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‘I Believe in the Holy Spirit’

Miguel Ángel Fiorito, SJandJosé Luis Lazzarini, SJ - La Civiltà Cattolica - Thu, Feb 16th 2023

Wikiart Abraham and three Angels, 1966 - Marc Chagall
The pastor who says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” should ask himself some fundamental questions to discover the action of the Spirit among his faithful.

In concrete terms he will ask: “How is the Lord present in the life of my people? How do my people welcome his presence? How do my people confess the Holy Spirit?” And in that questioning he will have to keep in mind how “confessing” is not only a manifestation of a belief, but a living-it-out in that behavior that makes a person good or bad; he will remember also that “confessing” is praying, in a prayer that is alternates silence and speech, reverence and rite.

Pastoral suggestions for catechesis on the Spirit

“You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17). This seems a good start for catechesis on the Spirit. For if we do not resolve to adore the Spirit in the good way we live, we will end up like those fools who, when faced with a finger pointing to the moon, stare only at the finger!

“You know him because he abides with you…” is an invitation to recognize the Spirit of God not as something vague, a creature among others… but with the certainty of relating to a personal God: one who “dwells” (Rom 8:11), who “with our spirit bears witness that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16), who makes us cry out, “Father!” (Rom 8:15), who “intercedes” for us (Rom 8:26), who “has been sent into our hearts” (Gal 4:6).

In this sense it is useful to go through the texts of the Fathers, full of references to  anointing in that personal Spirit, an anointing like the one that Saint Cyril of Alexandria refers to when he writes: “If, with the seal of the Holy Spirit, we are conformed to God, how could that which impresses on us the image of the divine substance, and causes the signs of uncreated nature to be in us, ever be created? The Holy Spirit is not an artist who depicts in us the substance of God, as if He were foreign to it: this is not how He leads us to the likeness of God; but He Himself, who is God and proceeds from God, imprints Himself in the hearts that receive Him as the seal on wax.”[1]

“You know him because he abides with you…”: this must be the beginning of catechesis on the Spirit; and from then on, pastoral wisdom will suggest strong moments of the Spirit’s action, a sort of “when” of God. Suggestions could appear in forms like these:

a) when adversity does not bother us, does not paralyze us, does not exasperate us, and we say: “God embraces, but does not suffocate,” and we affirm a will to go on living because “it is worth living.” The Spirit is in us, because this is the Spirit of fortitude, who makes us feel that we can do anything “through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

b) When, in the face of the irreparable – the death of a loved one, the birth of a disabled child, a couple that is unable to have children – we can say with faith: “God wanted it this way,” and accept it with serenity, and embrace the hidden fertility of pain where fools would see only death or weariness of life. It is the Spirit who awakens this higher hope and makes us live the last beatitude of the Gospel: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have come to believe!” (John 20:29).

c) When we were about to do evil, but we did not because “it occurred to us” or “we were pushed.” The Spirit came to help us, because it is “the most blessed light that comes from heaven and invades our hearts” and it is a guide that “sets on the straight path what had been led astray” (Pentecost Sequence).

d) When, before the bitter realization of our sin, because “I do not do the good that I want, but the evil that I do not want” (Rom 7:19), we do not despair, but seek forgiveness. The Spirit, our defending Advocate before the Father (cf. 1 John 2:1), reminds us that we must reassure ourselves whenever our hearts condemn us, “for God is greater than our hearts” (1 John 3:19-20).

e) When we make ourselves responsible for our lives, without posing in pride-ridden self-affirmation, but remain at God’s disposal.

When we try to know God, the world and ourselves, and we can recognize that everything is God’s gift.

When we are satisfied with the fruits of our effort, but we manage to recognize that everything is God’s gift.

When we can understand that our obedience to God is not servile submission, and that our bond with God gives us our true stature and consistency.

When we love our family and friends without subjugating them or servilely submitting, but by being just to others and to ourselves.

When we see ourselves better connected to God and feel happy in fraternal service.

When we realize that the story does not begin and end with us…

In those moments the Spirit dwelt in us and “placed” us as children of the Father, and brothers of the Son, and made us hear and cry out: “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6)

f) When we believe in the presence of Jesus, and in the power of his Spirit in the sacraments, and in their prolongation in the sacramentals; and we confess the fertility and purifying power in the water of baptism, its capacity to impregnate us with Christ through anointing – in fact we have “been anointed by the Holy One” (1 John 2:20) – and we adore the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist, and we feel that God accompanies us in the words and gestures of the sacramentals. It is the Spirit who gives us faith and teaches us everything we need (cf. John 16:13-15).

g) When we are faithful to the heritage of faith handed down to us, and faithfully guard everything that has been taught to us, it is the Spirit who reminds us of all this (cf. John 14:16), the same Spirit who spoke through the prophets and who shows us the direction of the true footsteps of salvation history.

h) When we believe in the Church, people of God and hierarchy, although it is a Church of people – of saints and sinners – “we believe that the Spirit who governs us and guides our souls to salvation is the same in Christ our Lord, the bridegroom, and in the Church his bride; for our holy mother Church is guided and governed by the same Spirit and our Lord who gave the Ten Commandments.”[2]

* * *

These opportunities afforded our faithful people manifest a good beginning for catechesis in the Holy Spirit, because they are actions of our people that indicate the presence in them of the Spirit: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is the Lord!’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).

Instead of sheltering ourselves behind seemingly pure actions, we are called to direct ourselves to those areas where there are clues that bode well for the path, where we discern a suitable terrain to confirm what can be confirmed, to strengthen what is weak, to correct what has deviated.

It is an alternative path between the comfortable naivety of those who say, “everything’s OK” and the over-critical attitude behind which ideological assumptions are hidden, which end up destroying what had begun by not understanding.

We should model our pastoral care on the same hope with which the Church encourages us to pray for the dying: “We commend to you, Lord, this soul who did not deny the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” doing justice to the wonders that God works in our faithful.

Faithfulness to the Spirit

It seems to us that there are three key steps to teach fidelity to the Spirit. We formulate them in this way:

1) Recognition of the Spirit as a personal being. The pastoral suggestions we have expressed, centered on the statement: “You know him because he remains with you,” tend to strengthen faith in a person who “dwells,” who “shouts,” who “works”…

Although it is true that the Spirit is called to signify, in the Trinity, God’s ineffability, this does not justify silence in our catechesis about the Spirit, even when we speak to our simple people.

2) Consciousness that the Spirit is a place of encounter with the Father and the Son. In certain current movements there is a danger that a “subordinationism” will operate in reverse. Unwittingly, the Spirit is confused with any “spirit” – generally with one’s own – and consequently the Father is ordered to follow our plans, and the Son directed to save the world in our way, and the Church is told how it must continue the work of salvation.

Someone once said, “We all have a little bird in our head; but the trouble is that some believe it is the Holy Spirit.”

3) Obedience to the Spirit, and not manipulation of it. It is the Spirit “who has spoken through the prophets,” as our Creed confesses, indicating that the same Spirit is present in all of human history, giving it unity and meaning.

It is the Spirit of synthesis and not of dead-end contradictions; and we know that the Spirit overcomes dead-end contradictions such as “charism versus institutions,” “utopias versus realities” etc.

It is the Spirit who reconciles us with our creaturely state as a condition of access to our dignity as children, and it is the Spirit who persuades us that history does not begin and does not end with us.[3]

DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 4, no. 08 art. 4, 0620: 10.32009/22072446.0820.4

[1] Cyril of Alexandria, Thesaurus de sancta et consubstantiali Trinitate, 34.

[2] Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, No. 365. Saint Ignatius, in his Preaching on Christian doctrine (a report describing the apostolate in Rome in Italian), also said: “Since the Church is a congregation of the Christian faithful, and is enlightened and governed by the Lord our God, we must understand that the same Lord of ours who has given the Ten Commandments, is the principal donor of those who give to the Church, so that the rest of us in every obedience and service of His Majesty may more surely be saved.”

[3] This text is taken from M. Á. Fiorito, Escritos, III, Rome, La Civiltà Cattolica, 2019, 339-346.

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