In reflecting on what the Creed teaches us about the Holy Spirit we must consider the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they are related to one another in the Holy Trinity. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us the Mystery of the most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life... the mystery of God in Himself. It is therefore the source of all other mysteries... the most fundamental... teaching in the "hierarchy of the truths of faith...."
In crime shows and detective novels mysteries are solved with a combination of persistence, logic and good luck; in the real life of Christians mysteries are only approached through experience and penetrated by love. Mystery stories can become dull after awhile, but the mysteries of our faith cannot be understood fully so we can never tire of them.
Although - or perhaps because - they eternally puzzle us, the mysteries of our faith remain capable of forever refreshing and nourishing us. In the Book of Proverbs, Godís Wisdom speaks of "delight" and "rejoicing" among the human race (Prov. 8.31), which suggests that God also wants to enchant us, and to beguile us, in pleasant ways, to discern His will.
The Word of God is Godís Son, just as human words are the concepts that exist in our intellect. Godís love is the Holy Spirit, and the Scriptures are filled with references to the love the Spirit reveals. St. Paulís words, "the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who is given to us" (Rom. 5.5), are perhaps the most famous, but the thought behind them is by no means unique.
From its earliest days the Church has developed its theology to respond to errors or attacks on its beliefs. When the Church Fathers gathered at Nicea, in 325, they faced a number of false opinions about Godís Spirit, including claims that the Holy Spirit is inferior to the Father and Son, or that the Spirit was created. In these reflections we have been considering the Apostlesí Creed, but when we come to the Holy Spirit we will profit from considering five points made by the Nicene Creed that clarify the Churchís authentic teaching.
In the Creed we call the Holy Spirit "the Lord." This is to distinguish the Holy Spirit from the spirits God has created. We are surrounded by these spirits, most notably the angels. However, these spirits are created by the Father to be ministers of His will. The Holy Spirit is uncreated, eternal, and equal in all things to the Father and The Son. Like the Father and Son, then, the Spirit is appropriately called Lord.
The Creed also names the Spirit "the giver of life." The presence of the human soul gives life to our human bodies. Similarly, union with God gives life to the soul. In the gospel Jesus tells us, "it is the Spirit that gives life" (Jn. 6.64), so we have Our Saviorís words to establish this title for the Holy Spirit. But to understand these words we must consider that the Spirit unites us to the Father and the Son in a relation of love. This love is the very life of God, so the Spirit brings us to life by sharing Godís love with us.
To acknowledge the Holy Spirit as the love of the Father and the Son reinforces Catholic belief that the Spirit shares equally in the life of the Trinity. Our profession of faith also reinforces our belief that the Spirit is - like the Father and the Son - eternal and uncreated.
In St. Johnís gospel, Jesus tells the crowd, "true [worshippers] shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4:23). To approach the Father means approaching Him in the love revealed by the Spirit. To offer the Spirit the same honor we offer the Father and the Son is nothing more than mere gratitude for the Spiritís uniting us in love with the other persons of the Trinity.
The Old Testament is filled with references to Godís Spirit. From the psalm which acknowledges, "when you send forth your spirit they [humanity] are created" (Ps. 100.30), to the prophet Ezekiel, who hears God say to the House of Israel, "...I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live...." (Ez. 37.14), the Church has experienced the Spirit as an active, life-giving force. Nevertheless, some members of the early Church wished to make a complete break with the tradition that had gone before. They denied the Fatherís hand in the history of the Old Testament, and claimed that an evil spirit had prompted the words of Moses and the prophets, or that those who claimed to speak under the Spiritís influence were wicked or insane. To profess our belief in the Spiritís speaking through the great figures of the Old Testament not only expresses our belief in the unity of the persons of the Trinity, but reinforces our belief in the Spiritís eternal presence.
Early Church writers distinguished between "theology," which they described as the life of God in itself, and "economy," which are the works that reveal Godís life to us. In the beginning God brought all things into existence because His love could not be anything but creative. Creation shows us Godís power and inventiveness, and reveals that only the one who creates something is capable of repairing it if it has been damaged. If we sin we cannot heal ourselves, but must turn to our Creator. Because God created us through His Spirit of love, the same love reconciles us to the Father. When Jesus tells the crowd that a sinful woman has been forgiven "because she hath loved much" (Lk. 7.47), or when St. Peter writes that "Charity covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pt. 4.8), they invite us to rely on the healing power of the love that gives us life.
At the Last Supper Jesus told the disciples the Father would send the Spirit to "teach... you all things and... bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I have said to you" (Jn. 14.23). The Holy Spirit is not only the source of Godís love, but the means by which we learn, understand, reflect and recall the things the Father has done for our well-being.
We earlier mentioned Ezekiel as one of the prophets who spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In one of the most vivid pictures God draws in the Old Testament He promises Ezekiel,
These words remind us that the Spirit is not just the object of our worship, but the very principle of our moral identity as Christians. We have been created in Godís image, which means we have been created to love. This means that the more we embrace the mystery of the Trinity the more we can understand about ourselves, and the more deeply we examine the works of God the more clearly we can discern the model for our behavior. Godís Spirit is always present to remind us of the image we bear within us, and the call to holiness we have received as a result of that image.
St. Paul calls the Holy Spirit "the pledge of our inheritance" (Eph. 1.13) and tells us that through the Spirit we have the confidence to call God our Father (Gal. 4.6). True love will not promise what it cannot give, so our ability to turn to God in prayer is a sign of the Spirit at work in our lives, enabling us to experience Godís love now, and to look forward to enjoying it even more fully in Godís kingdom.
Each day we receive a new reminder that we are not perfect. Our bodies fail to behave as we would like, and our emotions are clouded by doubt and fear. Temptation confuses us and makes not only wonder what God wants us to do and to question whether doing Godís will is worthwhile. The catechism of our youth taught us God created us to "know, love, and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him" In the next. God did not create us to be unhappy, so the Spirit is always present to sooth our doubts, and to lead us along the paths that will take us to God. "He that hath an ear," the Spirit tells St. John in the book of Revelation, "let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches" (Rev. 2.17).
An important principle in our faith that tells us if we want to know what the Church believes we need only look at how the Church prays. So although we can never understand the mystery of the Trinity completely, examining how we pray will tell us quite a bit about it. If we consider of any of the prayers we say during the Mass, especially the Eucharistic Prayer itself, we discover that in each of them we address the Father through the Son, in the Spirit. The structure of our prayer expresses at once our belief that the persons of the Trinity are related but distinct. The structure of our prayer also reminds us that the Father is the source of everything that is and everything we can want, that these gifts are revealed and given us through the Son, and that the Spirit is the bond that unites us to God in love - and to one another in prayer.
These theological realities are not something we need to spend time thinking about because we live them every day. We encounter Jesus in the Scripture and the sacraments. The action of the Spirit allows us to reflect on our lives in Christ, and this directs our lives up and out - up toward the Father and, through him, out toward another.
God reveals himself to us through his actions; we come to love him because of the things he does for us, and the more we love him the better we understand the meaning of his actions, and the more we want to know Him better
At the Last Supper Jesus promised His disciples the Spirit who will lead them to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but will speak only what he hears... All that the Father has belongs to me. That is why I have said that what he will announce to you he will have from me (Jn. 15. 12-16). There is a tremendous modesty in Jesusí words today, a frank acknowledgement of His power, and a humble acknowledgement not only that this power is something He has received from another, but that He will allow still another the pleasure of sharing that power with us.
The gift of Godís Spirit unites us to the Persons of the Trinity, and the Spiritís on-going presence keeps us united with the great events of our salvation. At Pentecost Godís Spirit blessed our lips and opened our ears. Our theology teaches us that gifts are never given just to enrich the individual who receives them: they must be shared for the common good and the building up of God's kingdom. When we consider the Trinity the Spirit reminds us that everything we are and everything we have is Godís gift. Our task as Christians is to share the gift exactly as we have received it, and to disappear behind the gift so that whatever we say and whatever we do will reveal the hand and the voice of God.
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