How conscious are you of the
Holy Spiritís presence?

Catholic churches are filled with representations of Jesus and Mary, but we rarely see the Holy Spirit even symbolized. In our church, we have just two symbols of the Holy Spirit: a dove in our first ceiling medallion, and in our first stained glass window.

We might not be so conscious of the Holy Spirit, yet we pray to the Spirit repeatedly. We begin our prayers, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And we conclude our prayers, "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit."

When we receive each of the seven sacraments, we invoke the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

  1. At baptism, the priest or deacon says as he pours water over the forehead of the person, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
  2. At reconciliation, the priest blesses the penitent and says, "I absolve you from all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
  3. At confirmation, the bishop anoints the confirmandiís forehead, and says, "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit."
  4. Before Communion, the priest prays with hands extended, "Let your Spirit come upon these gifts of bread and wine to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ."
  5. For marriages, the priest or deacon leads the bride and groom in saying aloud, "Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
  6. At ordination ceremonies, the bishop prays, "Lord, fill with the gift of the Holy Spirit him whom you have deigned to raise to the rank of the priesthood."
  7. For the anointing of the sick, the priest anoints the forehead and hands of the recipient, and prays, "Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit."

Who is the Holy Spirit?

The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. In a symbolic triangle of persons, the love between the Father and Son begets the Spirit. The Spirit is equal in being with the Father and the Son; the Spirit is not subordinate in any way to the Father and the Son. These three persons in one God are equal in being, eternity, and will. Regarding the Trinity, we oftentimes attribute different activities to different persons, e.g., God the Father is Creator, Jesus is Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit is Sanctifier, i.e., the one who makes things holy. As Sanctifier, the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, whom Jesus, after he ascended to heaven, sent to the Church. The Spirit lives in, operates through, and will remain with the Church until the end of time.

How might we grow in relationship with the Spirit? Among many ways, may I suggest that we contemplate God. Ps. 49 says, "Be still and know that I am God." The prophet Isaiah teaches that the Spirit of God comes not in tremendous storms, or howling winds, but like a gentle breeze. There is no need for us to present to God a shopping-list of our needs. The Holy Spirit already knows what we need and intercedes for us before the words are on lips, claims St. Paul in writing to the Romans. Letís give some quiet time to God. Sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing.

How do we grow in the gifts of the Spirit? If we spend 24-7 in church just praying for the gifts of the Spirit, that alone will not enable us to grow in the gifts of the Spirit. If we read a library full of spiritual books, that alone will not enable us to grow in the gifts of the Spirit. We will grow in virtue by practicing virtuous deeds. Virtue means habit, and habit requires repetitive actions. We will grow in the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and holy fear of the Lord) by living these virtues. We grow in faith by believing, in hope by hoping, in love by loving. We grow in patience by being patient.

In todayís gospel, Jesus says that he gives us his peace. Jesus, however, gives peace, "but not as the world gives peace." If we seek God, then we must measure the results neither by our standards, nor by worldly standards, but by Godís standards. "Godís ways are not our ways." Our goals and our means must be those of God. May I suggest the following anonymous prayer as one way of praying consciously and contemplatively to and with the Holy Spirit.

  • I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
  • I was made weak that I might learn to obey.
  • I asked for health that I might do great things.
  • I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
  • I asked for riches that I might be happy.
  • I was given poverty that I might be wise.
  • I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
  • I was given deprivation that I might feel the need for God.
  • I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
  • I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
  • I received nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
  • Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
  • I am among all men and women, most richly blessed.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley