May 17, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: I believe in the Holy Spirit

John F. FinkThis coming Sunday is the feast of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. But who is the Holy Spirit?

In the Nicene Creed we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.”

Thus we proclaim belief in the Holy Spirit in precisely the same way that we proclaim belief in the Father and the Son.

What does it mean that the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from the Father and the Son? Think of it this way: The Father and the Son love each other with an eternal love. This love that proceeds from the Father and the Son is a person, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the personification of the love that proceeds between the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is God. He was with the Father at the time of creation and with the Son in his act of redemption. He is called the sanctifier for his actions on us through the sacraments of the Church.

We believe that the Holy Spirit was present in Old Testament times when he spoke through the prophets. We also believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Old Testament.

But the Old Testament does not speak of the Holy Spirit as a divine person distinct from the Father. It’s in the New Testament that we learn most about the Holy Spirit, in all four Gospels, but especially in the Acts of the Apostles and in St. Paul’s letters.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus promised to send “another paraclete.” The word “paraclete” means “counselor” or “advocate.” We believe that God had a plan whereby Christ’s teachings would be preserved after Christ was no longer in the world. That is why he sent the Holy Spirit, to lead the Church and preserve it from error.

After the Resurrection, John tells us that Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended fully upon the Church and the Apostles were aware of his direct operation in their activities. The letters of St. Paul describe the many gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has been called the “soul” of the Church, which is the body of Christ. The Church teaches that the gifts of Christ are poured out upon the Church by the Holy Spirit.

Besides keeping the Church from error, the Holy Spirit is also the communicator of grace to human beings. It’s for that reason that he is sometimes called the sanctifier. Grace is a free gift of God, given to us through the merits of Christ and communicated to us by the Holy Spirit.

It is divine assistance given to people to help them advance toward their supernatural destiny of fellowship with God. The principal means of grace are the sacraments. †

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