Without a doubt, we don’t understand God. Not the smartest among us, not the holiest, not the simplest. None of us completely “get it.”
Oh, some of us think we get the concept and we do have a relationship with him. But let’s face it, God is more mystery than Someone easily comprehended. Especially the whole mystery of the Trinity – Three Persons, One God. I’ve been trying to think how I can begin to introduce God to my 6-year-old grandson in a way that helps him pray or understand. I’ve got nothing.
I happened upon this quote recently: “Many times disillusionment comes simply because our circumstances don’t fit our concept of who God is and how he works.”
Alas, our circumstances can quickly alter that concept.
We can feel like we have a good grasp of God the Father; we can relate on some level to him loving us as a dad loves his children. And God the Son – Jesus – is one of us, walked the earth with us; we can relate to him as friend and brother. Even though there is so much about both of them that reaches beyond our human abilities to understand, we can have our moments.
But the Holy Spirit? That’s where many of us often get lost.
That’s a shame, too, because Jesus thought it was so important for us to receive the Holy Spirit. That was his final gift to us – perhaps his greatest gift to us in many ways. Jesus taught us to pray to God as Father, to praise him and thank him and seek things from him. And Jesus gave up his very self for us, told us he always would pray for us, intercede with the Father, would listen to us and share his life with us.
Jesus physically had to return to heaven, though, yet he didn’t want to leave us alone. So he promised we would receive the Holy Spirit. The Third Person of the Trinity, every bit as much God as the Father and the Son. The Paraclete – which is defined as advocate, intercessor, the Comforter.
Our constant companion, for those of us who are baptized. The Spirit of God living inside us, from whence we receive great power as well as gifts such as wisdom and understanding, counsel and knowledge, fortitude and piety and fear of the Lord.
Jesus breathed this Spirit into his apostles before he returned to heaven. Then, some time later, the Holy Spirit came upon all his assembled disciples (120 in all) on Pentecost, often called the “Birthday of the Church”, which we will celebrate this weekend at church. As I try to do each week, I spent some Lectio Divina prayer time with the Scriptures we will hear. Click here for a look at all the readings for Pentecost: Sunday, June 8
The first reading, from Acts of the Apostles, sounds like something from an old Hollywood movie, with a great driving wind and tongues of fire as the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples. Suddenly, they could speak all sorts of languages and converted countless people to become followers of Christ.
The selection from John’s Gospel recalls the moment when the Risen Christ visited the apostles by entering through a locked door, breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” At once, the apostles rejoiced and knew a great peace.
But my favorite line of Sunday’s Scripture comes from St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians.
Brothers and sisters, no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is God. And as God, the Spirit brings something new and powerful to a person. In a way, it can be a paradox: Power and peace at the same time, from the same source, thanks to the same conversion and surrender.
Or as Pope Francis recently described it: “Sometimes, the Holy Spirit prompts us to do bold things. … Other times, the Holy Spirit leads us gently and the virtue is in allowing ourselves to be carried by the Holy Spirit, in not resisting the Holy Spirit, in being docile to the Holy Spirit.”
The Pope speaks often of the Holy Spirit because it is that way that God is working in the Church today – and in our lives every day. He says the way to detect the presence of the Spirit is to pay attention to what is happening, to what comes to your mind, to what comes in your heart. “Docility to the Holy Spirit” is the way to discern that presence.
The alternative, he said recently, are those people who “believe that the things of God can be understood only with the head, with ideas, with their own ideas. They are proud. They think they know everything. And what does not fit into their intelligence is not true. You can raise a dead man in front of them, but they do not believe.
“They could not believe! This is the sin of resisting the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis says there are two groups of people:
* Those who are gentle, sweet people, humble, open to the Holy Spirit.
* And those who are proud, self-sufficient, detached from the people, intellectual aristocrats, who closed their doors and resist the Holy Spirit.
“This is not just stubbornness,” he said, “it is much more: it is having a hard heart! And this is more dangerous. Let us ask the Lord for the grace of docility to the Holy Spirit to move forward in life, to be creative, to be joyful. …(We ask, therefore,) for the grace of obedience and that the Holy Spirit will help us to defend ourselves from this other evil spirit of self-sufficiency, pride, arrogance, closure of the heart to the Holy Spirit.”
As we celebrate Pentecost, may we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit.