Deacon Peter has hit the nail on the head once again!
His description of the Holy Spirit working in our lives puts into eloquent words what I've always felt.
Today, Pentecost Sunday, is a day that we are invited to look very carefully at the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Spirit. All three readings mention the Holy Spirit specifically, but if I were to ask each of you to define the Holy Spirit, I’ll bet I get a whole multitude of answers. We all have a sense of God the Father, mostly personified in our culture by Michelangelo’s image of a large, floating, white-bearded guy in the sky, reaching out with His creative touch. God the Father seems a bit distant, maybe a bit fearsome for many of us. The second person, Jesus the Christ, is much more accessible, and clearly the focus of most of our prayer lives and meditations, particularly the Liturgy we call the Mass. Since Jesus is human as much as he is God, we feel a strong connection, an expectation that he understands us intrinsically, and through that connection we are made holy. All good stuff. But what about the Holy Spirit?
The image of the Holy Spirit that we typically see in art is what? Yes, a dove. Why? Because the bible specifically tells us that the Spirit descended upon Jesus during his baptism “in the form of a dove”. Today’s first reading is quite different in tone, equating the Spirit’s arrival as a strong, driving wind that somehow morphs into tongues of fire resting on all of those present. Earlier in John, Chapter 14, Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit as the Advocate, perhaps better translated as a defense lawyer. But somehow, praying to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Attorney doesn’t quite cut it! So how do we relate to this third person of the Trinity?
We are told by theologians that the Holy Spirit exists through the relationship of God the Father and God the Son. The mutual indwelling in perfect love between Father and Son is so intensely powerful that a third person “proceeds” from this relationship, co-eternal, co-equal, and consubstantial. The Holy Spirit is the action of God the Father and God the Son, an incredible energy produced that affects the entire universe. Think of the scientific principle that drives the most important star in the sky for us, the sun. The fusion of hydrogen atoms ignites a blaze of fire that warms our planet 93 million miles away. Can you see how that analogy, although not ideal, gives you a sense of the Spirit?
So let’s go a bit further with this idea. The Spirit proceeds from the relationship between the Father and the Son, so that invites us to probably the best definition of the Holy Spirit that I can muster. The Holy Spirit, by nature of that amazing love connection, comes to us as the God of awareness. You see, the Spirit connects the dots, the Spirit produces the “aha” moments in our lives, the Spirit blows where it wills and surprises us. The Spirit makes us aware that God is all around us, that God loves us immensely, and that God wants to work through us. Let me give you an example or two.
After the wild fires scorched East County in 2005, my wife and I took a trip to Julian one Sunday afternoon. We have every CD David Haas has ever produced, and we were playing his music in our car, with the music on shuffle – just playing songs randomly. We hadn’t seen too much damage to the forest up to a point, when suddenly, we rounded a bend in the road and there spread out before us was a moonscape of destruction. Burnt trees, blackened earth, charred houses. We pulled off the road and just looked at the scene in shock, tears springing to our eyes. At that moment, David Haas began to sing, “Come Lord Jesus, send us your Spirit, renew the face of the earth!” We both laughed
out loud, and knew God was here, amidst this disaster, and He was going to make it right. That was the Holy Spirit doing his thing.
When I write a homily, I invite the Holy Spirit to guide my words. One time, about 3 years ago, I wrote a homily about my younger brother, who died of cancer amidst a struggle with drug addiction. His journey was a journey of redemptive suffering, and I shared that story with some concern, because it was an emotionally wrenching story for me. After one of the Masses, a woman came up to me with tears pouring down her face, and I thought, oh no, what is this? I’ve clearly upset her. But her story astounded me. Her own brother, at that very moment in time, was living the exact same journey as mine did. My story gave her hope, gave her a path to walk, and we met twice more over the next few months, praying and talking about how to work with her lost sheep brother. It became a healing event. What did I learn? The Holy Spirit will use us in very direct, very specific ways, usually without our own knowledge. The Spirit of connections, working through His people, takes our meager gifts, offered in His name, and glorifies them.
Maybe one of the reasons why it is so hard to get our heads around the Holy Spirit is that God doesn’t want us to! If we think we have God the Spirit defined, we immediately limit the Spirit, putting the Spirit in a little box on the shelf, rarely to be opened. The reality is that each of us comes to an understanding of the Spirit by how the Spirit manifests itself in us. St. Paul tells us that there are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit, given to us for some benefit. In other words, your gifts, whatever they are, if offered to God, will be used by the Spirit to affect the world in some way, sometimes astonishing, but more often quiet and profound. The Spirit connects the dots, bringing awareness to someone who needs a question answered, who needs a smile today, who needs to be reminded that God loves, and loves, and loves, and especially, loves you!
And when we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, to use our gifts in ways pleasing to God, the Spirit will leave a gift behind. Just as a torrent of water moving across the land leaves a channel carved in the earth, so will the Spirit leave a channel in our heart and mind, a channel lined with joy. That’s how you can tell that your gifts are being used by the Spirit – if you feel joyful in the doing so. Healing, preaching, teaching, singing, smiling, building, comforting, holding, giving – if it gives you joy, you’re on the right track. The Holy Spirit is connecting people, smoothing over the chaos, yes, renewing the face of the earth. The Spirit can’t be held back, any more than you can dictate where a dove must fly, or where the wind must blow, or whether a person with inoperable cancer can be cured.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.