|Image of the Holy Trinity|
Walk with God
Birth. The Nativity scene represents the whole longing of humanity for the Incarnation – the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. My neighbor had unexpectedly put a face on that longing for Goodness with a capital “G.” He taught me that after the fall of Adam and Eve, the whole of humanity is groaning and searching to recover that beautiful relationship – that real friendship – that we had with God when we walked with Him in the Garden of Eden. Only Baptism in the Holy Spirit through the Birth, Life, Death and Resurrection of the Incarnation will restore us to God’s friendship and make us His children. Here the whole of salvation history was summarized by one family’s decision to put a Nativity Scene atop a wishing well, a decision I may well add, inspired by the Holy Spirit of God.
The Holy Spirit is First to Welcome Us into the Kingdom of God
It is interesting to note that the Holy Spirit is the first to bring
us to faith and to give us new life. This new life is to ‘know the Father and one whom He has sent, Jesus Christ.” (John17:3) For this reason, the Church calls the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. But He is the last Person to be revealed in Scripture, and often the most hidden. It seems like I am always noticing that He was there, not that He is here. I can see His effects, His work, but not His Presence. I was teaching my godson the catechism one day, and he said something so profound I knew the author was the Holy Spirit.
I wanted to grab the Holy SpiritI wanted to grab the Holy Spirit on the spot and hold onto Him, but the boy had already spoken, and there was only the echo of His words remaining in my heart. So also in Scripture we see the Author is almost silent about Himself. He reveals God and makes known to us Christ, His living Word, but the Spirit does not speak of Himself. The Spirit who has spoken through the prophets makes us hear the Father’s Word, but we do not hear the Spirit Himself. When the Father sends His Word, he always sends His Breath. The Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable in their joint mission of redemption.
Christ is Visible; The Holy Spirit is HiddenBut in the Gospels, it is Christ who is seen. He is the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals Him. The Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life, is the same spirit of God who moved over the waters at Creation bringing everything into being. He is the Breath of God, breathed into man, making him into the image and likeness of God. And He is the Uncreated Gift, who now offers us the friendship of God through Baptism.
Heart of Stone changed to Heart of FleshEzekiel prophesized about this future restored friendship with God, when he wrote: “For I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 37:24-28) With the prophets of the Old Testament, we can pray, “Oh Lord and Giver of Life, give me a new heart. Write your law of love upon my heart.”
The Law of the Holy SpiritThis is the law of the Holy Spirit: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, with your whole mind, with your whole strength and with your whole being. And you will love your neighbor as Christ has loved you.” The Blessed Virgin Mary -- she who was full of the Spirit of God from conception -- had this law written on her heart. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, she exclaims mightily, “My whole being proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”(Luke 1:46)
So in the entire Old Testament, the personality of the Holy Spirit is completely hidden. We see the Father clearly, shepherding His people, parting the Red Sea, bringing them out of slavery, meeting Moses in the burning bush. But the Holy Spirit and the Messiah are only hinted at. The biggest hint that both were coming and would have a joint mission of redemption is in Isaiah. Isaiah is sometimes called the Fifth Gospel, or the Gospel of the Old Testament. He wrote: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1-2) This is a veiled prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, the One who will be anointed by God Himself.
The Anointed OneJesus “is the Anointed One in the sense that he possesses the fullness of the Spirit of God.” (Dominum et Vivificantem by Pope John Paul II) The Spirit is the Anointing. The Father
does the anointing. And Jesus Himself will be the mediator in granting this Spirit, this Uncreated Anointing, to the whole People of God. That is why when Jesus was given the job of reading in the synagogue in Nazareth, he opened the book of Isaiah, and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant. All eyes were fixed on the Lord, and then He said to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Aha! He was telling them He was the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, the one in Whom the Holy Spirit dwells as the gift of God Himself, the one who marks the new beginning of the gift of life, which God makes to humanity in the Spirit. Later on Palm Sunday, the crowd would cry, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Luke 19:38) The Pharisees recognized that this came from Psalm 118, which refers to the kingship of the Messiah. And they urged Jesus to silence his disciples.
And Jesus answered that if they are silent, the very stones would cry out. What would the stones say? “Jesus is the Christ! He is the kingly Messiah! He is God’s Anointed One.”
|The very stones would cry out!|
So my neighbor with the Nativity scene in his wishing well was wishing and hoping for the coming of the Messiah and His Holy Spirit. When the infant Christ was presented at the temple, the Holy Spirit drew the righteous and devout Simeon to the side of Mary and Joseph. St. Luke tells us Simeon was looking for the “consolation of Israel.” That’s an Old Testament code word for the Holy Spirit. The New Catholic Catechism tells us: Two prophetic lines developed in the Old Testament, one leading to the expectation of the Messiah, and the other pointing to the announcement of a new spirit. These converge on a small Remnant of the Jews, the poor people of Israel who return from the Exile and await in hope “the consolation of Israel” and the “redemption of Jerusalem.” (Paragraph #711)
My Eyes have seen Your SalvationThe Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death until he saw the Christ, God’s Anointed One. So with the Holy Spirit upon him, Simeon took the baby into his arms, and said, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”(Luke 2:29-30)
Many signs accompanied the Birth of the Incarnation, and the beginning of his public ministry. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St.
|St John Baptist|
what He touches. And finally, when Jesus came he said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled.” (Luke 12:49) He refers to the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit, which will burn and consume us until we are transformed through a new birth in Baptism into a new creation, remade in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.
Transforming Suffering into Redemptive LoveAnd now we get to the heart of the Holy Spirit’s work in the crucifixion. For when we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. We are made priest, prophet and king. A priest is a sacrifice. So the next time they hold up one of those cute little babies at Mass and pray that he or she be made a priest, prophet and king, remember you are asking that the child be martyred. I don’t think most parents know that. In his encyclical on the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World (Dominum et Vivificantem), Pope John Paul II speaks of the Holy Spirit’s work in the crucifixion, a work of transforming suffering into salvific love. The pope says, “In the sacrifice of the Son of Man, the Holy Spirit is present and active just as he acted in Jesus’ conception, in his coming into the world, in his hidden life and in his public ministry.” He cites the letter to Hebrews, where the author after recalling the sacrifices of the Old Covenant in which the “blood of goats and bulls” purifies man from sin, adds, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13)
Specifically, in the fervent prayer of His Passion, Christ enabled the Holy Spirit to transform his suffering into redemptive love. There is a paradox at work here. We cannot say that the instruments of torture, the cross, the nails, the whips, etc. are the work of the Holy Spirit. These are a work of the devil. Sin has caused the suffering of Christ. In Christ crucified, there suffers a God who has been rejected by His own people. On the eve of His Passion, Christ speaks of the sin of those who do not believe in Him. He complains, “They do not believe.” (John 16:9) It is a distant echo of that earlier sin of man’s first parents, who through disobedience turned away from the truth contained in the Word of the Father. But from the depth of God’s suffering, His rejection by his creature, the Holy Spirit draws a blessing.
In the Cross, Love is at WorkIn the depth of the mystery of the Cross, love is at work. Love brings man back again to share in the life of God Himself. For, that is the gift that is restored to us through the cross. The Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, takes the suffering of God and restores God’s Life in us through Baptism. St. Paul said, “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Think of the freedom of the Immaculate Conception, who – without any sin or blemish – was free to say, “Yes!” when the angel invited her to be Mother of God. The Holy Spirit, through St. Elizabeth, cried out, “Blessed is she who believed that God’s promises to her would be fulfilled!”(Luke 1:45) Blessed is she who believed.
Jesus complains about the sin of those who don’t believe, but Mary, the new Eve, is the one who believed, and in the freedom of her faith, said “Yes!” Baptism is the means by which the Lord and Giver of Life restores to us the freedom of sons and daughters of God. Without it, Jesus said, we cannot enter heaven. “Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know when it comes or whether it goes; so it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)
That is what is meant when we pray, “Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.” Our new birth occurs when God the Father “sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” Then we receive a spirit of adopted sons by which we cry, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6) Therefore, this new birth in Baptism, this divine sonship planted in the human soul through sanctifying grace is the work of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, the Spirit, who gives life to man and the whole universe – visible and invisible – now renews the life of man through the mystery of the Incarnation.
In the prologue of the Gospel of John, the Evangelist explains that the True Light, Jesus Christ, came into the world through the Incarnation. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) But “He was in the world that had its being through Him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him. But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, children who were born not out of human stock or urge of the flesh or will of man but of God himself.” (John 1:10-13) That is the effect of Baptism in Christ Jesus. We have a new birth! We are purified, given a clean heart! Never let anyone tell you that the Sacrament of Baptism is not important.
Never leave anyone with the impression that it is okay to let your children chose or reject Baptism when they grow up. Baptism is the seed of eternal life. It is the spring of living water welling up in your hearts unto eternal life. And God went to an awful lot of trouble to bring you Baptism. Remember Jesus said, “I am the vine. You are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. . . If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:5-13)
Love as Christ has LovedNotice that Jesus does not say, love your neighbor as yourself. Now that you know Christ, now that you are baptized into his love, you must love as Christ has loved. You must have total self-consuming love that will even give its life for a friend. You must follow Him to the cross. This kind of branch is full of lots of green sap. Implicitly, the Holy Spirit is the sap of the Father’s vine, which bears fruit on its branches. The Father is the vinedresser. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes so it might bear more fruit. The Holy Spirit is the sap bearing fruit on the vine, and Jesus is the vine. St. Stephen, one of the first seven deacons of the Church, like all the martyrs of the Catholic Church, bore this kind of sap within him.
The Acts of the Apostles describes Stephen as “full of grace and power” with a face shining like an angel. Despite the threat of stoning, he did not hesitate to tell the truth, to
declare to the Israelite people their whole salvation history, how they rejected the prophets and finally the Christ, the Righteous One, the Lamb of God sent to them to save them from their sins. This last One, the Messiah, they betrayed and murdered. “You stiff-necked people ... you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it,” (Acts 7:51-53) Stephen told them. They ground their teeth when they heard these things. But St. Stephen, “full of the Holy Spirit,” gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55-56) And they stoned him to death. But as he died, he prayed that God would not hold this sin against them. A man named Saul watched the whole proceedings, and in his heart agreed to the murder of Stephen. But Stephen had prayed for Saul when he asked forgiveness for his persecutors. St. Augustine says that “if Stephen had not prayed to God, the Church would not have had Paul.” Saul became St. Paul and in the end enjoyed the same happiness as Stephen, the happiness of martyrdom for Christ.
In our own time in China, a young 15-year-old girl named Anna Wang enjoyed a similar martyrdom for the faith. She was offered the chance to repent of her belief in Jesus Christ, or be killed. She refused, even though her step-mother urged her to renounce her faith. So her tormentors cut off her arm, thinking this would deter the girl from persisting in her faith, but still she refused to renounce Christ Jesus. She seems to have had a similar vision to St. Stephen’s for near the end she said, “The gates of heaven are open.” It was almost as if she were telling her tormentors that they, too, could have heaven. They were welcome. And then they killed Anna Wang.
Precious in the eyes of God is the Death of His Saints“Precious in the eyes of God is the death of his saints. Victory and power and empire forever have been won by our God and all authority for his Christ, now that the persecutor who accused our brothers day and night before our God has been brought down. They have triumphed over him by the Blood of the Lamb and by the witness of their martyrdom because even in the face of death, they would not cling to life.” (Revelation 12: 10-12) We have all heard there is one Lord and there is one Baptism, and this is the reason that the Catholic Church does not re-baptize Protestants converting to the Catholic faith. But in researching this topic, I actually found that Jesus talks about three kinds of baptisms.
There is the Baptism of water and the Spirit, which each Christian receives in the Sacrament of Baptism. There is the baptism of fire and the Spirit, which each Catholic receives at Confirmation, and there is the baptism of blood and the Spirit, which the holy martyrs experienced at their death. All are works of the Holy Spirit, and all evolve from the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism means immersion in Greek. It means to “go under.” The first immersion we experience – most of us were baptized as children – is the immersion in the waters of Baptism.
Water -- Outward Sign of Inward GraceThe water is an outward sign of an inward grace. Noah and his family escaped through a purifying worldwide flood to begin anew the human race as children of God. At Baptism, He, who is called the Spirit of Adoption, descends on us and makes us sons of God. We who were far away from Him because of sin are reconciled to the Father through the joint mission and work of the Spirit and the Son. This first immersion is the Baptism of water and the Spirit of which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. Our Protestant brothers and sisters think of this as an emotional experience in which they are “born again” and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. But it is not an emotional experience; it is a supernatural experience, a sacrament of the Catholic Church, a work of God the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life.
This baptism involves a purgation. The Holy Spirit’s job is to convince the world of its sin. This is a necessary step for salvation. If you confess your sin in human society, you are punished. But if you confess your sin to God, you are saved.
On Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles as tongues of fire, the apostles were confirmed in their faith, and were given the courage to proclaim it. Peter exclaims, “Let the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) The crowds – through the power of the Holy Spirit -- were smitten with remorse, and they asked the apostles, “What shall we do?” And Peter responds, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
You Shall Be My WitnessesHere we have the crowd on Pentecost invited to both the first and second baptism, and Peter has already received both. The second baptism is into fire and the Spirit. Jesus spoke of this baptism by fire when He said, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I long that it be enkindled.” And after the Ascension, while staying with the apostles, Jesus charged them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father. “For, John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit ... You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:5-8)
It’s interesting, but one of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us is to clarify and prioritize. He calls us to a spirit of repentance and confession of our sins, but he also ends confusion. The miracle of Pentecost is that when the apostles preached, various peoples who spoke a multitude of languages understood them. This is the opposite of what happened when the languages were confused at the Tower of Babel, which was the punishment for man’s pride and infidelity.
Pentecost is the reversal of this confusion of tongues thanks to the clarifying grace of the Holy Spirit. Now this second baptism is given to us in the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Catholic Church teaches that our initiation into the Catholic faith is only completed once one has received this important sacrament, which confirms us in our faith, and gives us the courage to proclaim it. I wondered why it is that when we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation today, many times it seems like nothing. That was my experience. No one sang in tongues, and I felt very uncomfortable through the whole ordeal, and afterwards wondered what had taken place. My husband said the problem is poor catechesis. I think he’s right. People are not properly prepared for the sacrament, so very often the grace of Confirmation is recognized and understood later in life.
The Baptism of MartyrsThe third form of baptism follows from the second. It is the baptism of blood and the Spirit. Jesus’ apostles were arguing among themselves as to who was greater in the Kingdom of God. James and John asked if one could sit at his right hand and the other at his left hand when He came into his glory. Jesus replied, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” He meant the cross. He was asking, are you willing to give your life? This baptism is the obedience unto death that Christ gave to His Father on the Cross. It is the complete submission of your mind, heart, and will to the Will of God. It is St. Paul saying, “It is no longer I that live, but God that lives in me.”
Out of this kind of immersion in the will of God, the Holy Spirit is revealed and made present as the Love that works in the depths of the Paschal Mystery, as the source of the salvific power of the Cross of Christ, and as the gift of new and eternal life (Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit). God offers us, who are less than nothing, the opportunity to associate ourselves with the Paschal Mystery through our death to self.
When Jesus died on Good Friday, it was the day before the Jewish Sabbath. And the Jews requested that the bodies of the three crucified men might be taken down from the crosses that day, so they would not remain up on the high holy day. “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him.” Breaking their legs insured their swift death due to suffocation. “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”
The Birth of the ChurchSt. Augustine comments that this moment actually represents the birth of the Church, the Bride of Christ, who will be revealed at Pentecost. “Here was opened wide the door of life, from which the sacraments of the Church have flowed out, without which there is no entering in unto life which is true life. . . Here the second Adam with bowed head slept upon the cross, that thence a wife might be formed of him, flowing from His side while he slept. O death, by which the dead come back to life! Is there anything purer than this blood, any wound more healing!”
This third kind of baptism is closely associated with God’s plan for the life of the witness. St. John the Evangelist identified St. John the Baptist as the “witness to the Light.” Remember St. John was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. For when Mary visited Elizabeth, she opened her mouth and spoke, and the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy. In the prologue to John’s Gospel, he says John wasn’t the Light, but came to “bear witness” to the Light. And, of course, we know that this witness – like St. Stephen’s – involved giving his life. For St. John the Baptist was beheaded.
Faithful and True WitnessJesus, the High Priest in the book of Revelation, is called the Faithful and True Witness, for he gave his life for his friends, all mankind of every generation and nation. And the apostles are called witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection. Most of them were martyred as well. The Church, as bride of Christ, is called to continue to witness to the Resurrection in every generation. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’” They say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” “And let him who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.” (Revelation 22:17) This witnessing closely mimics the work of the Holy Spirit.
For, while John witnessed to the Light, and the apostles to the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit is also called a Witness to Christ. Jesus tells us that many times in the Gospel of John. And in fact that is why it is difficult to get your arms around the Holy Spirit because as soon as you reach for Him, He draws you to Christ and the Father. He is the Uncreated Witness to the Incarnation, which is His greatest work.
Ironically, his holy spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mary acts in an identical self-effacing way. You say, “Mary.” She says, “Jesus.” St. Louis Marie de Montfort declares that “because Mary remained hidden during her life she is called by the Holy Spirit and the Church, ‘Alma Mater,’ Mother hidden and unknown.”
To encounter the Uncreated Witness to the Incarnation is to go through a purification. This Witness draws us close to God, and on such a journey of longing we must decrease, so He can increase. The Holy Spirit inspired people to repentance at the preaching of John the Baptist, and made them seek baptism in the River Jordan. Going down into that water was a humiliating exercise as it meant that those baptized were admitting they were sinners. Standing in the confession line is the same kind of exercise, and it is the Holy Spirit who draws us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Let Him draw you often to the waters of Reconciliation.
That’s what happened to the woman at the well. Christ offered her a spring of water welling up into eternal life. But first she had to confess, “I have no husband.” (John 4:17) In fact, she had five. The Holy Spirit inspired people to repentance at the crucifixion. Jesus in his final baptism of blood, cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46) And after this He breathed his last. When the Roman centurion saw what had taken place, he said, “Surely this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54) And all the multitudes who stood around to see Jesus die, went home beating their breasts, a sign of repentance. On the way up to Calvary, the women wept for Jesus. This was a dangerous thing to do because it was forbidden to cry for a condemned criminal.
It was the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Apostles, who brought the first converts to baptism on Pentecost. It was the Holy Spirit, who inspired my grandmother to press my mother to have me baptized when I was an infant. I’m sure if you undertake to read the Gospels with the idea of finding the work of the Holy Spirit, you will be shown where He is hiding Himself. I’m sure if you look at your own life with the idea of finding where the Holy Spirit moved decisively on your behalf, you will also see the effects of his work, and perhaps along the way you will meet the Lord and Giver of Life, recognizing Him, as the disciples met our Lord, Jesus, on the road to Emmaus.
Want to learn more about the spiritual formation that led to this piece? Go to Disciples of Jesus and Mary
Enjoy this piece? A New Poem on the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit is available to read at LESSONS THAT LEAD TO GOD