As the Feast of Pentecost approaches, here are seven saints to help you deepen your devotion to the Holy Spirit.
1. The Virgin Mary. In Catholic devotion we tend to focus—as we should—on the relationship between Mary and her divine Son. But Mary also has a special and unique relationship with the third person of the Trinity. As Luke 1:35 informs us, Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, which came to “overshadow” Mary. This relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit continues long after the Incarnation, which is why—to take just one example—it’s no coincidence that Mary was present, along with the apostles, at the first Pentecost. In True Devotion to the Holy Spirit, Archbishop Luis Martinez writes that both are involved in our sanctification. The Spirit is the Sanctifier by essence while Mary “is the cooperator, the indispensable instrument.” What better way than to learn how to be devoted to the Holy Spirit than from the immaculate virgin whose devotion was so great she conceived a divine Child through Him? Put another way, true devotion to Mary is true devotion to the Holy Spirit.
2. St. Basil the Great. What St. Athanasius is to Christ, St. Basil is to the Holy Spirit. Just as Athanasius’ treatise, On the Incarnation, was, by many measures, the last word on the long-disputed dual natures of Christ, so also was Basil’s work the definitive statement on the divinity of the Holy Spirit in the early Church. Unlike the previous approach to defending Christ’s divinity—which had relied on language outside of Scripture since Arian heretics had an explanation for every verse cited against them—Basil based his case for the divinity of the Holy Spirit on an extraordinarily close reading of the Bible, which makes his work unique both for its theological contributions and its exegetical style. Click here to read Basil’s On the Holy Spirit and here to read the Office of Readings (from the Liturgy of the Hours) for his feast day.
3. St. Ambrose of Milan. Along with Basil, St. Ambrose was one of the few Fathers who wrote a book—technically three of them—devoted exclusively to the Holy Spirit. Unlike Basil, where the focus was necessarily on the New Testament, where the Holy Spirit is explicitly discussed, Ambrose explores the topic in the Old Testament. His first book interprets the story of Gideon and the fleece as an allegory for the Holy Spirit. The second takes a similar tack with the story of Simeon. The final book expands the scope to the prophets, Christ, and the apostles. Click here to read the books and here for the Office of Readings for Ambrose’s feast day.
4. St. Philip Neri. One of the great Counter-Reformation saints, St. Philip Neri is perhaps best known today—to the extent that he is known at all—as the founder of the Oratories and a friend of the poor and others in need in late medieval Rome. But it’s also hard to think of St. Philip Neri without also thinking about the Holy Spirit. Some saints bore the stigmata, but St. Philip Neri—
body and soul—bore the marks of his extraordinary encounter with the Holy Spirit. Here is how one of his biographers, Father Bacci, describes it:
While he was with the greatest earnestness asking of the Holy Ghost His gifts, there appeared to him a globe of fire, which entered into his mouth and lodged in his breast; and thereupon he was suddenly surprised with such a fire of love, that, unable to bear it, he threw himself on the ground, and, like one trying to cool himself, bared his breast to temper in some measure the flame which he felt. When he had remained so for some time, and was a little recovered, he rose up full of unwonted joy, and immediately all his body began to shake with a violent tremour; and putting his hand to his bosom, he felt by the side of his heart, a swelling about as big as a man’s fist, but neither then nor afterwards was it attended with the slightest pain or wound.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, after his death (sometime later) an autopsy found that two ribs had been broken and curved outward to accommodate his enlarged heart, which “had been dilated under the sudden impulse of love.” Click here for devotional resources and here to read Bacci’s biography.
5. St. John Vianney. One of the greatest and most beloved saints of the nineteenth century, St. John Vianney is perhaps not specially identified with the Holy Spirit in the way that, say, someone like Philip Neri is. But the section of his catechism on the Holy Spirit makes for a stimulating Pentecost mediation. John Vianney seemed to have a vivid grasp of the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives as Christians that his writings on this topic are still quoted today. To take just one example: “Take in one hand a sponge full of water, and in the other a little pebble; press them equally. Nothing will come out of the pebble, but out of the sponge will come abundance of water. The sponge is the soul filled with the Holy Spirit, and the stone is the cold and hard heart which is not inhabited by the Holy Spirit.” Click here to read the whole excerpt. (To read his entire teaching on the catechism, click here.)
6. St. Vincent Pallotti. A contemporary of John Vianney, St. Vincent Pallotti is described by the Catholic Encyclopedia as “a second Philip Neri.” Like his spiritual predecessor Pallotti was both entirely committed to serving the people of Rome and he had a special connection to the Holy Spirit. As the story goes, when he was a struggling student, his mother encouraged him to pray to the Holy Spirit for help. He did, asking for just one ray of illumination, according to one account. After the novena, he soon became a star student. Click here to read more about his prayer life, here to read more about him, and here for a prayer to him.
7. Pope St. John Paul II. Like John Vianney, Pope St. John Paul II is not specially associated with the Holy Spirit. But, it turns out that the third person of the Trinity was a major emphasis of his teaching. John Paul II was one of the few popes to dedicate an encyclical to the Holy Spirit. He has also left us a series of Wednesday audiences and a prayer to the Holy Spirit.