What do we imagine when we think of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps we envision tongues of fire, as the Apostles experienced in the Upper Room during Pentecost. Perhaps we think of a dove, as we read in the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River. Maybe we think of wind, a ghostly figure, or even a loud gathering of people speaking in tongues or falling to the ground.
Many within the Catholic Church are unfamiliar with, afraid of, or simply unaware of the Holy Spirit and His role within our Church. This is perhaps because the Holy Spirit is the least “safe,” “personal,” or “containable” person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit was not sent to earth in the form of a person who healed, preached, and died for our sins, as Jesus was. The Holy Spirit is not called “Abba, Father,” and was not the primary face of God in the Old Testament. Though the Holy Spirit has existed since the beginning, cited in Scripture at creation as the spirit of God hovering over the waters, and is referenced throughout the Old and New Testaments through Pentecost and beyond, many find it difficult to define, connect to, or have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
My own relationship with the Holy Spirit did not begin until my third year of college. Recent events in my life had left me profoundly grateful, so I began to spend five to ten minutes each morning simply giving thanks to God and invoking the Holy Spirit. It started with thanksgiving for the more obvious things: a roof over my head, food on the table, family. As I continued, I grew in my perception to see the little moments of grace in each day. I would thank God for a chance conversation with a friend, the insightful part of a particular lecture, or the flower that had blossomed in my neighbor’s yard. I invited the Holy Spirit into my life, and spent the morning in thanksgiving and praise rather than petition.
As a result, I started experiencing a profound, unshakeable joy. It was as though I was seeing the world with new eyes—the eyes of gratitude and grace, the eyes of God. I was becoming more Christ-like without really trying, because my heart was filled with the love of God, the presence of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has been called the manifestation of the love between the Father and the Son. As the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit reveals the Father to humanity and enables us to become like Christ. It was the Holy Spirit who was beginning to transform me into a disciple and instilling joy in my heart. We often miss the work of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit “does not speak of Himself…[but] makes us hear the Father's Word”—which is Christ (CCC 687). As Christ himself said to the Apostles, the Spirit “will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears” (John 16:13).
The Holy Spirit is also consubstantial with the Father and the Son—meaning that the three persons of the Trinity are inseparable while being distinct in their roles. The role of the Holy Spirit is the building up of the Church and her people. The Spirit of Truth guides us to truth (cf John 16:13). He is the person of the Trinity sent by Christ to be most present in the world today—our Advocate. Because of the work of the Spirit, Christ can say, “I am with you, even to the end of time” (Mt. 28:20).
How can we come to know the Holy Spirit? In prayer, the liturgy, the sacraments, Scripture, Church teaching, the witness of holy men and women, and in many other ways (cf CCC 688). As we celebrate Pentecost, I invite you to start spending a few minutes each day with the Holy Spirit. Invite the Spirit into your Scripture reading, asking Him to reveal His wisdom and help you apply it to your own life. Call upon the Spirit in prayer and thanksgiving throughout your day. Learn more about the sacraments, which reveal the inner life of the Trinity, and participate more deeply in them. Read the lives of the saints, men and women who are examples of the holiness made possible by the Spirit.
May these practices lead to a Pentecost and renewal of the Spirit in our own lives. Together, let us say, “Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit!” (CCC 2670-72). May His fire purify our hearts, leaving only the love of God, so that we may in turn set the world on fire.