Today we begin our Marian Pentecost Novena, in preparation for Pentecost Sunday. Mary and the apostles experienced the Holy Spirit in an intimate and powerful way on Pentecost, but how often have you felt the same? While it is easy to have that intimate and powerful experience of Jesus in the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit can often become the ‘forgotten person’ of the Holy Trinity.
Father Joseph Johnson, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, stopped by The Inner Life® this week to discuss who the Holy Spirit is, and how we can grow in our knowledge and love of this third person of the Trinity.
On the question of who the Holy Spirit is, Fr. Johnson admitted, “It’s a big question. It seems simple, but we know what a father is, we know what a son is. So when we think about the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – we have something to start with for the Father and the Son. But the Holy spirit you’re like, ‘Oh … okay.'”
So how can we wrap our minds around a spirit? Fr. Johnson pointed out that there is a natural difficulty there because we are incarnational.
“Jesus took on flesh, and comes to us in that way,” he said. “And that’s the sacraments of the Church as well. God could just instill grace, but he does it through sensible, visible, tangible ways. Because we’re incarnational. So there are limitations in why we struggle with understanding the Holy Spirit.”
But though the Spirit cannot be seen physically, it can be known in more tangible ways through the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us in paragraph 668:
“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.
That is a long list of ways we can know the Spirit and see him working! But it is easy to take these things for granted, or see them as the movements of man rather than the movements of the Spirit.
Fr. Johnson pointed out, “You know, I think we reflect too little on the nature of the Church. We just think of the Church as an institution. We see its human elements, but we miss the big picture, the divine reality, the Church as the mystical body of Christ. Christ is the head. We are the members of the body. But a body without a soul is dead, right? That’s how we define death, is the soul leaves the body.”
“So the Holy Spirit is described as the soul of the Church, the soul of the mystical body,” he continued. “You find in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical on the mystical body of Christ a beautifully articulated, wonderful reflection of the Holy Spirit that brings this union between a husband and wife in marriage, as a community of persons, and amongst all of us together as a community of persons in the Church.”
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