Belief in the Holy Spirit, third person of the Trinity is at the heart of Christian faith but many people see the Holy Spirit as an abstract concept which they find difficult both to understand and to relate to. Hence the many names and symbols which are used of the Spirit to help Christians grasp the dynamism of the Trinity who is Father, Son and Spirit.
Of course, it is not enough to acknowledge the Holy Spirit as a kind of theological fact of life. The following brief thoughts might help you to reflect on the role of the Spirit in various aspects of human life.
A note for teachers
As you look through this module and especially the web sites recommended remember to ask yourselves these questions:
- Is it readily understandable? Do I need to seek further explanation?
- Does it conform to what I understand to be our shared Christian faith? Perhaps I need to discuss this with other informed people?
- Could I give this article to secondary students? Why or why not? At what secondary class level could it be discussed?
- What ideas could I use from this article that would be of value and interest to my students?
The Holy Spirit and the natural world
The first words of Genesis describe the movement of God’s Spirit as intimately involved with the bringing to birth of creation. The world in all its splendour and intricacy is sustained by the Spirit of God. Who has not been moved to admiration by an autumn morning, the expanse of the sea, a new-born child? One great plus of faith is being able to recognise and glorify the Holy Spirit who acts in creation and continually renews it. Paradoxically the Holy Spirit waits for us also in moments of disaster, darkness, pain and death. Paul speaks of the groaning of an incomplete creation in his letter to the Romans and of the Holy Spirit coming to us in weakness and need. It is the experience of many people that they discover God in moments of anguish and loss.
- Describe a favourite natural place? What sense of the Spirit of God does it bring to you?
- Can you recall a time when pain, disaster or difficulty both concealed and revealed the presence of the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit in society
When Christians call on the Holy Spirit to renew the earth it is not just the physical features of the planet they care about. It is our social world, its historical development, political systems, economic order, that concerns us too. Honest governments, just laws, good schools, loving families are examples of social structures where the Spirit of God is manifest. However the Holy Spirit is also encountered in situations which cry out for justice, in people deprived of a livelihood, where rights are ignored and violence and abuse challenge human decency. In these circumstances the Holy Spirit acts within human conscience provoking responses that lead people of good will to work justice and reconciliation.
- Find a newspaper article that expresses for you something of the presence of the Holy Spirit in society. Compare your choice with the choices of others.
- What situations rouse the Holy Spirit within you?
- The Holy Spirit acts within human conscience to provoke responses that lead people (not necessarily Christians) to work for justice and the good of all. Present the stories of some of these men and women.
The Holy Spirit and the Church
It is through the action of the Holy Spirit that the presence of Jesus remains alive and active in the Church. We know Jesus now through the Holy Spirit which is his own Spirit. In John’s gospel we hear Jesus explicit promise to be with those who believe in him and to send the Holy Spirit to teach the Church and to continually keep alive in the Church of his work and words. Though the Church is a community of flawed human beings, the Holy Spirit has constantly called her throughout her 2000 year history to repentance and renewal and is the source of her life and fruitfulness.
An article by Anglican bishop Tom Wright could be useful further reading for teachers.
- What do you see as the clearest evidence of the Holy Spirit’s action in the Church?
The Holy Spirit and the sacraments
The sacraments of the Church are the signs through which the Holy Spirit draws believers into the Church and through which they are fed, forgiven, strengthened and consoled and fitted for service. Through the ministry of the Church, the Holy Spirit animates quite ordinary substances and experiences: water, oil, bread, wine, gestures, relationships and words so that they mediate the life and presence of God who is both within all and beyond all.
- Try to put into words an encounter with the Holy Spirit in one of the sacraments.
The Holy Spirit in relationships
The Holy Spirit has been described as the bond of love between God whom we call Father and Jesus Christ the Son, a love so strong and life-giving that it draws all that exists into the relationship between Father and Son; a love so strong that it is expressed in terms of personhood: the Spirit is called the third person of the Trinity. Ordinary language is stretched beyond its limits in explaining this mystery yet the Holy Spirit is as close and intimate as the experience of human love, of kindness, of generosity. Whenever human beings respond to each other in unselfish love the Holy Spirit is alive and active among them.
- Find a picture which depicts human relationship and explore it as an icon/image of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit and imagination
Fire, water, wind, breath, balm, dew, wellspring, teacher, advocate, paraclete, consoler are some of the images the Church and her scriptures use to express the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. Another traditional image has been the dove. Celtic Christianity has used the wild goose as an apt image while Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks of the bright-winged bird who broods tenderly over the world. The Australian poet James McAuley imagines the Holy Spirit as a gorgeous and impassioned bird of paradise wooing his drab mate humanity. These creative efforts to express the essence of the Holy Spirit themselves reflect the work of the Spirit. All art, imagination and originality has its source in the action of the God, the Holy Spirit inspiring and illuminating human existence.
- Express in a work of imagination or creativity (art, dance, poetry, music) a response to the Holy Spirit.
It’s often helpful to consider, as an American Catholic article does, the ordinary experience of ‘spirit’ to undertake an exploration of what we mean when we speak of the Holy Spirit. An article from the same online periodical explores how the Spirit of God is spoken of in the Old Testament.
Fr Ronald Rolheiser offers a typically useful reflection on the One Spirit who is the one source of all that is.
(I believe in) … the holy catholic Church
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church continues the presence and work of Christ in the world. The Church is called the body of Christ who is the source of its holiness despite the sinfulness of individual members. It is called catholic because its beliefs are those held universally and in every age by every member, regardless of nationality or status and its because mission is universal in scope.
The Patheos site has a brief but quite comprehensive introduction to the Catholic Church under several headings. Lumen Gentium is the great Vatican II document on the Church and more might be found in the relevant sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
A brief history of the Church is supplied in a short article which tries to explain something of what it is to be Catholic while Eight good reasons for being a Catholic explores more personal or individual reasons for belonging to the Catholic Church despite difficulties with its inevitably flawed human structures and members.
Finally an article reflecting on Lumen Gentium sums up some of its themes and spirit and could stimulate new interest in this especially significant modern document on the Church.
(I believe in) … the Communion of Saints
The Church is not limited by time or space but embraces all who in life or death have been baptised into her. The familial relationship of all members of the Church is called the communion of saints. This does not imply that Christians are perfect but it does mean that all who belong to the Church form one body which is holy because it is the Body of Christ. Members of this body who die are not cut off from it but remain part of the family of the Church, remembered and prayed for daily at every Eucharist. Saints of every era of history, known and unknown, become a source of inspiration and support to present day members.
(I believe in) … the forgiveness of sin
God’s forgiveness of human sin and reconciliation in Jesus, the forgiving, reconciling victim, is at the heart of Christianity and in response forgiveness ought to particularly characterise Christian faith. Forgiveness implies that there is something about the human condition and within every human being which is in need of forgiving. An article exploring the last words of an executed American killer examines the reality of human sin and wretchedness but also the possibility of forgiveness and redemption.
Notice how the Catechism explains the forgiveness of sins in terms of faith in the Holy Spirit and in the Church. Baptism is the sacrament which reconciles Christians with God and gives them a new and sinless identification with Jesus Christ, but because human beings do not lose their tendency to sin just because they have been baptised, the Church continues the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation through its work and sacraments. A further brief extract from Rowan Williams book Tokens of Trust makes a point about how countercultural this article of the Creed can be in a world where the concept of evil, though not its effects, is increasingly vague.
(I believe in) … the resurrection of the body and life everlasting
This is a very radical claim and one that flies in the face of the evidence of physical death and the corruption and disintegration that succeed it and it emphasises the importance given to the body in Christian tradition.
Christian thinkers have always insisted on the unity of body and soul as constitutive of the human person. Hence any real faith in the resurrection of the dead can’t be purely spiritual but must include in some way our bodies. Father Ron Rolheiser compares life after death to the experience of a newly born child who leaves the known but confined world of the womb for the unknown but unimaginably rich possibilities of life outside the womb.
However, humanly speaking, though we live in well justified hope, no-one can know what life everlasting will be like and all must trust in the words of scripture “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9)
Lifted to glory, a review of the book The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200- 1336 discusses Christian thinking about the body and how it resisted the spiritualisation of Greek thought in its developing tradition and the temptation to define human beings (who in their bodily lifetimes are so changing) simply by something that is immaterial and unchanging, the soul.
QUESTS AND QUESTIONS
I believe in the Holy Spirit….
Reflecting on the Creed can help us put our experience of faith in our own words. Express something of your understanding of the Holy Spirit in your own words.
The holy, catholic Church
- How can the Church be holy and yet so flawed?
- What are the connections between the Church in, for example, Periyakulam Taluk, India; Karratha, Australia; Washington DC, USA; Freetown, Sierra Leone and Genoa, Italy (or any other far-flung communities)?
- ‘The Church always seems to be behind the times, when it is really beyond the times’ (G.K. Chesterton). What do you think Chesterton means by this quip and do you agree or not?
- Where are the places we meet Jesus now?
The communion of saints
- In what sense are you a saint?
- What kind of relationship can we have with those who have died? How might a sense of belonging to the communion of saints change your attitude to death?
- Our ordinary understandings of time and space are challenged by faith in the communion of saints. How do we experience this communion? Is it simply unbelievable?
The forgiveness of sin
- What is evil?
- What do experiences of failure, shame or guilt say to you about the possibility of forgiveness of sin?
- Recall experiences of forgiveness and their impact on you.
- Humanly speaking, what is forgiveness? Why should we forgive?
- Why is it so difficult to identify sin, evil, wrong-doing etc. when its effects are so obvious?
The resurrection of the body and life everlasting
- Why do bodies matter?
- Are you simply your body?
- What are your questions about death?
- What are your hopes for the future?
- The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium #48 looks forward to a time when human beings and the whole universe ‘will be perfectly re-established in Christ’. How do you imagine this might look?