Who is the Holy Spirit & How Does He Work in Our Lives?
May 24, 2023 by Cheryl Hadley
The Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is a complete mystery to many Catholics—perhaps even an unknown. After all, for most of us, it's more natural to feel we have a relationship with God the Father, or Christ the Son, the first two Persons of the Trinity. We sense their Personhood more readily somehow. So who is the Holy Spirit, and what is His work?
As Catholics, we don't get much instruction about the Spirit. We learn that we receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism, are sealed with His gifts in Confirmation, and can develop the Gifts of the Spirit as we grow in grace and virtue, advancing in the spiritual life. Those gifts bring forth spiritual fruits in each follower of Christ.
Jesus tells us in Sacred Scripture that the ability to follow Him comes from the power of the Holy Spirit, working in us and in the world.
The Spirit is Personal
Many of us think of the Holy Spirit as a magical force, or a tiny white bird. A tongue of fire floating in the air. There are different names for the Holy Spirit. The Paraclete, Sanctifier, Comforter, and Holy Ghost.
It's true that Sacred Scripture records the work of the Spirit as a mystical and divine power, taking place behind the scenes, especially in the Old Testament. Many of us may not realize the Holy Spirit has been there all along.
He was present at the creation of the world. He inspired the great prophets, speaking to them down through the generations as they anointed Israel's kings. He prompted the leaders of God's chosen people. Over time, His guidance and inspiration in the background of the Old Testament became more visible to us in the New.
As the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin, He brought about the conception of Christ. Later, He anointed the Apostles and disciples in their ministry. After the Passion, He burst forth at Pentecost in His glorious fullness, giving life to the Church, then guiding and nurturing her with His gifts.
At this point in the Scriptures, we see the Spirit more evident and "active" in the lives of every believer and follower of Christ. Sacred Scripture reveals the critical role of the Holy Spirit in the mission of each soul and the early Church. His Personhood is essential to that mission.
Christ Reveals Him
In John 14, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit and shares some critical elements of His identity. He reveals the Spirit as a Person, though not one with a physical body like His own.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you." - John 14:15-17
The Holy Spirit is another Counselor sent by God the Father. He is Truth, dwelling in the hearts of believers.
"Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged." - John 16:7-11
The Holy Spirit declared Christ Jesus as He taught and guided the hearts of men, filling them with divine truth, glorifying God, and affirming the Messiah.
"I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you." - John 16: 11-15
The Scriptures Reveal Him
The Scriptures contain a wealth of information about the Holy Spirit. To know Him better, start in prayer, and in God's Word. The Bible helps us understand His work in the hearts of mankind and in the Church.
That work is ongoing. As He was there in the beginning of the world, He is here now, and He will be present at the end of time. These are some of my favorite Bible verses about the Holy Spirit, but you can find many more.
The Holy Spirit empowers us to speak and witness courageously.
"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” - Acts 1:8
"And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness." - Acts 4:31
He convicts, brings righteousness with His guidance, declares what is to come, and glorifies God by imparting the Gospels.
"For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." - 1 Thess 1:4-5
He brings regeneration and healing. He advances the Kingdom.
"Jesus answered him, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ " - John 3:3-8.
He is present within all believers, and accessible to all believers. The Spirit bestows the power and obedience to live life in Christ so we are freed from the chains of sin and death to live life in His peace.
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." - Romans 8:2-10.
It is the Spirit who gives us deep love and knowledge of Jesus, and the grace to feel His love within us. The Spirit grounds us in love, strengthening us to persevere and carry one another.
"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." - Eph 3:14-19
He knows the depths of God and of our hearts. He teaches us how to recognize and use the gifts bestowed upon us for the good of our souls, the Church, and each other. He illuminates truth and the word of God.
"God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit." - 1 Cor 2:10-13
He gives us the strength to live beyond the power of the flesh—to reject whatever separates us from God. He bestows upon us the Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit, producing in us the riches of a life in Christ.
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.
But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another." - Gal 5:16-26
It is the Spirit who fills us, imparting the gifts needed for ministry, growing what Christ began, and declaring what Christ taught. Because of the Spirit, the Faith continues, and we continue to prepare for eternity with God. He reveals the qualities of a good steward of Christ, and guides ministry to completion.
"This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.
I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?
Already you are filled! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings!"
- 1 Cor 4-8
Growing Closer to the Holy Spirit
To better know the Holy Spirit, we can start with prayer to open our hearts to Him. We can seek Him in Scripture to better understand His role in our salvation. We can look for Him in our lives, and commune with Him there, responding to His promptings as we live a life of grace.
As we do these things, we will grow in virtue and in our desire to unite ourselves to Him. While putting His gifts to use, we will see His fruits flourish in our souls.
Seeking the Holy Spirit is a lifestyle, not an occasional fleeting thought. As we dedicate ourselves to it, calling on Him for help, we will recognize His promptings. The more devotedly we respond, the more we will receive.
When we make our home with Him, He will make His home with us. He will bring holiness to our souls, and will bring our souls—one day—to heaven.
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