Okay, I have a confession… I’m already behind on my Holy Spirit Novena… you know, the O.G. Novena… the reason we pray novenas… the novena that calls to mind those original 9 days that Our Lady sat with her son’s bffs as they waited for the arrival of the Holy Spirit… yeah, that one. Already behind. It’s Day 3.
My Sunday was a day like no other in my life… I got to experience three friends—excuse me, DEACON friends—preaching their first homilies! And let me tell you, those Reverend Misters were excellent! The Church is very alive and full of hope, dear readers. As they proclaimed their carefully crafted words about Our Blessed Lord’s Ascension, I looked around a packed Our Lady of Wisdom Church reflecting on, well, wisdom… and the stirring of our hearts.
When was the last time you felt a stirring in your heart?
These young men experienced a stirring in their hearts strong enough to leave their lives behind to discern the sacred priesthood. That stirring was strong enough to push them through 5 years of prayer, study, doubt, fear, more prayer, more doubt, and more resolution.
And my heart was stirred. Not just at the beauty of their words, and the beauty of vocation, and the beauty of the diaconate, the priesthood, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the last commands of Jesus to his apostles—and to us, not just a stirring deep within me because the smell of the mini-muffalettas and grillades was wafting in from the reception hall. There was a stirring. A choking back of tears for the beauty. For the overwhelming gratitude that for all time our good God knew these souls would be gathered in this Church on that day to hear those words and to read these words about those words. But what is this stirring?
Spoiler alert: It has something to do with the Holy Spirit!
Oh, Holy Spirit, you misunderstood, often forgotten, redheaded stepchild of the Trinity… celebrated by too-cool-for-school high school juniors at Confirmation then often forgotten by Pentecost because—you know—Summer.
Today I’d like to take a brief look at what the Holy Spirit is NOT. And then we can look better at what He is (other than the obvious… which is welcome here.)
The Holy Spirit is NOT an actual dove.
I do not feel the need to elaborate here, but I will. The One whom the Father has sent into our hearts, the Spirit of his Son, is truly God (CCC 689). We are not worshipers of a bird god—we are worshippers of the Holy Trinity, of which the Holy Spirit is the Third Person. [If you want to learn more about actual doves you can follow me on instagram #dovetales.]
The Holy Spirit is NOT a flame, nor is He a tongue.
Manifestations and symbols that we read in Scripture are simply that—manifestations and symbols. The Spirit is far greater—He is Consubstantial! Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, in both the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world (CCC 689).
The Holy Spirit is NOT a bottle of chocolate syrup, a can of volumizing powder, a cup of yeast, or any other of the excellent analogies we use in catechesis.
These are analogies about what the Spirit can do in our lives, but the Spirit’s actual function is bigger: When the Father sends his Word, he always sends his Breath. In their joint mission, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable. To be sure, it is Christ who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals him (CCC 689). Without the Spirit, Christ would not be made known to us.
He is the glue in our relationship. You know that one friend that makes the rest of your squad gel together? That’s the Spirit. And we would have no ability to respond to the Father or the Son without the Spirit—it is the Spirit that inspires us to sweeten up, be better, rise up, get brave, and go forth to make disciples of all nations… The Spirit gives us that stirring.
The Holy Spirit is a He. He’s a PERSON. A PERSON in the Trinity. And if a person, then a person you can have a relationship with!
Why is He so forgotten? It may have something to do with Him being the strong silent type. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (CCC 687) that even within the Sacred Scripture:
The Spirit does not speak of himself. The Spirit who “has spoken through the prophets” makes us hear the Father’s Word, but we do not hear the Spirit himself. We know him only in the movement by which he reveals the Word to us and disposes us to welcome him in faith. The Spirit of truth who “unveils” Christ to us “will not speak on his own (Jn 16:13.).”
But this seems fitting, no? Can you imagine if a dove floated down from Heaven, spit out his olive branch, and said, “Hey, guh! I’m the Holy Spirit… but you can call me Steve.” If The Spirit will not speak on His own, but only reveals the Word and disposes us to welcome him in faith—how do we get to know him better? Can we just swipe right?
The Catechism goes on to say (CCC 688):
The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit:
in the Scriptures he inspired;
in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses;
in the Church’s Magisterium, which he assists;
in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ;
in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us;
in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up;
in the signs of apostolic and missionary life;
in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation.
Steve—I mean the Spirit—is EvErYwHeRe!!
Pre-Pentecost Challenge Time (missed this, didn’t ya?):
- Self-Assess: As we approach this Pentecost, catch up with your Holy Spirit Novena (no judgment here), and ask yourself what is my relationship with the Holy Spirit? Is it complicated? Do I have one? Is it serious or is it an open relationship with a weird flaming dove?
- Diagnose: Why is having a relationship with the Holy Spirit so hard to wrap your mind around? Why does it seem easier with Jesus & the Father? Because Jesus had a human nature? I’m pretty sure my human nature does not allow me to walk on water… though I do relate to the idea of more wine. And if your therapy bill is telling you anything, it is probably that relationships with fathers are complicated…so why do we still find a relationship with the Father easier than with the Holy Spirit?
- Start the conversation: A relationship has to start with (a) acknowledgement that the other exists + (b) communication with the other. Address a prayer to the Holy Spirit. “Dear Holy Spirit… sup?” I promise you will not get back “New phone, who dis?”
- Shut up: How do we grow in relationship? Well think about it… in human terms, we spend time with the other. Challenge yourself to 5-10 minutes of silence where you just invite the Holy Spirit to hang out with you.
- Start talking: Spending time together is great… but it’s time to take that prayer to the next level. Try a 1-2 combo of Gratitude + Petition: “Dear Holy Spirit… thank you for not lighting my hair on fire like the apostles. That would have totally freaked me out. I’ve heard you give many gifts. Is one of them the ability to remember to keep up with novenas? Asking for a friend.”