Holy Spirit - Who Are You?
By Roisin Spitzig
I was intrigued by the Gospel reading of the 5th Sunday of Easter! In it, Jesus says to the disciples as He is teaching them about the Holy Spirit, "…the world cannot receive [him], because it neither sees him nor knows him, while those who believe in Christ know the Spirit because he dwells with them.” (Jn. 14:17). As I was reading this I was preparing to lead the Sunday Communion services at the Correctional Center and it started me thinking about all the names used for the Holy Spirit and all the ways in which the Spirit is described. I began to wonder how we DO know the Holy Spirit, as we are the people who likely fall into the “…those who believe in Christ know the Spirit because he dwells within them…” category? If the Holy Spirit can take so many forms and names then how do we recognize him in our lives?
How many names for the Holy Spirit can you think of off the top of your head? There are many references in the Bible to the Spirit as wind, fire, advocate, consoler, spirit of truth and, of course, Paraclete, just to name a few. He is also called the spirit of promise, the spirit of adoption, the spirit of Christ and the spirit of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “ "Holy Spirit" is the proper name of the one whom we adore and glorify with the Father and the Son. The Church has received this name from the Lord and professes it in the Baptism of her new children” (Catechism 693) and so we use ‘Holy Spirit’ as the name in our prayers and in the Mass. Jesus Himself calls the Holy Spirit “Paraclete” which means “he who is called to one’s side” (Catechism 692) or the advocate. As well as these names, there are many beautiful poetic names for, and descriptions of, the Holy Spirit that are used in the music of the Church.
There are also many symbols for the Holy Spirit in our Catholic tradition. Again, looking at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I learned that there are eight symbols which the Church recognizes. These are water, anointing with oil, fire, cloud and light, the seal (as in being sealed with the Holy Spirit), the hand (as in laying on of hands), the finger (the finger of the Father’s right hand) and the dove. (Catechism 694 – 701). The Church recognizes that the Spirit touches God’s people using any and all of these forms in the sacraments, in our lives as individuals and as a community united in faith.
As I have been speaking with people over the last while, it seems that the Holy Spirit uses all these forms as he works among the people of God! People have described their encounters with the Spirit as ranging from gentle touches (think of Our Lady) to all-out battles (as in Paul’s conversion), much of it depending on where they were in their spiritual journeys and what the Spirit was trying to teach them! In my own life I would have to admit to more of the second type of encounters with the Spirit as he has worked to get through my stubborn nature and thick skull! Sometimes there seems to be a definite knowing, an understanding, that it is the Spirit who is touching one’s heart, and sometimes the understanding is more difficult to gain and takes much time. Many people feel that it was only in looking back on an encounter with the Spirit that they gained understanding of what he had done in them. It seems to be agreed, though, that an open heart was necessary and it was only when that happened that the Spirit could actually accomplish his work in a person! It also seems to be consensus that the Spirit is patient, and even determined, and will wait and work until that open heart comes to be!
As we reflect on the feast of Pentecost, and the celebration of Confirmation, we will read about how Jesus sent the Spirit to be with and in his disciples. We are reminded that we, too, have received the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Confirmation. It might be a beautiful reminder to attend the Confirmation celebration this year (mine was a long time ago!) and again thank Jesus for the amazing gift of the Spirit! I also am reminded that I really need to listen to and hear the Spirit more often and more willingly in my life – in whatever form he chooses to use!