Peter Millar has the story of a parishioner who was asked by her vicar if she believed in a God who held heaven and earth, who healed, transformed, liberated and renewed creation. She paused for a moment and then replied, “No, I don’t. I believe in the ordinary God.” God is immersed in the “ordinary” in an extraordinary way. But the vicar’s putting of the question is a telling description of the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit is “holy” because it proceeds” from the heart of God. This description of holiness is clarified in Acts 16:7 in the term “Spirit of Jesus”. Paul the Apostle in II Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit is, there is freedom”. This latter passage connects Jesus, the Spirit, and God, because “Lord,” here has a clear implication of divinity.
The Dead Sea Scrolls and then the literature of the Rabbis speak of the “Spirit of holiness” (Ruach-ha-qodesh). Wherever Jesus walks in the New Testament, there is the Spirit. After Jesus’ death, wherever it is experienced, there is the Spirit. The Upper Room Discourses in John Chapters 14-16 are intent on building that connection.
What is called the filioque, “and the Son,” in the Nicene Creed should be retained because it reinforces the connection: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son….”
The Orthodox Churches in the East separated from the Church Catholic in the West in 1054 A.D. over the addition of these words and other differences. Proper ecumenical concerns should not persuade us to drop them now. For once, the West was right!
The Holy Spirit expresses the intent of the Triune God to feed our craving for healing, transformation, liberation, and the renewal of creation.
i. The Holy Spirit as Healer
As we have noted, the Nicene Creed describes the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the giver of life”.
When Jesus moved through Galilee, he gave life through the Spirit of God when people were healed: cripples, the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the possessed, those broken by the tongues of others.
The woman caught in adultery is one of the most significant healing stories in the New Testament. Apparently caught in the act, broken by tongues, soon to have her body broken by stones, she is saved by Christ’s compassion and wisdom: “Go and sin no more”, she is told. By obeying that command, she would be healed from her moral brokenness. She would sin again, as we all do, but the sin of adultery was to be erased from her memory and practice forever.
Jesus gave the Spirit of compassion to the disciples on Easter day: “Those whose sins you retain, they are retained”. He had “breathed the Spirit of them”. He made them healers of the heart.
ii. The Holy Spirit in Transformation
“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind”, says Paul the Apostle. He had previously counselled the Christians in Rome to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice acceptable to God”.
Renewing our minds must mean a renewal in the Spirit that aligns the mind with the will of God. We already have this capacity within us. We are made in the image of God, given the capacity to respond to God at the outset of our lives. When the Spirit of Jesus is invited into our lives, then the image lights up.
Unlike the Olympic flame, this flame will burn forever, though it must be fed with a will and life directed towards God. So much can be transformed if we use the resources that God has given to our souls, the ‘place’ from which our destiny is shaped.
iii. The Holy Spirit as Liberator.
”For freedom Christ has set you free” says the Apostle. The Spirit “blows where it wants to” like the wind, says Jesus. The Spirit is the field of encounter with God, the “open space” between us and God which can only be filled by the Spirit who connects us to God. Otherwise we would be alone, manipulated by the dominant forces of our will without the gentle but persistent guidance of the Spirit of Jesus.
iv. The Holy Spirit of Renewal
The Apostle Paul gives us a fascinating glimpse of the Creation being renewed in Romans, Chapter 8. The Spirit brings the universe into being at creation, the “Spirit of holiness” raises Jesus from the dead, and the Spirit renews the creation.
We entrust the Creation to God’s nurture, just as we have the care of it entrusted to us. The scientists predict the running down of the universe in some of their prognoses, but we entrust ourselves to the God who created it.
We respect the scientific analyses and we look for guidance from that learned sphere of knowledge. We must do everything we can to preserve its beauty and to enhance it, but its ultimate future is in the hands of the Creator.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of healing, transformation, liberation and recreation.
I believe in the Holy Spirit who in Baptism links words of prayer, questions and affirmations, water and cross, resurrection faith and our humanity in Christ; the Holy Spirit who in Confirmation turns a physical touch of hands into the touch of God in a receptive mind and heart.
I believe in the Spirit who anoints and heals through hands bearing a grace-filled life; the Spirit who takes bread and wine and infuses them with the living presence of Jesus, linked to that presence in believers and received in faith: “Feed on him in your hearts by faith”.
This same Spirit brings Christ to us in our daily life and awakens us to “the possibility of an uninterrupted dialogue with God”.
I Believe in the Holy Catholic Church, The communion of saints, The forgiveness of sins
i. The Holy Catholic Church
The word “catholic” means “according to the whole”, from kath’ holos in Greek. It has more to do with the apostolic map of faith than with an individual church. Vincent of Lerins defined Catholicity as “what has been believed everywhere, always and by all”. We would be less assured now about this claim, since early Christianity was just as diverse and varied as Judaism at the time of Jesus. But the central beliefs in the humanity and divinity of Christ, and the power of the Gospel remain. That is, Jesus’ offer of hope out of despair, and relief from pain, exclusion and deformity of character or body. The Cross of pain and suffering eased the pain and confusion of humanity before God. The resurrection that raised Jesus into God also forged a luminous path for us. The Holy Spirit who paints Jesus on the minds and hearts of those who love him is God’s designer. All of this contributes to the distinctive ‘map’ of the Christian Faith. The Church would be an empty set of barns without the “perpetual motion” of the catholic faith spinning through a network of reason linking the Holy Spirit connection of Christ within God and with us. Christ stands with his multi-focussed gaze in the centre of that “motion” like the figure of a sailor standing erect in a boat that passes by, driven by the current, headed home.
ii. The Communion of Saints
Saints have a “communion” in that they are in “communion” with Christ. What they have shared in their part of the world they now share in the “the heavenly country”. The New Testament does not portray singular saints, but the plural “holy ones”, the “saints. These are the people who have been “set apart” for Christ’s service in the world and in the beyond. They cluster around Christ in this world and in heaven. They are sometimes “beatified” today. That is, they are called “blessed” before the whole Church.
Morris West’s book the Devil’s Advocate traces the course of an investigation into the “sainthood” of Giacomo Nerone. The “devil’s advocate” is Blaise Meredith, an ascetic monsignor who is dying from stomach cancer. He has to test the authenticity of the claims made about Giacomo Nerone by devout Catholics in Calabria. The story is not so much about whether Nerone is a true saint or not. It is rather about how Blaise Meredith becomes a truly human Christian. That is a good description of a saint! Saints are more concerned about the salvation of others than their own saving graces.
The saints always faced what West describes as “the harsh consequences of belief”. That is, the realities of life and death, and the unknowns in both of them. They have a communion with one another. It is a communion that bonds with life and death and cries out in faith through the voids that inhabit both of them. They demonstrate that God reigns and that eternity bursts into time with a radiance that enfolds common lives and makes them uncommonly memorable. Such people are the ageless ones, the saints who embrace one another before the throne of grace in a joy that could not be crushed on earth and that now blooms in heaven.
iii. The Forgiveness of Sins
This is the great gift from Christ to the Church on Easter Day as described in John’s Gospel.
It is a gift that has no end to its depth and no limit placed on its number of recipients. The “sins that you forgive, they are forgiven, and the sins you retain, they are retained”(John 20:23). The forgiveness of sins is a present wonder of release: such freedom! The retention of sins is a point in the past that still haunts us. Christ forgives those who forgive themselves by coming for help. They turn over a fresh page of life. Those who cling to their sins retain them, and the saving life of the Cross cannot enter and destroy their evil constraints.
I remember a young couple whose marriage was in tatters. They met in my study. As they talked, love reached out between them and reconciliation seemed a real possibility. Then she drew back and cried out, “You broke the seventh commandment!” Love receded and the relationship was ended. I remember a happier occasion. The man had travelled overseas and had too much to drink and a one-night liaison that haunted him. He came home and told his wife. I was called to the house as a young curate. Hurt hung in the air like fog. Then their tiny golden-haired girl came across the room and joined their hands together. They burst into tears. Healing began. He stayed true to her through her suffering with multiple sclerosis until one day he could stand her pain no more and took his life. I still hear from the golden-haired girl who is now a fine young woman. Both parents are dead now but they were together to the end. A little girl put their hands together, just as the hands of Christ join our hands to each other and to God. The Cross is not just about a ravaged body, but hands that reach out in forgiveness to the world.