By MICHAEL de la BEDOY ERE
-I T is by no means surprising that consciousness of the Holy Spirit and devotion to the Holy Spirit do not notably mark the devotional lives of most of us. After all it is through the senses that our minds and hearts get something to work on, and the Holy Spirit only makes the vaguest or most remote impression on our seam's.
"Our Father who are in heaven" is an expression that relates immediately to earthly fathers, even though we cannot easily picture Our Father in heaven in a way that covers even the least sophisticated idea of God. With Our Lord eversthing is easy. Our Lord is Man. He lived an earthly life of which there is an accurate and detailed historical record calculated to move and impress the hearts of the least imaginative. So vivid indeed is the record of Christ the Man that the danger here is that we should get into the habit of thinking of Him as only Man. If we do this, we obviously fail to know Christ, for it is because Christ. the figure of our human history, is God that His human life means (literally) infinitely more to the world and to ourselves than the record, as record, can possibly suggest.
But with the Holy Spirit we are kit with no more than symbols or pictures that can hardly be related at all to the reality.
The Dove, the Fiery Tongues. these signs were certainly chosen because they suggested something of the nature of the Holy Spirit. The Dove represents the creative Spirit brooding over the earth. The Fiery Tongues in themselves indicate the volatile, insubstantial yet ever-present and powerful nature of the Holy Spirit. But any figure, any symbol. must hopelessly fail to represent with any sort of adequacy that which is by definition spirit! the very essence and being of Spirit which the Holy Spirit is.
The whole thing creates a difficulty which cannot be overcome at all along the lines of representation or analogy. And being the senseimprisoned creatures we are, we almost inevitably drift into a state of disinterest in the Holy Spirit, save as a title or vague description of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.
YET to leave it at that is obviously to lose an absolutely vita! element of our religion, of the Church. Scripture is chock-full—if the expression be allowed—of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit descending on Our Lady which brings about the Incarnation itself. The Spirit of God descended on Christ at His baptism. It is through the Holy Spirit that the priest forgives sin.
It is from the Holy Spirit that grace itself is received. It was better for us that Christ should die that the Spirit of Truth, proceeding from the Father, might come upon the disciples. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, and the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who inspires all apostolic work and is the source of all the powers and signs and virtues which should mark the life of the Christian so that the Truth for which he should stand may be recognised. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Indeed it is scarcely possible to exaggerate the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in each of its members, either in the Scriptural record or in the teaching and tradition of the Church.
filLEARLY, then, our spiritual life of the Spirit) must be immensely weakened if we only become conscious of the Holy Spirit on the feast of Pentecost and on special occasions when a definite reminder may COM. Yet to say all this is not to answer the practical difficulty. How can we become more conscious of something that strikes our senses and consequently our imaginations so distantly and feebly?
It is not easy to see an answer so long as religion is practised and lived mainly in and through externals.
Not that externals are bad or false things. The Incarnation—the mystery that ditiereutiates true religion from a!! others—hallowed the external.
We are bodies as well as souls. Our temporal lives are lived in a soiid, sensible world. It is in and through this solid world around us, of which we are an integral part and which Christ raised to the level of the divine in clothing Himself with it, that we have to work out our salvation. The Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments express this incarnational hallowing of the external, as does the Church itself.
But the Divine-made sacredness of externals does not mean that we can be hounded by externals or even by a purely external approach to the end of all religion which is an inner thing; the knowledge, love and service of God.
HE Holy Spirit, in fact, is, as it
were, the spiritual inrush into what might otherwise come to be regarded as merely external, merely a question of habit, observance, verbal prayers.
The Holy Spirit is that utterly inner thing: the revelation of the knowledge and love between the Father and the Son, and consequently It is the Holy Spirit who pours the knowledge and love of God into our hearts.
To obtain some habitual glimmer of insight into this spiritual core of religion, we need an "inner" as well as an "outer" door into religion. We need what is sometimes called the mystical approach.
That word mysticism has come to mean every sort of absurdity and fake. just as it means, in its fullness, something that very few of us indeed can ever hope to know and experience. On the one side, it can mean charlatanism in religion; on the other, it means the spiritual experience of great saints and privileged souls. No wonder it has little meaning, and seems to have little relevance, for us very humdrum Catholics who know that we are not charlatans in so far as we are truly Catholics and also have a very shrewd idea that we shall never be "mystics." But the mystical approach to religion is only a big, though convenient, word for emphasising that the essence of religion is something to do between each one of us and God.
This seems pretty obvious. But it is surprising how easily we can forget it. How easily we think of religion as carrying out certain practices, as avoiding certain evil ways, as making certain images, as consoling ourselves with certain observances. And even if we know that this is not enough, that it all has an end which is the love of God and the substitution of God's will for our self-will, the practical emphasis may only too easily be on the means rather than the end. To avoid this constant danger there could hardly be any better spiritual devotion than a realisation of the importance of the Holy Spirit, Who is precisely the touch, the presence, the revelation of God within us. One might, if the irreverence be allowed, almost think of the Holy Spirit as the habitual short-cut into the heart of religion.
Age of the Spirit
TO stress this too much could, no
doubt, be dangerous. It has proved to be dangerous for many who like short-cuts and recoil from the hard-beaten track. Many have confused the Holy Spirit with their own imaginations arid dreams. But Catholics have the whole revelation of the Incarnation and the whole teaching and liturgy of the Church which, if properly observed, make it impossible to fall into delusions about any inner inspiration. And today there are many people in the world who, tired of one disillusion after another, seek some solid faith in an ideal, a reality, beyond the changing and frustrating world of space and time, of sensation and unredeemed promise. Some find what they seek in the strong certainties and regular pattern of Catholicity. In it they find the Spirit of God.
But others find it harder to see the inner truth in the external appearance of the Church, and some of these find refuge in other religions or in some personal interpretation of world religions for which there is a vogue. May it not he that if we realised better the all-important role of the Holy Spirit in the true religion, and fostered within ourselves a deeper devotion to the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit implies of the heart of true religion, we should be the means of helping and attracting some of these to the Truth?
It has been said that with the ever-fuller revelation in the course of time of the riches within the Church them may come an age of the Holy Spirit. And it is certainly the experience of not a few that as life goes on, .the realisation and appreciation of the work of the Holy Spirit increases.
However this be and whatever importance we may attach to it, ft is at least certain that we shall do well both for ourselves and for those among whom we live, to cultivate a deeper insight into the work, within U.S and within the world, of the Spirit of wisdom and love whom Christ sent to us. We shall do well to cultivate a deeper realisation of our union with Him that our little spirit may in some slight degree express His infinite and all-enlightening and comforting Spirit. Certainly there is food for endless meditation and consolation in perhaps the loveliest of the liturgical poems, the sequence for the feast of Pentecost.