me, but I may be beginning to understand it. That is that the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. In the Creed, the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

The daily Mass readings, especially leading up to a major feast, lead us toward it. This week, Thursday’s gospel reading is a prayer of Jesus. This is the last thing, in the Gospel of John, that Jesus does before He goes to the garden, where He’ll be arrested. Jesus says this: “Righteous Father, the world does not know You, but I know You, and they know that You sent me. I made known to them Your name, and I will make it known that the love with which You loved me may be in them and I in them.” The love between the Father and Son: the Spirit.

So with that in mind, let’s do a little different translation of the second reading. St. Paul wrote: “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” Let’s think about it like this: No one can understand who or what Jesus is, unless they understand and are bound up within the self-sacrificing love that is shared between the Father and Son, that same love that allowed Jesus to offer Himself on the cross back to the Father for our salvation. THAT is the Holy Spirit.