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Voices Online Edition
Volume XIII, No. 4
The Holy Spirit:
His Action in the Church and in Our Hearts
Keynote Address to Women for Faith & Family Conference,
Friday, October 9,1998
by Archbishop Justin Rigali
Just last month, in a Wednesday audience address, the Holy Father stated that "every search of the human spirit for truth and goodness, and ultimately for God, is stirred up by the Holy Spirit" (September 9, 1998). Because of the importance of our search for truth and goodness our search for God I wish to speak to you this evening about the Holy Spirit and His action in the Church and in our hearts. I hope that my words may direct your reflections toward the Holy Spirit, and thus both assist you in your search and sustain you in your prayer.
The identity of the Holy Spirit consists, above all, in being the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, the personal Love of the Father and the Son, the one who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.
It is always a privilege to speak about the mystery of God's life: that God is a Father, that Christ is the Son of the Father's Eternal Love, that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person, the personal Love whereby the Father and the Son love each other eternally.
What a joy to proclaim the activity attributed to the Holy Spirit in the Church. I shall also speak explicitly about the forgiveness of sins how this act of God's mercy is indeed identified with His Love and therefore with the Holy Spirit. For this reason the Church can call the Holy Spirit "the forgiveness of sins".
From all eternity we know that God lives in the beatitude of Three Divine Persons. Because of His love, God wishes to share His divine life. We often speak of God as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. We know that all God's actions in the world are common to the Three Divine Persons. None of the Three Divine Persons is isolated in creating, redeeming and sanctifying. And yet the Church often "attributes" one or other action of God to one or other person of the Most Blessed Trinity. We know that the Three Divine Persons are distinct. The places they occupy in the Trinity are distinct, one from another. Still, some actions that God performs in relation to the world bear a likeness, humanly speaking, to the role that belongs distinctively to one of the Divine Persons.
We know that the Holy Spirit, as the Love of the Father and the Son, completes the term of the divine operations and brings to conclusion the cycle of the divine life. Hence, whatever is a work of completion and perfection, a work of holiness and love is "attributed" to the Holy Spirit. In this way the Church expresses her faith, proclaiming the life of the Most Blessed Trinity and the place that the Third Person holds in the communion of God's intimate life. The delicate work of sanctification is thus attributed to the Holy Spirit, who is known as "the finger of God's right hand" clipritus paternae dexterae.
Not only does the Church use this form of "attributing" an external work of God to one Person in the Most Blessed Trinity, but this is also found in the Scriptures. This is likewise used by Jesus Himself
The Holy Spirit then in the Church, as the Love of the Father and the Son Love that is identical with Life in the Trinity is called the Giver of Life. The Holy Spirit is looked upon as the supreme source of unity in the Church unity which is such a gift of perfection in the community of Christ's disciples. The Holy Spirit is also called by Jesus the Counselor. It is He who guarantees that the teaching of Jesus will be understood. It is He who actually bears witness to Jesus in the world. From the entire life of the Church we know that the reason Jesus sent the Holy Spirit is that the Holy Spirit may form Jesus in us. His role in the Church is to enable us to participate in the filial relationship of Jesus to the Father, or in other words to become the children of God. Saint Paul tells us: "All who are led by the Spirit are children of God" (Rom. 8:14).
In his encyclical letter Dominum et Vivificantem, the Holy Father speaks of the Holy Spirit, calling Him "Person Love" and again "Person Gift". The Holy Spirit is indeed the Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. His identity is Love. His personhood is Love. He is most accurately described as "Person Love". At the same time the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son is sent into the world and given to the world as a gift.
In the Gospel of Saint John we read that the Father gives the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 14:16). And we read again that the Father sends the Holy Spirit in the name of the Son (cf. Jn 14:26), and that the Spirit bears witness to the Son (cf. Jn 15:26). And we likewise read that the Son asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit and at the same time Jesus Himself speaks of Himself sending the Holy Spirit: "If I go, I will send Him to you" (Jn 16:7). We see therefore that the Father sends the Holy Spirit in the power of His Fatherhood, just as He has sent the Son. And at the same time He sends the Holy Spirit in the power of the redemption accomplished by Christ. And in this sense the Holy Spirit is sent also by the Son. And so we can see how accurate it is to describe the Holy Spirit not only as "Person Love" but also as "Person Gift": the great gift that is given to the Church by the Father and the Son.
Jesus made a point of telling the Apostles that it was advantageous for them that He should go away, in other words that He should return to the Father. His departure was the condition for the coming of the Holy Spirit into the Church at Pentecost (cf. Jn 16:7).
Jesus offers the Holy Spirit to the Church to dwell in the Church and to confirm the Church in her identification with Jesus. And so the gift, the "Person Gift", that Jesus sends, together with His Father, remains in the Church for all generations to direct the activity of the Church and to help the Church fulfill her mission of sanctification in the world. The proclamation of the Gospel the whole work of evangelization all throughout the centuries will be directed by the Holy Spirit. Already in the Acts of the Apostles we see the history of the early Church as being the history of the intervention of the Holy Spirit in the world.
And what is true of the Church as a whole is true of every person in the Church: your life and your activities are directed by the Holy Spirit of truth. Your mission of evangelization, your activities at the service of the faith and the family are all under the sovereign direction of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the principal evangelizer. Jesus acting in the power of the Holy Spirit evangelizes and works through you; everything that is done in the name of Jesus is done in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Letter to the Hebrews will say that Jesus "through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God" (Heb 11:15). The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is brought about in the power of the Spirit.
At this point it is very important to insist on the role of the Holy Spirit in evangelization in all its spheres. Let us listen to some very important words of Pope Paul VI. They spell out at length the action of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Father states: "It must be said that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent in evangelization: it is he who impels each individual to proclaim the Gospel, and it is he who in the depths of consciences causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood."
We must be attentive to this deep reflection because it is very relevant for our lives. It is very relevant for all your activity in the Church. Pope Paul VI continues: "The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. It is he who explains to the faithful the deep meaning of the teaching of Jesus and of his mystery. It is the Holy Spirit who, today just as at the beginning of the Church, acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by him. The Holy Spirit places on his lips the words which he could not find by himself, and at the same time the Holy Spirit predisposes the soul of the hearer to be open and receptive to the good news and to the kingdom being proclaimed."
Pope Paul VI then brings us to a level of sobering realism and demanding humility by adding: "Techniques of evangelization are good but even the most advanced ones could not replace the gentle action of the Spirit. The most perfect preparation of the evangelizer has no effect without the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the most convincing dialectic has no power over the heart of man. Without him the most highly developed schemes resting on a sociological or psychological basis are quickly seen to be quite valueless.... It is not by chance that the great inauguration of evangelization took place on the morning of Pentecost under the inspiration of the Spirit" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 75).
As we look at the Holy Spirit we see that we must prayerfully reflect on His role in the Most Blessed Trinity, on the impact that the Holy Spirit had on Christ, on His activity in the Church, and how He works in our own souls. I will leave it to you to recall the various gifts of the Holy Spirit as they are contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit are indeed relevant to our lives as baptized and confirmed Christians. But the one gift in particular that I would like to emphasize today is freedom. The Holy Spirit is the giver of true freedom.
You know that the more you reflect the more you see that the world wants to enslave you, wants to enslave you with falsehood, with aberrant theories, with non-truthful fads and in many other ways that will yoke you under bonds that are not worthy of the New Testament of Christ. There are theories, there are practices, there are many things that are proposed as fact that simply are not true. There are many areas where it is necessary in the Church today to reaffirm not only the truth of Christianity but the freedom for which Christ set us free (cf. Gal 5:1). And it is the Holy Spirit who reminds us of our freedom and confirms us in the gift of this freedom. Saint Paul tells us that "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (II Cor 3: 17).
The Holy Spirit brings not only freedom but also other gifts. He has, for example, different titles, some from Sacred Scripture, some from the piety of the Church. As I already mentioned, one of the titles by which the Church refers to the Holy Spirit is "the forgiveness of sins" (Ipse est remissio peccatorum).
In honoring the Holy Spirit this evening we proclaim that He is indeed the forgiveness of sins. The divine action of pardon or forgiveness is identified with His nature and attributed to His Person. Through the action of the Holy Sprit, we are able to proclaim that "where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more" (Romans 5: 20). All the infidelity of God's people, all the sins of the world are nothing compared with the merciful forgiveness of God, made possible by the death of Jesus Christ who offered Himself in the power of the Holy Spirit, who is God's Love. When Jesus gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins, He first communicated to them the Holy Spirit saying: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20:22-23). What great confidence Jesus deserves for giving us the Holy Spirit to keep alive forgiveness in the Church!
In presenting the action of the Holy Spirit we proclaim the forgiveness of sins and the power of God's Love to destroy all our sins and the sins of the whole world. The Church also insists on the power of the Holy Spirit to form Jesus in each person, and then to sustain each person in Christian living and in all the ideals of baptismal life.
In speaking about the Holy Spirit, I frequently evoke the memory of Pope Leo XIII. In the year 1897 Pope Leo wrote his famous encyclical on the Holy Spirit. He was eighty-seven at the time and realized that he was approaching death. Actually, he lived for another six years and died in 1903 at the age of ninety- three. But what was so important for Pope Leo was his action to consecrate to the Holy Spirit all the work of his long pontificate. In consecrating his service as Pope to the Holy Spirit, he prayed that the Holy Spirit would bring the work to fruitfulness and completion. It was an act of piety toward the Holy Spirit, but also an act of faith in the doctrine of the Most Blessed Trinity.
By "attributing" to the Holy Spirit whatever is a work of loving completion, we do not exclude the action of the Father and the Son. By no means. But we do recognize, by what the Church calls "attribution", the role that is peculiarly personal to the Holy Spirit. We proclaim the faith of the Church which teaches that in the Most Blessed Trinity the Holy Spirit is indeed the term of the divine operations. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the expression of their love. In His Person the Holy Spirit brings to completion and perfection the cycle of the divine life. In her prayer the Church professes this mystery of God's Trinitarian life and "attributes" to the Holy Spirit a work which, while common to the Holy Trinity, expresses a relationship to the role which belongs exclusively to the Holy Spirit within the communion of the Most Blessed Trinity.
And as Pope Leo did, as the Church does, so do we: we invoke the Holy Spirit and proclaim His role in the communion of the Three Divine Persons. In order to show this faith we consecrate to Him our search for truth and goodness, so that He will bring it to the perfection of Love which He is in the Most Blessed Trinity!
We acknowledge that the Holy Spirit can do this. A condition, however, for His action in our lives is a humble openness to His inspirations, which are never opposed to the teachings of Christ's Church, which are guaranteed by the Spirit of Truth.
Today we invoke the Holy Spirit with our Pentecostal prayer: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love:
Wash what is sinful
Water what is arid;
Heal what is wounded.
Bend what is rigid;
Warm what is frigid;
Set straight what is crooked;
Give to your faithful
who trust in you
your holy gifts.
Give virtue and its reward;
Give a holy death;
Give eternal joy.
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