The Essential Holy Spirit

thumbnail21The Church is the place where the Spirit illumines the intelligence with eternal truth….The image underlying the name Spirit is essentially that of an irresistible power coming from God himself, a power divine in its own right and therefore a deifying power, a sanctifying power supremely equipped to communicate God’s life….

Thus the Spirit’s mission consists essentially in sanctifying humanity, leading humanity to partake of the state of holiness in which Christ’s humanity is already established.  What does this mean?  First, consecrating them, taking possession of them in the name of God….The Holy Spirit seeks to invade God’s Creation, take possession of it in the name of God and reign over our hearts.  But it is opposed by all the forces of resistance that exist in the heart of man….

The Holy Spirit, which is the person in God that most resembles an element or an environment, penetrates and impregnates all created realities in order to communicate incorruptibility to them, to strengthen that which is weak in them, to impregnate them with the incorruptible life of God. 

Cardinal Jean Danielou, quoted in Magnificat, Pentecost Sunday

The above is perhaps the very best description of the Holy Spirit’s person and work that I’ve ever read.  The Spirit consecrates, takes possession.  Yes.  And this is certainly what happens in the remarkable “rebirth” and “filling” which Christians whom we call charismatics often consider a born again experience.  Catholics are less likely to use the birth terms for this event, because we realize the birth happens by God’s grace in Trinitarian water baptism.  We will use “filling” or “renewal” as more theologically and experientially accurate terms.

But, consecrating and taking possession are terms that deepen our understanding of what God does when he sends the Holy Spirit in moments of overwhelming power.

I recognize now, after four decades of living the Christian life after my initial renewal in 1969 at age 24, that I was truly consecrated and taken possession of at that time.  What I wasn’t, was completely transformed.  This transformation into true holiness of body and soul is only just begun–and, in fact, made possible initially–by an experience of renewal in the Holy Spirit.  For many, the sacramental “sealing” action which takes place in Catholic confirmation is that initial experience of renewal.  But there is always “the rest of the story” which must be lived out with continual assent, that is, with decisions made freely with one’s will, in the empowering and energizing atmosphere of the Church and its sacraments for the rest of one’s life.

In this reality, I now know, lay the problems I perpetually encountered not simply as opportunities for growth in holiness and intimate relationship with Jesus while a protestant, but as stumbling blocks often.  Situations and temptations and challenges most often kept me bound, sometimes for long periods of time, until my prayers and experiences of sudden, occasional touches of grace finally would bring about a breakthrough and a real step forward.  Without the Catholic Church’s sacramental life continually cleansing and empowering my understanding, heart and will, that leg of my transformative journey during my protestant years was longer and harder than it needed to be, longer than God wished it to be, I believe.  I can see that now.  Certainly,  even Catholics, who have regular access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist, can take these greatest of gifts for granted and prolong the journey towards full freedom in Christ as a result.

God in His mercy used and is using all things, all circumstances, all situations–including the genuine good in separated churches–for his own final and complete purposes of good in the lives of those called by him into Life  (Romans 8:26-39).  But I will never cease to encourage and teach that without the communal life of the Holy Catholic Church and the Holy Sacraments with which she is endowed by Jesus Christ, the journey of sanctification towards full human freedom often becomes much too long and difficult, and can even end in a train wreck of one kind or another.

May we be always renewed in “the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us” in baptism (See Ephesians 1:3-14).   Come, Holy Spirit!         -JC