WHAT IS THE HOLY SPIRIT AND WHAT DOES HE DO?

The Holy Spirit is often characterized as an independent agent, a sort of whimsical fairy who goes about doing good, all the while thumbing his/her nose at authorities, especially those in the Church. A serendipitous occurrence which flouts convention might well be characterized as a work of the Spirit. Sometimes, we are urged to “listen to the Spirit” who is seen as revealing God’s will better than it is revealed in the Church’s teachings.

This characterization of the Holy Spirit may contain something of value, but it is mainly wrought with confusion. It assumes, for example, that the Godhead is composed, not of one God in three persons, but of three gods. One god manufactures order, a second becomes one with us in our humanity and the third beautifully and creatively deconstructs the order the first god has created.

This confused picture disfigures Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; … He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16.13-14) In short, the Spirit has no other role than to point to the Son and the truth he incarnates. The Son, we read elsewhere, is at one with the will of the Father.

However, this rebuttal, left as it is, may lead a person to an opposite error – that of seeing God as one with no diversity of persons. Words like “truth” and “will” can mislead us into believing that God is utterly detached from humanity, a being who imposes fixed truths with an implacable will. A lot of us (myself included) were raised with this austere, even frightening, understanding of God.

“What is truth?” asked Pilate. We may be tempted to say that truths are propositions which are either true or false. The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar challenged us to expand our understanding of the nature of truth. The Spirit’s guiding us into all the truth is not a special way of imparting information. Rather, the Spirit enables us to participate in the relationship of Father and Son. The Spirit makes us holy as the Spirit “searches the depths of God.” (1 Corinthians 2.10) “Knowing” the truth through the Holy Spirit means abiding in the heart of the Trinity.

But God is love, and each of the persons of God is an infinite, overflowing love for the other persons. In fact, the Holy Spirit is the love between Father and Son. Divine love overflows so radically that Father, Son and Spirit are one.

At Pentecost, we see Jesus’ followers transformed from confused, frightened men and women into people who courageously live and proclaim the risen Lord. The Spirit’s guiding them into the fullness of truth has transformed their lives. We too need to be transformed through this truth so that we become free, not to do our own thing, but free to love as God loves.

Glen Argan

Glen Argan has spent more than 35 years writing and editing in Canada’s Catholic press and has two graduate degrees in theology. He is a former Interim Editor of Living with Christ.

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