When, as a college student, I was discerning my vocation, my spiritual director asked me how I visualized each Person of the Blessed Trinity. While I could relatively easily explain my “image” of and relationship with the Father and the Son, I realized at that moment that I did not really know the Holy Spirit: “Umm … I don’t know,” was essentially my response. My spiritual director told me that was probably typical for many people. However, I left the conversation with a sense of needing to encounter and to know the Holy Spirit more.
Who is the Holy Spirit? He is not a vague force or power. Nor is He a dove or fire or wind. Those are symbols of His presence found frequently in the Bible, but they are not He Himself. Rather, He is a Person – a divine Person – the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. And because He is a Person, and we are persons, we are able to have a relationship with Him.
When I was a sophomore in high school, the subject of our religion class was Church history. My teacher often repeated that the Holy Spirit is the One at work in each moment of the Church’s history. In fact, she told us this so frequently that many of my classmates joked that if you didn’t know an answer on a test, you should just guess the Holy Spirit. While I did not really participate in the joking, I certainly did not understand why my teacher emphasized this so much. In my youthful inexperience, it seemed at one and the same time obvious and not very important. But today I see both the importance and the profundity of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the Church and in each of our lives.
How or when exactly my lack of friendship with the Holy Spirit changed, I am not sure. But today I have a living relationship with Him and turn to Him frequently.
Given the human tendency to rush through the end of prayers, such as the Doxology (Glory Be), as well as the Sisters’ propensity to sing only the first two verses of a hymn, even a three-verse hymn about the Trinity where the last verse deals with the Holy Spirit, one of our Sisters likes to say, “Don’t leave out the Holy Spirit!” I often think of her comment when my students seem ready to rush on to the next thing before we have quite finished the Sign of the Cross. How easily we can “forget” about the Holy Spirit when we have not really developed a relationship with Him.
This relationship with the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to living the Christian life. In fact, it is He, the Lord and Giver of both natural and supernatural life, who initiates and nurtures that life of grace within our souls. As Christians, we have each received Him into our souls at Baptism. He is there within us, waiting for us to respond to His promptings and to allow Him to be fully active in our lives.
In Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Vigneron says, “We seek to bring every member of the Church, insofar as possible, into a personal and life-transforming experience of the Holy Spirit.
” That encounter with the Holy Spirit is a real possibility for each of us, if we open our hearts to His presence. As we approach the Solemnity of Pentecost, on which we celebrate the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church, may we seek to know Him and to allow Him to transform our lives.
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.