The Holy Spirit: The Soul of The Church

I’ve always had a somewhat difficult time understanding the Holy Spirit. While not all of you will agree, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that the Holy Spirit is the most unrelatable part of the Trinity for me.

With the Father, we have our own dads and all of the fathers throughout history to relate to, however wonderful or flawed they may be. We can find the ideals of what a father should be and therefore what God is: unconditionally loving, protecting, not giving in to our whims and wishes because he knows what is best for us in the long run. And Jesus is a real person who once walked this earth. We can relate to him simply because he was human, and there are stories to be read about him and lessons to learn from his life, death, and resurrection.

The Holy Spirit, though, is much less tangible to me. I have never seen “tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:3) land on anyone (at least without burning them), and I’ve never seen a bunch of people all start speaking in new foreign languages at the same time. Even though I can read about Pentecost like I read about Jesus’ time on earth, and even though I have received the Holy Spirit through the sacraments, I still have a hard time relating to it.

I have spent some time in the past few years trying to learn more about the Spirit, because it is obviously integral to our faith. Many theologians and Saints talk of the Holy Spirit as the love that is between God and Jesus. That because they are love themselves, and they are one but are also able to love as distinct persons, their love was so strong it actually took a physical form, the third part of the Trinity. St. Paul says, “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) While this makes some sense to me, it is still not abundantly clear.

And then I stumbled onto this thought from one of St. Augustine’s sermons: “What the soul is to man’s body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church. The Holy Spirit does in the whole Church what the soul does in the members of the one body.”

That is exactly what I had been looking for, these two simple and straightforward lines. I see something I can relate the Holy Spirit to: even though my soul is not a concrete, tangible thing, I have a basic understanding of how it works in relation to my body and brain. Even more important, I also see the purpose of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit moves us to love others and God more deeply, that is, to build up the Church.

And then I was reading the Sequence and readings for the Mass this weekend in preparation for writing this article. The Sequence itself has some beautiful imagery, mentioning the Spirit as “the soul’s most welcome guest,” and it expands on the purpose of Spirit with these lines:

“Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.”

While all three lines are great images for how the Spirit can make us more faithful, the second line resonated most with me I thought of the movie Frozen (please bear with me; I have two girls who, yes, still want to listen to the soundtrack daily, and two boys who will undoubtedly grow up with lots of princess songs in their heads). The key to melting the frozen heart and world was (spoiler, sorry if you haven’t seen it!) love. This took me right back to how the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son, and that love can dwell within us to make us warmer people who find the right path to God. All we need to do is respond to it and ask the Spirit to work in us to spread that love. (And in case this isn’t clear, I am in no way saying that Frozen is a Christian film or something like that; just that it’s about true and sacrificial love.)

By receiving the sacraments, building our virtues, and asking the Holy Spirit to help us when we pray, we are welcoming this part of the Trinity into our lives. The Holy Spirit is the one who gave the apostles the courage to go out and spread the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection. It is also the one who gives us the strength and graces we need to do the same.

Today is a day to celebrate this beautiful part of the Trinity. We wear red to represent the flame of the Spirit within us, ready to be spread to others. We ask the Holy Spirit to come to us and fill us to overflowing.

Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

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