On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the spiritual gifts of leadership, evangelism, and exhortation inspire and encourage Peter to proclaim that Jesus is Lord to the Jewish people living in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14a, 36-41). Shaken and moved by the Holy Spirit, the people ask, “What are we to do?” Peter responds with these words, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Most of us think of the Holy Spirit in terms of what we were taught as children. But often what we were taught does not express an entire understanding of what is said about the Holy Spirit in the scriptures and in the doctrine of the Church.
The scriptures have no organized approach for understanding the Holy Spirit. Instead, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures describe the Holy Spirit through symbols and stories that are taken from the material, animal, and human world. The focus of these symbol and stories is not on the Holy Spirit but rather on the work of the Holy Spirit.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word “ruah” which means “wind” or “breath of life” is used and in the Christian Scriptures the word “pneuma” which means “breath,” “air,” “wind,” or “soul” is used when talking about the Holy Spirit. Ruah and pneuma are forces that give both natural life and the life of God to the physical and spiritual dimensions of human beings.
The scriptures offer a variety of perspectives on the Holy Spirit and even though there is no one description of the Holy Spirit, there is a common thread that first appears in the Hebrew Scriptures and is carried through the Christian Scriptures: The Holy Spirit is the principle and source of life that directs the ministry of Jesus and in turn is given to us.
When it comes to the teachings of the Catholic Church about the Holy Spirit, St. Gregory of Nazianzus (325-389 C.E.) explains the process by which our Church came step by step to fuller understanding of the Holy Spirit. The Church first began with a proper doctrine about God.
The doctrine about the Holy Trinity followed. Then came the doctrine about Jesus. After the doctrine about God, the Holy Trinity, and Jesus, the doctrine about the Holy Spirit was worked out. The doctrine is summarized in the Nicene Creed (325 C.E.) “. . . . We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son, he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets . . . .”
St. Augustine (354-430 C.E) describes “proceeding” as the love between God the Father and God the Son that is given to us as a gift. The Holy Spirit is love that creates relationships and unity.
From the Holy Spirit comes the seven spiritual gifts written about in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Is 11:2-3). The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. These same gifts are given to us (Is 42:1). The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are irresistible promptings from God that help us work towards being in total friendship with God. These gifts are recognized in the sacrament of Confirmation.
The “Fruits of the Holy Spirit” are the Christian characteristics that the seven spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit develop within us. The fruits are enhanced over time by exposure to the scriptures and by leading a good Christian life. The twelve fruits are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.
On the first Pentecost, the spiritual gifts identified by Paul in his letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians, and Romans were given to the early Christians and are given to us today by the Holy Spirit. As we prepare for the celebration of Pentecost, we will have the opportunity to recognize our spiritual gifts and discern how we might use them to share in the work of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Bob Kelly