Docility to the Holy Spirit            (E.J.Tyler)

   One of the biggest problems in any human undertaking is that of discouragement in the face of little progress and even failure. A young student moves on to higher studies and has great ambitions to do well, but runs into difficulties and gets discouraged. Another person begins a business, but all sorts of reversals ensue, the business folds and discouragement sets in. Many people just give up on what they had planned to do, or at least lose heart and so settle for just a moderate result. Discouragement is a common human phenomenon. How much more so is it a danger in the case of spiritual undertakings. Now, our Lord has promised the help of, and has sent us, the Holy Spirit. His coming to us is the gift of God that changes all our prospects. With him, failure and disappointed hopes are transformed by God into the fruit that he wants. We can always look on the future knowing that he is with us. So then, let us consider the Holy Spirit, the difference which his presence makes, and the importance of cooperating with him.

1. The Holy Spirit and creation

  Who is the Holy Spirit, anyway? The Holy Spirit is vaguely alluded to in the very first pages of the Bible, when God’s creation of the world is described. The author describes pictorially the scene at the beginning when God was about to create the heavens and the earth. We cannot imagine just nothing, so the inspired author speaks of there being a formless void, with nothing definite, and all was dark over this void, “and God’s spirit hovered over the water.” This reference to the spirit of God at the beginning of creation is important. Prior to the coming of Christ God had revealed that precisely as God he is one, but of course he had not revealed that he is three persons, and that the Holy Spirit is one of the three divine persons. But by hindsight, and knowing that the Scriptures have God as their true author, we can interpret the reference to the spirit of God at the beginning of creation as an early if vague and implicit reference to the Holy Spirit. Similarly we can regard by hindsight the references to the word by which God creates (“and God said”) as a vague reference to the presence of the Word, the Second Person, in the act of creation. So the spirit of God was hovering over the waters, which was as if the power of God was poised over the formless nothing, ready to act and bring heaven and earth into being. Then God created. The Spirit of God was at work, and is now at work, in creating and sustaining all that exists, as is also the Word of God. We and all of creation exists because of the will of God who brings into effect what he wills through the power of the Holy Spirit. That very early connection alluded to in the Scriptures between the spirit of God and the creation of the world reminds us of the all-pervasive connection between the Spirit of God and each of us. The Spirit of God hovers over us as he did before creation, ever ready to make of us what God intends. The world is not on its own, nor are we.
2. The Holy Spirit prior to Jesus

  The Holy Spirit is not only involved in the work of creation. He is especially and manifestly involved in the world’s redemption from sin and in its renewal. In the Old Testament there are repeated references to the activity of the Spirit of God in the lives of various persons marked out by God to play a part in his plan for his chosen people. Moses is endowed with special gifts due to the action of the Holy Spirit, and he himself witnessed others receiving a share in the same holy Spirit, which delighted him. The spirit of God is spoken as coming upon what the Old Testament called the judges, those who were called to various kinds of leadership of God’s people following their arrival in the promised land, and before King Saul and then especially King David. For instance, we are told in the book of Judges that the spirit of Yahweh began to move Samson. A little later, the spirit of Yahweh seized on Samson and in the power of the spirit of Yahweh he destroyed a lion without any weapon. Later, when Samuel anoints David to be king in place of Saul, we read that the spirit of Yahweh seized on David and stayed with him from that day on. And so it is through the Old Testament. We read how the spirit of God came upon certain prophets and kings and priests to aid them in the work that God had raised them up to do. Not that it was realized then that the spirit of God was a distinct divine Person. This came only as a revelation from our Lord, but by hindsight  we can see in these references the activity of the Holy Spirit in the story of salvation. His presence and activity is gradually being revealed. What comes home to us as we read the Old Testament is how with the coming of the Holy Spirit to a person that person receives special divine help to fulfil his work.

3. The Holy Spirit and Jesus the Messiah

  With the coming of Jesus the Messiah we see the Holy Spirit especially powerful and active. The angel Gabriel told Elizabeth that her child, who would be John the Baptist, would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. The same angel appears to the virgin Mary and foretells that by the power of the Holy Spirit she would give birth to the Messiah: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And the child to be born will be holy and called Son of God.” When our Lady visits Elizabeth, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and the child in her womb leaps for joy. Thirty years pass and John is a great prophet, and Jesus the Messiah comes to receive the baptism of water from him. The Holy Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove and then leads him off into the desert to engage in conflict with Satan. John points Christ out to his disciples as the one who would take away the sin of the world, and who would baptize in the Holy Spirit. The implication is that just as the whole population came to John for his baptism of repentance in water, so the people, indeed all the peoples, would come to Jesus to be baptised not in water but in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God, who had been conferred by God on certain individuals, would now be conferred on the peoples by Jesus. Jesus would be the source of the Holy Spirit coming to the world. From then on in his public ministry our Lord is being led by the Holy Spirit in a public and powerful way right to the greatest moment, the moment of his Passion and Death by which he would take away the sin of the world. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that he offered himself up on the cross as a victim to God the Father. It was by the power of the Holy Spirit that he rose from the dead. In other words, the Holy Spirit is the Person who is the power and the holiness of God reconciling man and the world to himself and making them holy. The need of fallen man and of our broken world was and is for the Holy Spirit to come. “Come Holy Spirit” is the cry of man’s heart. That cry has been heard by the most high God.

4. The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Church

    The Holy Spirit has come. He has been sent. It happened firstly when our Lord rose from the dead and appeared to the Eleven on the evening of the first day. He breathed on them, giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit. He had risen from the dead and was now able to give the Holy Spirit to the Church, and he began by giving the Holy Spirit to his apostles to forgive sins and to participate in his saving mission. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” That was our Lord’s first gift of the Spirit after rising from the dead. But the great coming of the Holy Spirit occurred at Pentecost, when the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to the infant Church, and with that, the infant Church as a living and active entity, empowered for its saving mission, began. The Holy Spirit brought the Church to active life and made of it the evangelizing force it has been ever since. The Church became the abode of the Holy Spirt here on earth, the soul of the Church as it were, with Christ as its head. This same Holy Spirit who then directed the work of the Church is now the gift of God to each and all who believe and obtain admission to the Church. By means of the Holy Spirit we share in the life of Christ, we live in union with him and we receive the power from God to be faithful, sharing in his fidelity.

5. Our need of the Holy Spirit

   The great theologian and writer of the nineteenth century, Cardinal Newman, maintained that one of the most convincing proofs of the divinity of the Catholic Church is the story of the Church’s conquest of the mind and heart of the Roman Empire over the three century following the Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Empire became Christian. This was the work of the Holy Spirit, achieved in the midst of terrible persecution and fidelity to the name of Christ. What does all this tell us? It tells us that our hopes lie in the presence and the activity of the Holy Spirit. If we are docile to his action and guidance, if we are fit instruments of his activity, the power of God will be apparent in the results. He makes the Church holy and each of the Church’s members holy. He extends the Church amid difficulties and sufferings and disappointments. It was he who led our Lord through the sufferings of the Cross to the victory of the Resurrection, and he will do the same for us and for the whole Church. We must, then, become devoted to the Holy Spirit and somehow learn to be led by him along the path to holiness, an apostolic holiness. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost if there was one thing that was glaringly obvious about the disciples of Jesus our Lord, it was that they did not have it in them to be true and valiant witnesses of Jesus. They needed the Holy Spirit. He came and they were transformed. We need his coming so as to be faithful and effective instruments of our Lord and of the Church in our daily life.

6. The Holy Spirit and the new evangelization

  What happened then we need to see happening now. The Holy Spirit is the key to a new evangelization, a new Pentecost. There are so many indications that the world needs witnesses of Jesus. Jesus needs effective witnesses. Consider the popularity of The Da Vinci Code, both the novel and the movie when they came out. It has planted and will plant in the imagination of numerous people doubts as to the divinity of our Lord and also about the divine element within the Church, and this divine element is its  main constitutive element. Where will there be the witnesses to the real truth about Jesus, and about the real truth about the Church? We are called to be those witnesses, and it is especially the role of the lay person whose characteristic home is the world of work, family, friends, the world out there where the priest and the religious is not normally present. If the world is to receive an effective witness to the person of Jesus, it will depend on the lay person who loves Jesus out there in the world. If he or she is to fulfil this role, he will need the Holy Spirit, as did the infant Church. Our Lord once said, when they bring you before governors and kings for my sake, do not worry what you are to say. The Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you. Every lay person ought pray, “Come Holy Spirit.”

7. Our Lord’s teaching about the Holy Spirit

  Our Lord tells us about the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of St John. “If you love me you will keep my commandments. I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive... He is with you, he is in you.” So then, the Holy Spirit has come to abide within our souls. He is our guest, our divine Friend on whom we can rely totally because he is God himself. He is infinitely greater than our guardian angel, and our guardian angel is our wonderful friend who helps us be docile to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is looking after us constantly, always working so that we will remain in the truth of Christ and the Church. He will help us abide in the truth that Christ has revealed and which has been transmitted to us by the Church his body. He helps us bear witness to it, just as Jesus bore witness to it. Our Lord said to Pontius Pilate that for this was he born to bear witness to the truth. That is our work in life too as disciples of the Master. For  this we have been given the Spirit of Jesus to sustain us. Our Lord tells us a little later that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.” St Paul also refers often to the Holy Spirit and speaks of what he does for us. He tells us in Romans chapter 8 that “the Spirit of God has made his home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him.” So by means of the Holy Spirit we belong to Jesus. St Paul continues a few verses later telling us that “if by the Spirit you put an end to the misdeeds of the body you will live.” So he enables us to fight against sin. We should be calling on the help of the Holy Spirit in our daily struggle against our faults and persistent sins. He is our hope in this fight and gives us the wherewithal to gain the victory. He also enables us to lead a life of prayer. St Paul tells us in the same chapter that the Holy Spirit makes us cry out “Abba, Father!”. He bears witness that we are children of God, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory.

8. We must play our part

    Let us then put our faith in the Holy Spirit, asking him to remain with us constantly and to help us constantly. But of course, if we are to be open to the help of the Holy Spirit we must do our bit. We ought regularly do some spiritual reading of the Scriptures and of good spiritual authors. Spiritual reading can change lives. It was the reading of the life of Christ and the lives of the saints that changed the life of Ignatius Loyola during his convalescence after being wounded in battle. We ought put time each day into prayer. If it is possible, we ought be receiving some form of sound spiritual direction. We should go to Confession frequently, for it is there that the Holy Spirit is especially active cleansing us of our sins. Let us always remember that on the occasion when our Lord on the evening of the day he rose from the dead he gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to his apostles, he gave them the power and the responsibility precisely to forgive sins. So the Holy Spirit is especially active in the Sacrament of Penance. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us especially through the word of Christ and the Sacraments. The greatest of the Sacraments is the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit is supremely at work then. He comes upon the bread and wine at the Consecration and transforms them into the body and blood of Christ, and is present with Christ as he makes present his sacrifice of Calvary, just as he empowered Christ at Calvary itself. As I said before, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that our Lord offered himself up as a perfect victim at Calvary.

So then, let us pray for the help of the Holy Spirit, and let us resolve to be faithful to him daily.