May 10, 2016 // Uncategorized
A hidden and invisible God
This coming Sunday we will celebrate the culmination of the Easter season: the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at Pentecost. This powerful manifestation of God involved a mighty wind and tongues of fire. The apostles were transformed by this experience. They became heralds of “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). On that day, the Church came into being and was revealed to the world.
Celebrating the feast of Pentecost includes contemplating the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. Pope Saint John Paul II spoke of the Holy Spirit as the “hidden God.” Though the Holy Spirit operates in the Church and in the world, He is not manifested visibly like God the Son. The Son assumed human nature and became like us. The Holy Spirit, however, did not become man. We can only observe Him by the effects of His presence and action in us and in the world. The Holy Spirit operates as the “hidden God,” invisible in His Person.
The “hiddenness” of the Holy Spirit may make it more difficult for many of us to relate to this Divine Person. We can relate more easily perhaps to God the Son. By becoming man, the Son entered into the realm of the experientially visible. He was able to be seen and touched. Because the Son assumed our human nature, we can relate to Him as our brother. We can relate to Jesus more easily since He became man. It may also be easier to relate to the first Person of the Blessed Trinity since we have an experience of fatherhood. Though human fatherhood is an imperfect reflection of the fatherhood of God the Father, it does help us to relate to the first Person of the Blessed Trinity. And, even though the Father remains invisible and transcendent, He is manifested in the Son. As Jesus said: He who sees me sees the Father (John 14:9).
Even though the Holy Spirit may be more difficult to understand and relate to, it is important that we make the effort. He has been revealed to us by Jesus who often spoke about Him. Just as Jesus taught us to recognize and invoke God as Father, He also taught us the divine Personhood of the Holy Spirit. He spoke of the Holy Spirit in personal terms, as our advocate, defender, and consoler. He taught us that this Person, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father would send in His name, would teach us everything and remind us of all that He taught us (John 14:26). These activities, “teaching and reminding,” show that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, but a Divine Person.
We must avoid thinking of the Holy Spirit as a kind of impersonal cosmic power, something like “the force” in Star Wars. The Holy Spirit is a Divine Person. He is the Lord and Giver of Life, as we profess in the Creed. He is our Consoler and Advocate. Though invisible, He is real. He is at work in the Church and in the world and in our souls. He is, as we pray in the Sequence of Pentecost Sunday, “the soul’s most welcome guest.”
When we were baptized, we were put into a close personal relationship with the three Divine Persons. We were introduced into the intimacy of the Trinity. We are reminded of this every time we make the sign of the cross and renew our relationship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is a Person distinct from the Father and from the Son and, at the same time, intimately united with them. The Church speaks of the Holy Spirit “proceeding from the Father and the Son” and of being “adored and glorified” with the Father and the Son. This mystery of God’s inner life as Trinity is beyond our full comprehension, but it is central to our faith. It is beautiful to contemplate this mystery.
On Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate a great manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Three basic elements mark this event: the sound of a mighty wind, tongues as of fire, and the charism of speaking in other languages. These rich symbols of the Holy Spirit’s action help us to understand the Person of the Holy Spirit.
The wind manifests the divine power at work in the Holy Spirit, the supernatural dynamism through which God transforms us from within and sanctifies us. We can’t see wind, but we can see its effects. The same with the Holy Spirit: we cannot see the Holy Spirit, but we can know Him by His effects in us. We call these effects “the fruits of the Holy Spirit.” They are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, modesty, chastity, and self-control. According to Saint Paul, we know that we are “walking by the Spirit” when we are growing in these fruits.
The symbol of fire, which is the source of warmth and light, teaches us that the Holy Spirit consoles and enlightens us. Fire represents God’s presence (like at the burning bush) and love, that love which “has been poured out in our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Fire is also powerful and it spreads. We see at Pentecost how the apostles were filled with God’s power and strengthened in zeal for the cause of Christ. This is the action of the Holy Spirit who gave them ardent zeal to make great sacrifices and even endure persecution and martyrdom in their mission to spread the Kingdom of Christ.
Another remarkable sign at Pentecost was that the multitude of people of different languages who were present in Jerusalem heard the apostles speaking their own language. In the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel, we learn that the one language spoken by everyone was divided into many languages, thus causing the confusion of languages and disunity. The opposite happens at Pentecost. This miracle reveals to us that the Holy Spirit is the source of the Church’s unity. The Holy Spirit makes us one in Christ Jesus and integrates us within the unity that binds the Son to the Father. Through the Church, the Holy Spirit brings to spiritual unity peoples of different languages, races, nations, and cultures.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, I invite you to be conscious of the presence of the “hidden God,” the Holy Spirit in your lives and in the life of the Church. May the Holy Spirit sanctify us, fill us with zeal for the spread of the Gospel, and unify us in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church!
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