Rev. Dr. Renzo Lavatori, SJ
The Holy Spirit is the Mystery of Mysteries because He is the most concealed and the most mysterious of the three divine Persons.
Apropos of the Son of God, St. John affirms, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched.”Jesus of Nazareth is close to us because he is fully man, equal to us and like us in all things but sin. He is born, he grows, speaks, works miracles, suffers, endures pain, is unjustly condemned, dies and resurrects.
In the Son, the Word Incarnate, we are able to contemplate the stupendous features of the Father whom no one has ever seen. The Father is inaccessible because he is the principle of the vertiginous heights of the divine Being. Only the only begotten Son of God who abides in the Father’s bosom reveals him to us by becoming man. Therefore in the Word Incarnate, the only begotten one, we are able to behold the sweetest figure of the Father.
But how are we able to behold the Holy Spirit? We know that Scripture, Tradition, the early-church Fathers and the Magisterium have employed symbols to describe him, but these are far from describing his personality, his identity, which is fire, water, wind, breath, a dove and a kiss. Indeed, the word ‘Spirit’ itself- in Hebrew ruah – is conceptually impalpable. Jesus accentuates this addressing the winds movement. We can feel the wind, but we cannot tell from where it comes and where it goes. Such is the Holy Spirit. It is quite difficult to describe him. This truth is further illustrated in the writings of the church Fathers, in particular in those of St. Basil whose masterpiece, De Spiritu Sancto, I had the privilege of studying. In this work Basil affirms that one does not so much see the Holy Spirit as feel and perceive him, just as one feels and perceives the wind. From this arises the question of how do we know and perceive what the Holy Spirit does, that is, what is his function, or his particular mission to each Christian?
1 – Familiarity with God in conformity to Christ
Our consideration specifically regards the work the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the life of the Christian. Scriptures, Tradition, the Magisterium and the liturgy testify to his work. The Holy Spirit impresses in man the image of Jesus, that is, he makes of man a son of God, similar to the only begotten Son. Within all Christians that partake of the same divine sonship as the only begotten One, the Holy Spirit impresses his seal of splendorous transformation, which reproduces in us the Son. This work begins in the Sacrament of Baptism, which is the first great effusion of the Holy Spirit that we received. In Baptism the Holy Spirit conforms us to Christ, making us like the Son of God. This is an extraordinary work. Nevertheless, at the moment the Spirit impresses in us the image of Jesus, whereby we become another Christ, he respects our diversities. Here one can admire the Holy Spirit’s masterpiece of accomplishing respectively in each and every one of us his work.
I here wish to consider the teaching of Lumen gentium concerning the call of all the baptized to holiness. Holiness does not consist simply in the imitation of the lives of the saints of the past, or of those with whom we live – as at times we may find ourselves living in the presence of saints – but in reproducing in ourselves the very features of Christ. The Spirit produces this holiness by transfiguring us into Jesus in the capacity of our character, temperament and sensibility. Every saint, one may say, represents one shaft of light of the Word Incarnate.
Hence the work the Holy Spirit accomplishes is to make of us sons. Such is the case in baptism where the Father says to us, as Scripture relates, “You are my Son, this day I have begotten you.” We also respond with the entire Christian community: “Abba, I am here to bear witness to you as my most loving Father and Lord. Abba, into your hands I commend my Spirit. Abba, be it done unto me according to your Will.”For in baptism a marvelous dialogue begins between us who are made sons in the Spirit, and our heavenly Father. From the moment of our baptism there is born this ‘familiarity’ with God that we often forget, but that nevertheless constitutes the new life in the Spirit. And the new life in the Spirit constitutes the daily actualization of the life of sonship in God.
Such actualization is not easy because we unfortunately still carry within us the old seal of slavery that makes one fear his master, remain far from him, and solely out of constraint, obligation and duty, revere and obey him. Every commandment is endured as a burden precisely because we are a slave and not a son. A son that has been touched by his Father’s paternal heart, that has lived the love of the Father and that feels fully reborn by the Father no longer nurtures fear, but abandons himself with serene trust “as a child held in its mother’s arms.”Through serene trust he feels all the tender heartbeats of the Father’s love that continuously extends pardon, mercy and pours forth love. Certainly at times as a good teacher, God recalls us to obedience, invites us to unconditional service and even puts us to the test in a sorrowful and exacting manner. But all this is intended by God for the entire and total good of his beloved and predilect children. He knows our weakness and sins, yet he intends to purify us and make us grow within his own purity of love and holiness, provided his children implore his pardon and trust in his mercy.
2 – The dialogue between the Father and the Son within the effusion of love
The presence of the Spirit, received in baptism and reconfirmed in the sacrament of confirmation, comprises a fundamental two-fold movement: one movement is toward God and the other is toward neighbour. The new attitude of the Christian toward God is that of feeling and living the life of ason, reproducing within himself, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, the sentiments that reside within the hearts of the Father and the Son. Within us the Holy Spirit resonates, enlivens—or otherwise put—places us within the eternal dialogue of love between the Father and the Son who stand in a rapport of mutual affection.
The Holy Spirit infuses within us the Spirit of the Father that impels us to love Jesus, the Son; he impels us to know the Son, to fully grasp him in the Gospel – his most beautiful truth, and to receive within us his work of redemption. The Christian that lives the new life in the Spirit is essentially one that is in love with Jesus, who gives first place in his soul and in his actions to Jesus. As the Father loves the Son and his thoughts are entirely directed toward him so that the Son is pleased, likewise the Christian that is imbued with the Holy Spirit turns his gaze, heart and attention entirely toward Jesus who becomes the centre of his thoughts, his interests, his prayers, his studies and his meditation in listening to the Word of life Jesus proclaims in the Gospel.
Within the Christian the Spirit also arouses sentiments of the Son toward the Father. Such sentiments consist of abandonment to the Father, docility, obedience, sacrifice and submission. Jesus reveals, “My food is to do the will of my heavenly Father,”nothing more. His nutrition and the purpose of his existence is to “do the Will of the Father.”Jesus accomplishes only and solely that which his Father tells him to do. He does nothing of his own initiative because as the Son, he abandons himself to the Father and knows that the Father upholds, embraces, sustains and guides him.
Now the Holy Spirit reproduces in us these same filial sentiments toward God our Father. He arouses in us submission to his Will, serene trust, docility, abandonment and an immense willingness to serve, even to the point of sacrificing ourselves like Jesus. The Holy Spirit therefore pours forth in us this marvelous harmony of sentiments, and he does it in such a way that he attracts our heart toward the Son as the Father does. He contemporaneously attracts the hearts of us, his sons, toward the Father to live this experience of love and effusion between the Son and the Father, and that constitutes the same love that flows between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.
3 – Fraternal communion in light of the Trinitarian mystery
The Holy Spirit opens the heart of Christians to their neighbour. But in what does this rapport consist? It consists in the rediscovery and living of true love in the Spirit, which begins in the day of our Baptism and that we must assimilate. It is a rapport that reproduces the love that is actualized from within the Trinity: a love that proceeds from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. It is a love that does not seek itself, but on the contrary, is eager to make the other emerge, whereby the other may shine in all of its reality. It is a love that conceals and loses itself in the other.
Indeed, the entire story of salvation is born from the Father, from his heart. God desires that all mankind be saved. From eternity He ardently desires that man become his son. To accomplish this desire He sends his only begotten Son while remaining invisibly concealed behind him. It is the Son that shows himself. It is the Son who reveals himself, who appears in all of his splendor and in all his glory, which fills his humanity. The Father therefore remains concealed behind the Son. The Son, for his turn, in the supreme moment of sacrificing and consummating himself on the cross, glorifies his Father and declares before the eyes of the world the infinite love of the Father. The Father and the Son mutually compete in such a way that out of love, one Person desires and does everything that the other Person may emerge in his stead.
Similarly the Holy Spirit has the sole purpose of operating in such a way that the Son and the Father are glorified, loved and recognized. He conceals and loses himself behind them. The Son, in his turn, after having resurrected and ascended into Heaven, no longer shows himself to the world as the physically visible one, but sends the Spirit that effuses himself on the Apostles in tongues of fire. It is the Spirit that manifests the Son.
Forgetting oneself, the one disappearing before the other, the revealing of the one to the other is the conduct of the love of the three divine Persons. In the gift of the Spirit that reveals and transmits this modality of being, one is able comprehend and live an authentic communion in love that consists in the total gift of self in order to receive in oneself the other, thus becoming with the Spirit one sole Spirit.
Such a relationship to one’s neighbour assumes a two-fold movement. The first movement is that of exiting from one’s own subjectivity to give oneself to the other. This is the active dimension of self-offering. The second is reentering within oneself to receive the one who gives himself. This is the passive dimension of acceptance. The two directions co-exist in the Christian that is filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit in such a way that he is both receiving and giving (cf. 1 Cor. 12:25, Gal. 5:13; 6:2). There cannot be one without the other in the actualization of a true fraternal communion.
Giving oneself requires that at the moment in which the person forgets himself in order to give himself to the other, he must also know how to receive the other and place him in his own stead. If one is only inclined to give without the willingness to receive, his self-offering is not a communication with the other, but a simple self-affirmation. Conversely, if one is eager to only receive and lacks the generosity to give himself, he remains closed in egotism and is of himself practically incapable of receiving the other.
By this means, the interpersonal rapport assumes a highly unitive value. It profoundly conjoins the individual subjects in one sole spirit of understanding and of mutual receptivity (Rm 12:10.16;15:7). Neither subject feels isolated, misunderstood, ostracized or alone capable of giving. Each and all are placed in the condition of sharing the dimensions that consist of the true self-offering: the active dimension of giving and the passive dimension of receiving, of loving and being loved.
In such a context, the Christian acquires a connatural sensibility that renders him aware of the other’s interior disposition, assets and defects, of his needs and aspirations. He possesses such awareness not to judge the other, but to commiserate with him. He gives of himself in proportion to the other’s being and not his own, adapts himself to the other’s needs without imposing his own, and shares in the other’s reality without insisting on his own. Above all, he looks for the other’s betterment, the free and total expansion and the development of his person, and not for his own satisfaction.
In this manner one who sets out to receive another must accept that person as he is, respecting his personality, at times filled with imperfections and limitations. Her must not leave that person in his miserable state, but with the awareness that the other, feeling received and loved, may flourish in his own capacity and be renewed in the correct understanding of himself, free to act and to express himself (cf. 1 Ts. 5:11; Rm. 15:14). The giver, in turn, feels loved and pardoned by God, so as to lovingly correspond to the Father’s plan, while avoiding the pitfall of self-interest. However, all this requires a profound sense of spiritual freedom that only the gift of Trinitarian love through the Holy Spirit can bequeath to the heart.
This aforesaid exchange of love among persons favors a marvelous symphony of souls, a total and intense co-participation while avoiding self-identification or self-annihilation. Instead each reveals himself for that which he is and can do, accentuating his own identity, without however losing the union of souls and common love. On the contrary, each person contributes to the other’s cooperation and complementarity. Indeed, the gift of the Spirit consents to a mutual presence and, thus, to the maximum unity, respecting and maintaining the plurality of those that receive and live in him.
In our respective communities the Holy Spirit continues to work this marvelous exchange of communion between the Father and the Son that makes them one sole Spirit of love, while remaining always two Persons perfectly distinct. For his work to attain its purpose, there is principally required the ability of allowing oneself to be touched by the Holy Spirit in order to obtain humility and the joy of becoming like him, the Gift of love.