During these days of Pentecost, I am researching the Holy Spirit. Last year a parishioner asked me to write a book on this “forgotten member” of the Trinity. He said he didn’t understand this Third Person who is so nebulous. So in the process of preparing the book, I’m learning a great deal. Remember when we referred to the Holy Ghost? Spirit and ghost (from Old English gast) are synonyms, but as time passed, ghost came to mean a dead person and was frightening to children. So the Church and Bible translators began to prefer Spirit.
One reason people tend to neglect the Holy Spirit in prayer is that a spirit can’t be visualized. We picture the Father as an old man, and the Son as his incarnated form, Jesus. But artists depict the Spirit as a dove, as he appeared at the baptism of Jesus. But it isn’t appealing to pray to a bird. (Last month a newspaper carried a story about a speeding driver in Germany captured by a police camera. In the photo a large white dove with wings spread over the driver’s face saved him from a ticket!)
A spiritual director once asked me, “Do you pray to the Holy Spirit?” When I said, “No, not specifically,” he was surprised and replied, “You, a writer, and you don’t pray to the Holy Spirit!” Since then I’ve addressed prayers to all three persons in the Trinity: the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, who has been dubbed “the Cinderella of the Trinity.” I’ve learned that this Spirit is all that Jesus promised: a powerful helper. Jesus called him a Paraclete, that is, someone who stands with someone in need.
On Pentecost the Spirit of Jesus swooped down as strong wind and inflamed the disciples so they spoke in languages foreigners could understand. This same Spirit inspires me with ideas and words when I have writer’s block. But more than that…
In my first year teaching high school religion, I had a very intelligent class. Every day the students challenged me, wrecking my carefully worked out lesson plan. Feeling like a failure, I confided in my friend, a fellow teacher. She assured me that the Holy Spirit was my hidden partner in teaching religion. Somehow he would use my words to touch the students’ hearts in ways I may never know. So I went on in sheer faith, day after day. Then one night as I was correcting the test of the most exasperating student, I discovered she had written these words: “You probably won’t believe this, but I go to Mass every day. Many people don’t realize how important faith is, but because of things you said, I do now.”
I’ve learned to call on the Holy Spirit and ask for the gift of saying the right words in stressful situations: when making an important phone call, giving a new talk, going to an uncomfortable meeting, finding a piece of information quickly, or counseling a person. This gives me confidence.
St. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19) Through the sacraments the Spirit in some mysterious way lives in us—and along with the Spirit the Father and the Son because they are inseparable. This means we are never alone and have easy access to divine aid. One thing we can ask the Holy Spirit’s help with is becoming a better pray-er!
The Holy Spirit’s special job description includes making people holy, guiding the writing and reading of Scripture, bringing about the Eucharist, and watching over the Church. God the Father generates the Son and the Holy Spirit proceeds from them as the bond of love between them. When we love, we are like God, in other words, holy. Someone said that we ought to be taken along by the Holy Spirit as a feather is taken by the wind.
When do you turn to the Holy Spirit for help?