May 22, 2015


Importance of the Holy Spirit

This Sunday, the Church celebrates the feast of Pentecost, often referred to as the birthday of the Church since it was on that day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. Sometimes we modern Catholics forget just how important that event was, and continues to be.

Just before he ascended to heaven, Jesus told the Apostles, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8).

When this happened on the Jewish feast of Pentecost (50 days after Passover), the Apostles were transformed. They were no longer fearful men hiding from those who put Jesus to death, but courageous men and dynamic missionaries. This was the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Acts of the Apostles is sometimes called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit because it tells how the Church spread because of the actions of the Holy Spirit. We know that the Apostles had been unlearned men who didn’t quite “get it” while Jesus was among them, but after the Holy Spirit descended on them they could speak in tongues and be understood.

The Holy Spirit wasn’t only with the Apostles. He has remained with the Church for the 1,985 years since he first descended on the Apostles in the year 30. And there have been many times when the Church needed the Holy Spirit because the Church is composed of human beings.

How else can you explain how the Church is still around almost 2,000 years since Christ founded it despite periods when its leaders were anything but holy? There were periods when the papacy was controlled by Roman families, German emperors or French kings. There have been 37 antipopes (men who claimed the papal throne), including a 39-year period during which two men, and then three men, claimed to be the rightful pope. Yet the Church has survived all that.

The Holy Spirit remains with the Church today, even if we aren’t sure at times where he is leading us. We know that the secularism of modern Western society has decimated the Church in Europe and there are many fallen-away Catholics in the United States, while the Church is growing in other parts of the world.

We trust that the Holy Spirit will enlighten the magisterium to make whatever changes in the Church he wants. That’s what he has always done and will continue to do.

But the Holy Spirit isn’t just with the Church as a whole. He comes to each of us, too, in the sacraments. Jesus Christ is no longer with us, but the Holy Spirit, whom he sent, is.

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults says, “At our baptism, the Spirit works through the waters which take away original sin and actual sins and give us new life with the Triune God. At confirmation, the Holy Spirit is conferred by the anointing with the chrism, by which the bishop seals us so that the Holy Spirit can strengthen us to pursue the mission of Christ to transform the world. At every Mass, the Holy Spirit changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ by the ministry of the priest” (p. 103).

The Holy Spirit is also with us in the sacraments of reconciliation, holy orders, matrimony and anointing of the sick.

The catechism also says, “The Holy Spirit is essentially Love. Love can change those we meet and change ourselves in each encounter. Because of the Holy Spirit our whole being, mind, heart, soul, and body can be permeated with Love” (p. 103).

We should make it a practice to call upon the Holy Spirit frequently to guide us in what we are doing. Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh, the former president of the University of Notre Dame who died on Feb. 26, always said that he made the simple prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit,” as a petition for wisdom before he did something.

We invite our readers to develop a greater devotion to the Holy Spirit. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults sets out eight ways you can do so on page 106.

—John F. Fink

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