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Retreat on the Credo
Faith in the Holy Spirit
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
So far in the Apostles Creed we have been reflecting on the First and Second Persons of the Holy Trinity. The eighth article declares, "I believe in the Holy Spirit." This is the only one of the twelve articles of the Church's original Creed that directly professes faith in the Third Person of the Trinity.
By Whom is the fruit or grace of the divine redemption communicated to us? By the Holy Spirit.
Where is this grace communicated to us? The grace of the Holy Spirit is communicated to us in the Catholic Church of which the Holy Spirit is the Soul and to which Christ had for that very purpose promised to send the Holy Spirit. The implications of this answer are far-reaching. If it is true, and faith tells us it is, that once the human race was redeemed and the graces the world needs to be saved were merited, Christ then entrusted, gave all the grace which the human race will need until the end of time to the Catholic Church. Are we then saying then that everybody needs the Catholic Church? That's exactly what we are saying. Are we further saying that anyone who is saved is saved only because of the Catholic Church? Exactly.
The invisible Head of this Church is Christ, the Soul of this Church is the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, true God with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit like the Father and the Son has one and the same identical divine nature. Does the Father have what the Holy Spirit does not have? Not as God. Well, how are they different? Why talk about Three if They all have the same divine nature? Well, because there are Three: there are Three individuals in God otherwise known as Three Persons. The Father proceeds from no one. The Son proceeds only from the Father. And the Holy Spirit, unlike the Father and the Son, proceeds from Them. The only difference among the Three Persons is Their origin: the Father being without origin, the Son originating from the Father, and the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. This is the fundamental mystery of our faith, that the Holy Trinity is the Eternal Society of Three Persons. That's why God is Love, because Each of the Three Persons has two Others to love. Even in the Godhead there must be a plurality of Persons to make love possible. Does it begin to tell you a little bit of why God has so conveniently and sometimes so painfully provided such a plurality of persons in the human race? Thank God for other people, they are the object of our love. Even as in God, there are more than one in order that each might love the others.
What do the Sacred Scriptures tell us about the Holy Spirit? The Scriptures call the Holy Spirit God, one with the Father and the Son. One of the most fascinating passages in the New Testament occurs in the Acts of the Apostles. Remember Ananias and Sapphira? Peter asked Ananias if he had turned in everything that he owned to the Christian community. Ananias said, "Yes," which wasn't true. Peter told him, "Why has satan tempted your heart that you should lie to the Holy Spirit? You have not lied to men, but to God." We know the aftermath. After they carried Ananias out, poor Sapphira, they carried her out too.
Again, the Scriptures attribute divine perfections to the Holy Spirit, declaring that He is almighty, omnipresent, all-knowing and eternal. The most exhaustive litany of the attributes of the Holy Spirit occurs in the gospel of John during the long four and more chapters homily of our Savior at the Last Supper.
Again, the Scriptures represent the Holy Spirit as a Person distinct from the Father and the Son. Thus Christ told the apostles, "I will ask the Father and He will send you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever, the Spirit of Truth." Who is the first Paraclete? Christ.
From Whom does the Holy Spirit proceed? He proceeds from the Father and the Son, as Christ foretold, "I will send you the Spirit of Truth Who proceeds from the Father. Whatever He has is Mine." This cryptic passage from the gospel of John has been at least partially responsible for the first main and now thousand year cleavage between the Eastern and Western Churches. It was the Western Church that put into the Nicene Creed, the Pope put it in all by himself, put in the phrase that we chant or recite at Mass: "Who proceeds from the Son." "And the Son," those three words cost the Church over two hundred million members, the famous "filoque", because the Eastern Church claimed the Pope had no right putting that in. Why not? Because the Spirit proceeds only from the Father and not also from the Son.
After a thousand years of separation, many of the Eastern Christians now know better. The great towering desire of our present Holy Father is to reunite the East with the West mainly divided originally over those three words.
The Holy Spirit therefore being God proceeds from the Father Who is God and the Son Who is God. And as revelation tells us, He is the personified love of Father and Son. They have loved Each Other from all eternity. Their Love is no mere affection or less still abstraction; Their eternal Love is a Person and His name is the Holy Spirit.
Why is the Third Person of the Trinity particularly named Holy Spirit when both the Father and the Son are equally holy and every much Spirit as the Third Person? Why call Him selectively Holy Spirit? The Third Person is named first of all Holy because, as we've said before, He is the personified Love of Father and Son and this Love of God is mainly shown in His sanctifying us. It is the Holy Spirit, secondly, who imparts to us the spiritual life hence He is called Holy Spirit. It is to Him that we attribute our holiness, It is from Him that our spirit receives the supernatural life hence the title, selectively, Holy Spirit applied to the Third Person.
Why is the work of our sanctification specially ascribed to the Holy Spirit? The reason is, as we've been saying, that the Third Person as the Spirit of Love between Father and Son is the Giver of all holiness outside of God. The essence of holiness is union with God. Since the Third Person is the One Who unites Father and Sons it is therefore appropriate that to Him be ascribed God's uniting us with Himself. It is, as Christ told us, the Holy Spirit, Whom He sent, because of Whom we receive all supernatural gifts and graces whereby we are sanctified.
Sometimes we think, not quite accurately, that what makes us holy is our good moral conduct. There's no doubt that holy people do behave morally well. But the essence of sanctity is not in our behavior: the substance of holiness is not in how we act; it consists in what we are. A newborn child just baptized is holy. It hasn't yet performed a single conscious morally good action. God's grace is poured into their souls. Holiness is the Holy Spirit entering our souls with His grace. No doubt having this grace from the Holy Spirit, you would expect people to behave somewhat holily; but their conduct is not precisely or essentially what makes them holy; it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in their souls.
The older we get the more disheartened we can become. Woe is me! we say to ourselves, all these years of effort and struggle and I can hardly tell the difference. What consolation to know that we are just as holy as the Holy Spirit makes us by His grace and not by our wonderful growth in virtue, because, frankly, we don't have all that much to show after half a century of effort. Of course this places a great deal of burden on our trust in God. We don't even have the satisfaction of thinking we are holy.
But is not Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, the One Who sanctifies us? So how come we are giving all the credit to the Holy Spirit? Yes, indeed, there is a profound sense in which Jesus Christ does sanctify us: He has merited and prepared for us the grace that makes us pleasing to God. But the Holy Spirit is the One Who applies these graces to our souls; He is the One Who cleanses us from sin and actually confers on us the life of God's friendship that makes us holy. The title comes from Christ; the gift comes from the Holy Spirit.
How does the Holy Spirit sanctify us? He does so in two ways. First of all He sanctifies us by giving us sanctifying grace the moment we are baptized or, if we have the misfortune of losing God's friendship, have it restored in the sacrament of Penance. Sanctifying grace is infused, which means we receive the virtues of faith, hope and charity and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
But this Holy Spirit also sanctifies us by giving us actual graces. There are then two ways we are sanctified: by habitual or sanctifying grace, as it is called, infused in the soul and by the actual graces that come and go. Sanctifying grace is a permanent possession; actual graces are those transient gifts. The only time we are not getting actual grace(this is in no theology book, but it's true) is when we are asleep. One theological reason why I so often cheat on sleeping.
The moment we say what we have just said, hugh vistas of responsibility on our part open up. We have first of all responsibility to the Holy Spirit Who gives us sanctifying grace. What is our responsibility to the Holy Spirit Who gives us sanctifying grace? Our responsibility on this level is threefold. First, we are to keep ourselves in sanctifying grace. Remember, the state of grace is a gift; it can be lost. And you don't keep yourself in sanctifying grace by just willing it, no more than you can keep yourself physically alive by just saying, "Well, here I am." You've got to at least eat and breathe. What breath and food are to maintaining our natural life that prayer and good works are to maintaining ourselves in the supernatural life.
Second responsibility. It is not enough and we are not satisfying our gravest duty in life by just remaining in the state of grace. We are also to exert ourselves to make sure that this state of grace is strong and healthy and vital. We have a duty to keep supernaturally healthy.
And finally we have the responsibility to grow in this life of God which the Holy Spirit has infused into our souls. Here the analogy with our natural life might stop. As we approach the gates of eternity, we are to be more holy than we were when we were first baptized. And listen, that's a duty. One of the most easily missed but I suggest most demanding statements in the New Testament is this statement of the apostle: "This is the will of God: your sanctification", not just your salvation. Woe to us in every state of life if we dream it is enough to remain supernaturally alive. The Holy Spirit did not give us a share in His own divine life just to keep it. Remember that terrifying parable of the talents? Remember the man who buried the one talent he received? That's the Son of God telling us we are to work with the graces we've got; we are to exert ourselves, we are to become more holy at the risk of losing our souls.
How do we preserve ourselves in the state of grace and in fact grow in this life of God? We preserve ourselves and grow in the state of grace by three means: prayer, the sacrament and good works. And you dare not exclude any one of the three. Pray constantly, receive the sacraments frequently, and perform good works indefatigably. The more people try your patience, smile and thank the Lord for the opportunity. Every sin weakens the life of God within us, every act of virtue deepens this life. Every temptation overcome is a strengthening of this divine life. Every cross endured in faith and out of love for God is a means of growing in the life of grace. Thank God for the crosses; that's the way we preserve and grow in the supernatural life given to us by the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.
If that is our responsibility to the Holy Spirit regarding the sanctifying grace that He infuses, what is our responsibility to the same Holy Spirit for the actual graces? Actual graces are the holy thoughts and holy desires that the Holy Spirit keeps giving us every day and almost all day. We are being constantly bombarded by actual graces. Our first responsibility is to make sure that we have holy thoughts and holy desires. Not all people do. This means that we make sure we are reminded of holy things by what we read, the words we hear, the people we associate with. In my book, this is one of the great blessings of religious life: you'll get more actual graces because there are, or there should be, more holy people we are associating with. In a word, our first responsibility is to allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us to holiness by consciously avoiding needless contact with unholy things. Oh, I'm saying a lot in that short sentence. Again, that we just as consciously come into contact with sacred things like the Blessed Sacrament, like the crucifix, like sacred pictures, like statues, like edifying people, like spiritually uplifting conversation, like spiritual reading. All of these are the normal providential channels for the Holy Spirit giving us actual graces. And in God's ordinary providence He won't give us the internal inspiration unless we've had the wisdom to make sure there are what we call external graces outside of us to become the occasion for those internal holy thoughts and holy desires. That's our first duty and a grave one in today's secularized world, to make sure the Holy Spirit doesn't have to work miracles to give us holy thoughts and holy desires. If I never once see a sacred painting, if I never once from morning to night hear spiritual conversation, if none of my senses come into contact with holiness, I'm tempting providence if I think the Holy Spirit is going to work a miracle and in spite of my negligence give me holy thoughts, holy desires.
Second responsibility. It is one thing to receive these actual graces, it is something else to recognize them for what they are. Weve got to distinguish between inspirations and diabolical instigations. Here's a good general rule: that I honestly strive always to do God's will and then I can recognize that it's the Holy Spirit with His graces by the peace and calm and quiet of soul that He gives me provided - watch the proviso - provided I am honestly trying to do God's will. The color of grace is peace, the texture of grace is peace, the size of grace, the shape of grace, the name of grace is peace.
Third responsibility. Once we recognize the presence of God's grace in our souls, that we don't dally or delay, that we act on what we firmly believe is an inspiration from God. The secret is to know God's will and then do it without hesitation and without doubt.
Most Holy Spirit of wisdom and understanding, enlighten our minds that we may know what You want us to do. Most Holy Spirit of fortitude, give us the courage to do Your will the moment we recognize what You want, and then give us the grace to persevere in doing Your will until the dawn of eternity. Amen.
Conference transcription from a retreat
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica
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