The Holy Spirit Guides Us, and the Church

This article originally appeared in the parish bulletin on March 10, 2013

I must admit that last week I was so interested in the news stories around the end of the pontificate of Benedict XVI that I built up unreasonable expectations of a speedy start to the conclave. I am writing on Tuesday, and the date for the beginning of the conclave to elect a new pope has not yet been announced. I don’t recall feeling impatient during the last papal transition. Eight years ago when it became clear the pope was dying, there were radio and television updates about the condition of Pope John Paul II several times every hour. A great outpouring of love for him took place after his death, and the funeral captured the world’s attention. There was much interest about the conclave to elect the new pope, and then I rejoiced that it was Cardinal Ratzinger who was elected Bishop of Rome. April 2005 was a wonderful month to be a Catholic! There was so much drama that I don’t recall that it seemed we were waiting a long time. But now we only pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and we watch video clips of Pope Benedict flying away in a helicopter.

Life continues in the Church.  Even when we have to say goodbye to one pope, Christ sends us someone else as his vicar.  These things remind us about what it means to be a member of the Catholic Church.  We are a part of something much bigger than ourselves. We are not a congregational church, whose horizons would be limited to our own neighborhood. Without a doubt, the experience most people have of the Church is their own parish community – this is very natural. But when our attention is drawn by events that take in the whole worldwide sweep of the Catholic Church, our perspective widens. We see again that the Church is not “just us” in this particular parish. The Church is not a human institution. She is a divine institution – made up of us poor human beings who so often go astray. But we are guided by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is probably the most difficult Person of the Holy Trinity to grasp, and so it is no wonder that a lot of Catholics forget that he even exists.  Yet every time we make the sign of the Cross we invoke his name, so we could use those times as chance to remember him and to seek to get in touch with him.  I would like to quote extensively from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and from a meditation book in order to convey some truths about the Holy Spirit.

The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the ‘mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God.’  To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament.  But his inmost Being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone or even to Israel’s faith before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit (CCC 237).

When Jesus was still with his disciples, he told them that he would send “another Advocate,” and that advocate is the Holy Spirit.  It is he who guides us and teaches us.  He was with the Father and the Son at the very beginning of all things, but he was not revealed until he descended upon Mary and the apostles at Pentecost.  It was only at that time that the mystery of the Trinity was revealed in its fullness.  The Catechism teaches that it is only by the Holy Spirit that we can call Jesus “Lord:”

This knowledge of faith is possible only in the Holy Spirit: to be in touch with Christ, we must first have been touched by the Holy Spirit.  He comes to meet us and kindles faith in us.  By virtue of our Baptism, the first sacrament of the faith, the Holy Spirit in the Church communicates to us, intimately and personally, the life that originates in the Father and is offered to us in the Son (CCC 683).

The second volume of a meditation series called In Conversation With God offers us some insights about the indwelling of the Holy Trinity:

We should learn to become better and better friends of God who is dwelling within us.  Through this divine presence, our soul becomes a miniature heaven.  Reflection on that thought can help us enormously.  At Baptism the three persons of the most Blessed Trinity came into our souls: they want to be closer to us throughout our lives than the closest of friends … we should recall his presence within us in the midst of our daily activity, when we’re going from place to place, to thank him, to ask him for help, to atone for the sins we commit against him every day” (In Conversation With God, vol. II, p. 472).

So God actually dwells in each person who is baptized: God the Father, God the Son (who has been named Jesus since he became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary), and God the Holy Spirit.  How good it would be to remember that fact whenever we pray, and when we consider how the cardinals need to discern who the Holy Spirit has chosen to be the next pope.

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