What is the Holy Spirit? What does he do? I think a lot of Catholics today have difficulty speaking about the Holy Spirit, and that might be a large reason for the crisis we have in the Church today. This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, a feast inexorably tied up with the Holy Spirit. If we can’t articulate why the Holy Spirit is important, we cannot articulate why Pentecost is so important. In light of all of the clamoring for a New Pentecost in the Church, the propers for Pentecost should help us understand what the fruits of such a Pentecost would be.
When one normally hears about the fruits of such a Pentecost, we normally hear about tongues, healing, and various other external manifestations believed to be by the Spirit. While one must always use discernment when presented with such occurrences, they are real, but they not what makes the Holy Spirit so important for the faithful. The overwhelming majority will never speak in tongues, nor should they. Those who do experience the gift of tongues are also not holier than others because of said gift. Likewise, as important as the gift of infallibility is, we should never attempt to limit the Spirit just to infallibility. If that were so, his impact upon the lives of Christians would be minimal.
Instead of these great gifts to the Church, the liturgy portrays the Holy Spirit as a comforter who provides whatever the Church and the Christian need to live a life of holiness in accordance with God’s will. The collect speaks of us being instructed by the Spirit, and being joyful because of the consolation He provides. After the Epistle, we hear the great hymn from the 13th century Veni Sancte Spiritus, and every verse could be described how the Spirit comforts and aides the faithful. Instead of tongues, prophecies and theological formulae, we hear about how the Spirit comforts the poor, how we are lost without Him, and how fellowship with the spirit is “solace in the midst of woe.”
If there’s one thing this world and Church have today, it is woe. We have crisis after crisis after crisis in the Church, and we often have crisis after crisis after crisis within our own lives. When faced with that reality, we often hear the statement “the Holy Spirit is in control, and there are always crisis to overcome.” That’s true, but it normally is a tired cliché. The Holy Spirit promises us more than clichés. The Gospel says that because of the Spirit, Christ’s peace will be with us. What is Christ’s peace? He says right before, Christ’s peace consists of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, teaching us, and bringing to mind everything that Christ has said to us.
The Postcommunion also says that through the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit will make our lives fruitful “by the inward sprinkling of His dew.” This is what true communion with the Holy Spirit is about. Gifts such as tongues, prophecies and healing are temporary in nature, and as St. Paul rightly points out in 1 Corinthians, they will pass and cease to exist. What will always exist is the need for holiness, as well as our inability to become holy by ourselves. The Holy Spirit makes it possible to live a life of holiness.
When we talk about being open to the Spirit, we shouldn’t define that as open to this or that charismatic gift, but rather “are we open to doing something above and beyond what we currently do?” When the Apostles opened themselves to the Holy Spirit after days in prayer (the first Novena), they were asking for the courage to embrace holiness. That embrace wasn’t about all these great gifts. It was about a life of service and often hardship, not for earthly riches, but for the sake of the Gospel.
It is this openness to holiness that will ultimately save the Church from her current woe. Today we look to various other venues to end the crisis. We look to charismatic preachers, bloggers, best-selling pastoral books, bishops conferences, Rome, everywhere other than where we should look: you and me. We have the faith, we have tradition (if we want it!), and we have the Holy Spirit waiting to pour Himself out upon us. He wants to give us the courage to be holy, and the knowledge on how to do so. He wants to, as the Collect says, make us “wise in what is right, and ever to rejoice in his consolation.” As you pray this Pentecost, pray for that. Pray for faithful Catholics, whether lay or cleric, to open themselves to holiness and service.