Faith on the Quad Who is the Holy Spirit?

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” (Acts 1:8)   


With World Youth Day recently concluding, it is fitting to reflect on the Pope’s message from this year’s gathering, which was centered on witness in the Holy Spirit.  In his talk at the Vigil, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that many Catholics lack an understanding of the Third Person of the Trinity.  He went on to explain that a knowledge of and relationship with the Holy Spirit is essential because it is He who enables us to live out our calling to be saints and witnesses to the love of God. The Pope noted that “the variety of images found in scripture referring to the Spirit – wind, fire, breath – indicate our struggle to articulate an understanding of him. Yet we do know that it is the Holy Spirit who, though silent and unseen, gives direction and definition to our witness to Jesus Christ.”

So who exactly is the Holy Spirit? 


The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity.  We believe that He “proceeds from the Father and the Son” (Nicene Creed).  In his Vigil talk, the Pope described the Holy Spirit as “a unity of lived communion” – the communion of the Father and the Son constantly loving and giving of themselves to each other.  Thus, the Holy Spirit is abiding love and self-giving; God shares himself as love in the Holy Spirit.  The Pope goes on to say that “Love is the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit!”  And the Holy Spirit exemplifies for us the true characteristics of love – enduring, faithful, and certain.


The Holy Spirit has been present throughout all of history, acting alongside the Father and Son and continuing to work in our world today.  The Spirit was present at the time of Creation and continues now to preserve and animate creation.  He spoke through the prophets, and it was through Him that the Virgin Mary conceived the Son of God.  The Spirit continues to be active today in the Church, leading her in her mission, unifying her, and guiding her in the path of truth.  The Spirit works continuously to bring Christ’s work to fulfillment.  In fact, the Catechism tells us, “The desire and work of the Spirit in the heart of the Church is that we may live from the life of the risen Christ” (CCC 1091).


We can see the work of the Holy Spirit alive in the Church in many ways.  The Spirit inspired the human authors of Scripture and assists the Church’s Magisterium and Tradition today.  He is present in the sacramental liturgy and makes the mystery of Christ present in the Eucharist.  He intercedes for us and unites our souls to God in prayer (Rm 8:26).  He converts our hearts and bestows His gifts on us, acting through the sacraments to strengthen our faith and lead us to the truth.  The Spirit empowers us to participate in the life of the Church and bear witness to Christ in our lives.  He is also seen in the apostolic and missionary life of the Church, as well as in the witness of the saints (CCC 688).


The power of the Holy Spirit is the power of God’s life.  In his World Youth Day message, the Pope tells us that the Spirit gives us the gift of divine charity, which enables us to love and serve our neighbor.  He continues to say, “Those who allow themselves to be led by the Spirit understand that placing oneself at the service of the Gospel is not an optional extra, because they are aware of the urgency of transmitting this Good News to others.”


Thus, we who have received the “seal” of the Holy Spirit must be a new creation, understanding the urgency of spreading the Gospel. In his homily at the Closing Mass in Australia, the Pope proclaimed that “Being ‘sealed with the Spirit’ means not being afraid to stand up for Christ, letting the truth of the Gospel permeate the way we see, think, and act, as we work for the triumph of the civilization of love.”  This is important for us to remember as we try to live Catholic lives on our college campuses.  We must remember our call to serve and take inspiration from the words of the Holy Father, who reminds us in his World Youth Day message, “… the Spirit of the Lord always remembers every individual, and wishes, particularly through you young people, to stir up the wind and fire of a new Pentecost in the world.”

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