The Holy Spirit is the hardest person of the Trinity to comprehend. The three great Western religions -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- all know the Father. They know the world could not have sprung into being and continued to exist without the action of a single Creator God.
We also have access to Jesus, the Son who is one in being with the Father. We have an historical record of his life among us, his miracles, his teaching, and his passion, death and resurrection. Concrete evidence points towards his divinity and prompts us to respond to the question -- was Jesus God or was he a mad fool?
But the Holy Spirit is different. As I mentioned in my last article, the Spirit is self-effacing. He points always to the Son and never to himself. Moreover, there is no set of facts -- apart from the testimony of Scripture -- which compels us to believe in the Holy Spirit or that he is God.
Indeed, the Holy Spirit was at the core of major theological controversies in the fourth century as the church struggled to write what came to be known as the Nicene Creed. Some thought the Holy Spirit was inferior to the Father and the Son. But the church eventually discerned the full divinity of the Spirit and emphasized both the uniqueness and the unity of the three persons.
Our struggle with the transparency of the Holy Spirit and with his apparent distance is a real one. And yet, paradoxically, there is no person in the Trinity who is closer to the baptized person. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and leads us to new life in Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who, through Christ's death and resurrection, restores us to the likeness of God.
Perhaps the most striking reference to the Spirit of God in the Old Testament is the account of new life being breathed into the field of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. The bones of the people are dried up, their hope completely gone. But the Lord promises, "I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil" (37:14).
It is God's Spirit which gives life to the people and enables them to live up to God's law which they are so incapable of fulfilling on their own. The promise God made through the prophet Ezekiel is brought to fruition first through the return of the Jewish people from their Babylonian exile.
Later, the Holy Spirit is given much more fully to the followers of Jesus at Pentecost. The dry bones are brought to life through the covenant community we call the church.
The contrast between the field of dry bones and those people filled with God's Spirit remains pertinent in today's society. We hunger for the life of the Spirit in a world driven by materialism.
A world focused on fleeting pleasures, petty one-upmanship and an obsessive quest for a secure retirement is a world where the life of the Spirit has been truncated. It is only half human and certainly not divine.
In his 1986 encyclical, The Lord and Giver of Life (Dominum et Vivificantem), Pope John Paul says that the Holy Spirit is a gift to humanity "which transforms the human world from within" (no. 59). It enables the person to rise above the material world with its "increasing signs of death."
Indeed, a materialistic orientation to living, by its very nature, points toward death. For everything material deteriorates and passes away. The Holy Spirit shows that death is not the final answer.
The Spirit reveals "the reality of the inner person, of what is deepest and most essential in the human person, because it is spiritual and incorruptible," wrote the pope (no. 58). When we, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, discover the divine dimension of life, we can be freed from materialistic modes of living.
The Spirit brings hope and a new way of life. We need not endure the futility of materialism. Nor should we seek salvation in adherence to laws. We must allow the Spirit to transform us from within.
The last word goes to the Lord: "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).
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