By Father John Carville

On Pentecost Sunday we sing, “Come Holy Spirit, Come,” sometimes in Latin (Veni, Creator Spiritus), asking God to send us his Spirit as he sent it upon the apostles and disciples.  The first reading from the Mass says, “All were filled with the Holy Spirit.  They began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them.”  This is the culmination of the Christ event, the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission on earth.  He promised us that he would be with us until the end of the ages, and this is how he is with us.  In the second reading for Pentecost Sunday, St. Paul says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except in the Holy Spirit.  There are different gifts but the same Spirit, different ministries but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone.  To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the “forgotten person of the Blessed Trinity.”  God the Father is the creator of the universe.  Jesus is the son of God made man who died for us and rose from the dead to show us our final destiny;  but the Holy Spirit seems more difficult to understand.  One person?  This Spirit is around at creation, hovering over the waters as the land is separated from them.  The same Spirit is somehow responsible for the Virgin Mary’s conception of Jesus: “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.  When his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:1-25).  We know as Catholics that we believe in God who is a Trinity, but who is this Spirit?  What exactly does this Holy Spirit do?

We commonly speak of our “spiritual life.”  It is helpful to start our search for the Spirit there.  True prayer is a longing for God to fill our emptiness. Nothing on earth can completely satisfy us, not work, not success, not wealth, not recreation, not hobbies, not even the love of friends, parents, spouse or children.  As St. Augustine noted, God created us in such a way that our hearts are restless, and they cannot find rest except in God.  To satisfy that longing, Jesus left us the gift of God’s Spirit.  It sounds presumptuous to say that we are in touch with God’s Spirit, yet that is exactly the way St. Paul describes prayer.  “The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit” (Rom 8:26-27).  

Personal prayer, like every spiritual activity, is a response to the Spirit.  Prayer is a movement of the heart and mind which occurs only under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is always present to us, though unfortunately, we are not always in touch with that presence.  Prayer puts us in touch with God’s Spirit.  We often assume that we pray only to ask special favors from God.  Actually, our deepest need is for God’s presence and support.  What we are really seeking is a confirmation of God’s love for us.  Like Jesus in the garden, we pray to be delivered from this difficulty, this illness, this difficult relationship.  But whatever happens, God had better be with us.  And he is.  Prayer is simply listening for that presence.  

The Spirit is a power within us to act as Jesus did.  While he was with them, it was Jesus who was filled with the Spirit, and it was Jesus who glorified God in his actions while the Apostles stumbled and failed. After Pentecost, the Apostles were no longer afraid or hesitant.  They boldly fulfilled their mission.  They passed on the gift that Jesus had won for them.  In his first sermon, Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  

Each of us has his or her own mission.  We must be Christ to others in the daily circumstances of our lives.  The power of our lives to inspire, support, encourage and help others is a result of Christ’s spirit working within us.  St. Athanasius speaks of the Holy Spirit as the “living sanctifying and illuminating effectiveness” of Jesus who is given to us.  St. Augustine says that “this pleasure, this felicity, this happiness” that we experience in helping others “is the Holy Spirit” working in us. Grace is another term for the presence of that Spirit within us. 

We must remember constantly that God is giving us this gift.  If we don’t allow ourselves to be led by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we easily shift our gaze from God to ourselves. This is not good and is dangerous. If we are doing something because we think that no one else can, or, at least not as well as us, then we are just doing a job.  If we are doing it to serve the one God who is responsible for it all, and whose Spirit motivates us and sustains us, then it is a ministry continuing the work of Jesus.    

Father Carville is a retired priest in the Diocese of Baton Rouge and writes on current topics for The Catholic Commentator. He can be reached at johnnycarville@gmail.com.