When St. Paul first came to Ephesus, he came upon a dozen disciples. For whatever reason, Paul asked them whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they became believers.
"No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit," came their astonished reply (Acts 19.2).
Once Paul baptized them in the name of Jesus and laid his hands on them, "the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied" (19.6). A pretty startling change for these people!
Deism, in its most radical form, is the belief that God created the world and imposed the order and laws by which it operates, but does not intervene in any way in the life of the world. This "God" starts the clock running and then goes to sleep.
The deist "believes in God." But what a cold, uncaring God, it is! One may as well refer to the deist's God as "it" because this God is not the living, personal God about whom the Christian tradition teaches.
Yet, each of us needs to ask ourselves if we are deists. Do I "go to church" on Sundays, but remain untouched by God's power? Do I believe in God, but act no differently than those who do not? If I were accused of being Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me? Do I act as though I have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit?
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St. Augustine's writings pulsate with the breath of a God who loves him and draws him near.
There is no need for me to accuse others here. I have my own testimony. As a child, I was pious and tried to live a Catholic life. But in my teenage years, it all faded, I became agnostic and I turned my back on the Church and Jesus. Maybe my piety and my belief in God were never much more than that of a deist.
My falling-away could have been the end of the story. But God broke in. I went on a serious intellectual search, but all the philosophies I read were sterile dead ends.
Then, I began to study the writings of St. Augustine, especially his Confessions. In one way, it was a reminder of my Christian roots. But it was more than that. For Augustine, God was alive, living and breathing in every fibre of his being. His life pulsated with the breath of a God who was loving him, calling to him, drawing him near.
I wanted what Augustine had. He had a spirit of joy and peace and goodness. Part of me fought against it and another part of me tentatively stretched forward to touch this God. It's a longer story, but after many months the second part won.
When I accepted God, when I had faith in him, other things happened. The Mass, which previously had been so bor-r-r-ing, was now so beautiful that it brought me to tears. The words of Scripture leapt off the page and into my heart.
The notion of a God who created the world and then walked away – the deist God – now seemed ridiculous. It became obvious to me that God was right here, now, this minute.
I did not, at that time, like the disciples in Ephesus, begin to pray in tongues. But I had been touched by the Holy Spirit and my life was forever changed.
There is no Christian faith without the Holy Spirit. "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12.3).
St. Paul spoke about the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. But really we can never get enough Holy Spirit. We can be "filled," but still there is room for more. Even for Paul, some corners of his life remained empty of the Spirit. We can always ask for more.
Jesus promised that the Father would send the Spirit if we but ask: "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" (Luke 11.13).
If we have been baptized, the Holy Spirit is surely there in our lives already, even if he is not so apparent. The Holy Spirit is given through Baptism, Confession, Eucharist and all the sacraments. Even for those who have not been baptized, the Holy Spirit can be present, waiting in some corner of the person's heart, quietly stirring the desire to be filled.
It's desire to which we all need to respond again and again. What a tragedy it would be to reach the end of life, having faithfully attended church every week, and have to say, "I did not even know there is a Holy Spirit."
The Church makes the Holy Spirit available to us. But we need to open our hearts and ask for the Spirit to be poured in. That's what God will do. St. Paul describes it well: "God's love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5.5).
The Holy Spirit offers so much. He makes our lives full and fruitful to an extent we would never imagine without his presence in our hearts.
It is a shame to a be a deist when, in fact, God will pour his Holy Spirit into our hearts.