Today is the anniversary of the Holy Ghost’s mission on earth. Because that mission is largely neglected, sorely misunderstood, and vitally important for the life of the Church and individuals, we should do our best to understand it so that we can profit by it.
The Promise Fulfilled. We get a description of the Pentecost event today in the lesson from the Book of Acts. We’ve been expecting it since the Ascension. It comes to us, much as it came to the Apostles, by way of a promise fulfilled. Remember that Our Lord called the Holy Ghost “the Promise of the Father,” as St. Luke relates in both his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles. Today’s Gospel, again from St. John, is one of the places where that promise is foretold. This passage from St. John (14:23-31) teaches us some of the essential doctrine behind the event of Pentecost.
The List. By way of summarizing who and what the Holy Ghost is, I would like to speak on three important truths about the Holy Ghost. First, the Holy Ghost proceeds in eternity from the Father and the Son, who also together send Him on His temporal mission. Second, that mission of the Holy Ghost is to build up the Church. Third, the Holy Ghost sanctifies each of the faithful. There is an order to these three truths, going from general to specific, the abstract to the concrete, the eternal to the now, the universal to particular, or the big-grand-and-cosmic to the little-you-and-me.
I. The Eternal Procession. First, the Holy Ghost proceeds in eternity from the Father and the Son and He is sent in time by the Father and the Son. While the study of the processions in the Trinity can get very complicated, there is a simple truth to grasp. In the one substance of the Godhead, there are three Persons. The First Person is the Principle without principle, the Origin without origin. In knowing Himself perfectly, He utters a Word, which we can call his perfect and adequate self-knowledge. This Word is not a creature, but is of the very substance of the same Godhead: it is God from God, light from light, true God from true God. The utterance is also a generation or a begetting. For this reason, we call the Word, in strictest literal truth, God’s Son. This Word, this Son, is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Father beholds His Son and loves him. The Son, in turn, Loves His Father. This Love of Father for Son and Son for Father is, like the Father’s self-knowledge, of the very substance of the Godhead. It is the Third Person, The Holy Ghost, who proceeds from the Father and the Son by way of a breath of love — a breath, an aspiration, a Spirit.
Temporal Mission. The missions in time follow the order of the processions in eternity. The Father is the Principle without principle. He is sent by no one, therefore he has no “mission.” The Son is generated by the Father. He is sent in time by the Father to do the work the Father has commanded Him to do. The Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son in eternity and is sent in time by both the Father and the Son, which is why his mission in time had to come after the Ascension. “It is expedient for you that I go,” Our Lord said, “for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). In other words, just as the work of the Son was to perfect the work of the Father, so, too, the work of the Holy Ghost will perfect or finish the work of the First and Second Persons. What this practically boils down to is that the Holy Ghost’s mission builds on and continues the mission of the Son.
Our Lord told us this in many ways: He said that the Holy Ghost would “teach you all things and bring all things to your mind whatsoever I have said to you.” In another place, He said: “He shall glorify me: because he shall receive of mine and shall shew it to you.” And again: “he shall not speak of himself: but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak.” In other words, just as Our Lord said, “my doctrine is not mine but his who sent me,” so too can the Holy Ghost say the same thing, but with one difference: “My doctrine is not mine, but theirs who sent me — they, from whom I proceed.”
The particulars of the Holy Ghost’s temporal mission take us to the second and third considerations.
II. The Soul of the Church. The Holy Ghost’s mission is to build up the Church. Remember that we call the Holy Ghost, “the Soul of the Church.” On Pentecost day we see a pattern of the work of the Holy Ghost: The Apostles are given gifts to preach, their preaching is heard and understood by people in diverse languages, the truth of the Faith is upheld by the wonderful prodigies the Holy Ghost works (the sound “as of a great wind,” the hearing in different languages, the profound preaching by simple men, the tongues of fire, the prodigious courage shown by the Apostles, etc.).
What was the result? 3,000 were baptized that day. And whose preaching is heard over all the other Apostles? Peter’s , the first Pope. He not only preaches the Gospel, but he infallibly interprets Holy Scripture to all his hearers, by way of explaining the prophesy of Joel. That’s the work of the Holy Ghost.
Does it end then and there, that is, on Pentecost day? No. All throughout the book of Acts — the book sometimes called the “Gospel of the Holy Ghost” — we read of his action, and it’s always the same: building on the work of Jesus, confirming the work of the Apostles, and adding to the Body of Christ.
St. Paul makes this point vividly in three separate passages of his inspired epistles: the graces and gifts of the Paraclete are given for the unity and edification of the Body of Christ. That’s the Church. But the Church is not some collectivity wherein the members lose their identity. It’s not a communist state. It is a mystical body in which individuals are sanctified. So we pass on to the third great truth we wish to consider.
III. The Sanctifier. The Holy Ghost sanctifies each of the faithful. What He does for the Church He also does for each of us singly: He sanctifies us. How? By bestowing on us those gifts we learn about in our catechisms: The seven gifts of the Holy Ghost: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. The virtues are like us rowing the boat, as those little illustrations in the Baltimore Catechisms showed. But the gifts are the wind of the Holy Ghost filling our sails. The virtues perfect our natural powers, whereas the gifts perfect the virtues. The gifts also, in turn, produce in us the fruits of the Holy Ghost, which are the sweet produce of the soul that has cooperated with the Sanctifier: charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, fidelity, modesty, continency, chastity. We call these fruits for two reasons: first, they are the produce, or result of living the virtues and the gifts; second, like fruit, they are sweet. St. Thomas Aquinas said that “Every virtuous act which man performs with pleasure is a fruit.” So the list St. Paul gives in Galatians 5, which I’ve just cited, is not exhaustive.
How do we know if the Holy Ghost is at work in our souls? Are the gifts there? Are the fruits there? Is there virtue? Are we good? Do we keep the commandments? Remember: “If you love me, keep my commandments and I will pray the Father and he will send you another comforter.” All these are signs of the Holy Ghost at work in our souls.
The greatest gift of the Holy Ghost is wisdom, which perfects the greatest of the theological virtues, charity. Therefore, if you want to know if the Holy Ghost is at work in your life ask yourself if you are following the two great commandments of the New Testament: love of God and love of Neighbor. (“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death.” 1 Jn. 3:14) And this brings the temporal and concrete back to the eternal and abstract: The Holy Ghost is the personal Love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father, therefore, in time we appropriate to Him the work of sanctification, which is nothing other than the work of growing in God’s love.
His Spouse. I spoke above of two aspects of the mission of the Holy Ghost — building the Church and sanctifying souls. We see them both in seed in the Holy Ghost’s greatest work, the one appropriated to Him, but which actually precedes his temporal mission. It is His masterpiece: the Incarnation. The head of the Church was made incarnate in Mary’s womb and Mary’s own soul was filled with grace. The Incarnation is the pattern of the work of the Holy Ghost: As He formed Jesus in Mary’s womb, so He informs the Church by being the soul of the Church, so, too, He forms Jesus in the soul of each one of us. This is the spiritual doctrine of St. Louis de Montfort. Our Lady made the Holy Ghost fruitful and she still does so by continuing the mystery of the Incarnation in each one of us. Ultimately, we will not understand the doctrine of the Holy Ghost, without cultivating a loving knowledge of His Spouse, Our Lady.