The Forgotten Person

Some theologians have referred to the Holy Spirit as the Forgotten Person of the Trinity.

Christians are hardly likely to forget the Holy Spirit, since they make the sign of the cross thousands of times a year. But the question is: what do we know about *him*?

The Holy Spirit is not so much forgotten as hidden. By *his* very name, the Holy Spirit is the most esoteric, the most abstract, and consequently the most difficult to understand of the Trinitarian persons. For us, the other Two Persons are more approachable: Jesus, first of all, because He became one of us, sharing totally in our humanity. The Father is described intimately as our Abba (Daddy), the One to whom Jesus constantly refers. But the Spirit? Words will consistently fail us when speaking of the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel, the Holy Spirit slowly but powerfully emerges, but only in symbols or metaphors because He is not material and therefore not visible. The New Testament’s first referral to the Spirit is when Mary is found “with child through the holy spirit” (Matthew 1:18), or in Luke when Gabriel tells Mary how she can become a mother, the mother of the Messiah.

The Spirit as a dove hovers over Jesus at his baptism, a symbol of his calling to bring the good news of salvation to all.

When Nicodemus comes secretly at night to question the new Rabbi, Jesus attempts to describe how a person can be “born again” in the spiritual sense. He refers to the Spirit as “wind”, an unseen but powerful force, only perceivable by its effects.

The Samaritan woman at the well is bold enough to question Jesus as to where God must be worshiped. We too think certain conditions must be met before we worship: there’s a right place to worship, a right person to preach to us, a right congregation to worship with, a right style of liturgy to be observed. If we can find all of these in one place, that’s where we’ll worship. Jesus simply corrects both us and the Samaritan woman with a few words:

God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”
(John 4:24)

Unfortunately, that leaves us with no more excuses!

Perhaps the most troubling references to the Spirit are made after the Last Supper. Seeking to comfort his disciples, Jesus tells them:

“. . . grief has filled your hearts. But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:6b-7)

How could Jesus’ absence be better? How could the invisible Spirit comfort the disciples who were losing the visible Christ?

Recall the first stirrings of creation:

The earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

In the beginning of our spiritual life (and for much of it throughout), we too are formless and void. In order to become spiritual beings we need to be emptied of all that prevents God from shaping us into his image. The emptying process can be almost unbearable. We don’t even know how to pray! But St. Paul encourages us with words from his letter to the Romans:

The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes [for us] with inexpressible groanings.

We are constantly being emptied, separated from things or persons we love and consider absolutely necessary to our existence: parents, spouses, children, siblings, dearest friends, homes, our life work, and finally from our health and life itself. Such separations leave us destitute, desolate, abandoned. At moments like this we might question God’s love for us.

This reaction is so totally human, and therefore Christ totally understands. He knows that we are incomplete until, ironically, we are emptied – even of his own physical presence. Space must be created in us, making room for the Spirit of God who will accomplish the final act of our divinisation. The coming of the Holy Spirit in our lives is Christ’s crowning achievement for us, since it enables us to transform even an evil world into a place of love and truth.

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. (John 14: 16-18)

I love the words of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in “God’s Grandeur.” He traces the beauty of the world as God created it, followed by its near destruction by man’s greed and materialism, but ending in sure hope through the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, the One who renews the face of the earth.

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast
and with ah! bright wings.

Trinity 1

Mysteries

I confess: I’m not much of a Rosary person, but today I thought I’d try it. A few of us neighbors gather every other week for an hour of prayer. We each volunteer an intention – might be personal or global – and then follow with a decade of the Rosary. Since from last night I still had the beads in my pocket, it seemed that this would be a good place to fasten my thoughts while I took a walk.

It’s Thursday, which I remember to be the day for Joyful Mysteries. The more recent topic of meditation – the “Luminous Mysteries” as introduced by Pope Saint John Paul – is still too new for me to recall, so I kept to the ones I learned as a youngster.

Right off the bat, I had questions. Who were these people and events we’re called to meditate on?

We had two women at the opposite ends of their life. Elizabeth: too old to bear a child and who is already six months pregnant.

Mary, in particular, a mere child by our standards, was faced with a totally unexpected – indeed impossible – pregnancy. Elizabeth’s was the spectacular event; Mary’s was the scandalous one. What would we think if the girl next door, maybe a sophomore or junior in high school, became pregnant? What a disgrace for her family! Would they have it (the child) aborted? Would they have Mary go away for a while (which is actually what Mary did when she went to visit Elizabeth), and then return as though finishing up a vacation or a course of study out of town? I remember a classmate who was absent for quite a while due to an “appendectomy.” Uh-huh.

And what kind of man would stoop to marrying this scandal-laden girl?

No one knew the truth of the situation which had been carefully kept under wraps, but that didn’t stop people from improvising and judging, I’m sure.

Apart from this scandalous history, there was nothing spectacular about this family. If anything, the wonder only grew as this supposed “illegitimate” son grew.  Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? What good can come out of Galilee? By what authority do you do these things? We know who our father is.

Surely, if God were actually to send his Son, wouldn’t he have given him a “good” family to come from? A place renowned for its scholars? Surely God would have, should have, seen to it that his Son would have been given a proper education – the equivalent, say, of Harvard or Yale where he’d have studied Scripture with the esteemed Rabbis, the venerated theologians of that day, people equipped to know what God meant when he spoke through the Scriptures. Why pick someone with no pedigree and no credentials? How apt to call these events “mysteries”!

Even before Vatican II, it did occasionally occur to us that ALL are called to holiness, even the unschooled, the unapproved, and even (please, God, forgive us!) the sinful.

There are still some cobwebs in the corners, situations where we feel it’s our bounden duty to get rid of those people so that we can have a religion that’s the rightful owner of all truth and goodness.

Do let’s sweep away the cobwebs, not the people!

It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the unwell.