By Father John Bayer
Special to The Texas Catholic
Pentecost, which we celebrated last Sunday, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles (Acts 2:1-47). Shortly before Jesus suffered, died and rose again, he promised an advocate, teacher and counselor to his budding church – the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-31; 16:4-24). He promised “to dwell” in us: to animate our lives as individuals and as a community.
The Son of God, who joined us in the Incarnation, did not leave us in his Ascension. Through his spirit, he binds himself to every one of us, making our lives extensions of his own, just like branches on a vine (John 15:1-17).
Who is this spirit, this mysterious third in the Holy Trinity? One could say many things… If you want a deep, accessible and inspiring resource to take you well beyond this little article, I suggest starting with the short books by Raniero Cantalamessa, who was the official “preacher to the papal household” for St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and is now for Pope Francis.
In the meantime, I offer here an ancient witness about the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite prayers invoking his presence is the Veni Sancte Spiritus (“Come O Holy Spirit!”), which is a Latin hymn probably written in the 12th century. I love this prayer because it highlights the Holy Spirit’s agility as he adapts to each person to overcome all obstacles to our communion in the love of God. In a series of very simple, grammatically identical phrases, we pray to the Holy Spirit: “Clean what is dirty. Water what is dry. Heal what is wounded. Bend what is rigid. Warm what is cold. Straighten what is crooked…”
Simply put, the spirit is working everywhere to better everything. He is like the wind racing through the trees that never forgets to push a single leaf exactly as he wants. We meet the spirit in his gifts, that is, in his work of cleansing, watering, healing, bending, warming, straightening… If he feels absent, it could be because we are blind to his work. This can easily happen to us all. The spirit is living and subtle. He always stands in front with something to teach us. We meet him in motion. If we do not feel ourselves being blown forward and shaped, then it is no wonder we do not sense the Holy Spirit.
Why do we not sense him? Because we tend to resist moving. We like to secure ourselves, and so we readily collapse intellectual and moral tensions. We ignore what we do not understand, and we focus on “splinters” in our brothers and sisters rather than “planks” in ourselves (cf. Matthew 7:1-5). Is it such a surprise that a society can become polarized? For we often prefer to feel ourselves vindicated rather than to entrust ourselves to the untamable winds blowing us “into all truth” (John 16:13).
Stagnancy is boring! It is far more exciting to ride the wind, to put down our self-righteousness and start living with “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). We do not sense the Spirit when we pretend to be strong, unassailable rocks. We sense him when we stand together like leaves on a tree, feeling him as he blows us all together to clean, water, heal, bend, warm, straighten… As it says in the hymn, he is “the father of the poor” and therefore known by those who call out to him in their need.
The Holy Spirit is a divine person, not an idea. We hear him when we have the courage to accept our insecurities and therefore listen to our advocate, teacher and counselor. Let us live from the apex of our souls, that is, from our consciences in dialogue with God, who wants to guide us all personally in community. Let us grow! Every second there is a wind blowing over the earth as God reaches through time and space to graft us onto his beloved Son. If we open ourselves to his action by learning a little more introspection and prayer, a little more openness to conversion, a little more trust in Providence – then we will sense more deeply the movements of the Holy Spirit as he works among us.
Father John Bayer, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column appears occasionally in The Texas Catholic.