Jesus told his Apostles on several occasions that he was leaving them in order to send to them a mysterious Person to help and teach them. He called this person the 'Spirit of Truth' and the 'Counsellor'.
On the day he ascended into Heaven he told them to wait in Jerusalem for the fulfilment of this promise. The great event took place ten days later, on the Jewish festival called Pentecost. It is thus reported in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, paragraphs 1 to 4.
'When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave then utterance'. (Acts 2, 14).
The mighty wind blowing round the house and the tongues as of fire were signs of the Spirit of God, powerful and ardent, bringing strength and blessing to the whole of Creation and particularly to the Church of Christ.
A sudden change came over the Apostles. They who had fled and been full of doubts and fears when Christ was arrested now became strong and bold as lions. They were now ready and eager to preach the gospel, to proclaim the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The city at that time was full of people come from many countries for the religious celebrations. Attracted by 'the sound of a mighty wind' they began to gather around the Apostles. They were amazed to hear the Apostles speaking the languages of the various nationalities present.
St Peter, with the eleven other Apostles at his side, then preached powerfully, declaring that Jesus was the Saviour of the world promised by the prophets of old. The effects of this preaching were astonishing. After St Peter's great sermon many came to him eagerly and asked: 'What shall we do?' He replied: 'Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.' Three thousand were baptised that day. The Acts of the Apostles tells how day by day the numbers of the Christians grew.
This amazing success was due to the fact that the Spirit promised by Christ had come down upon his followers to remain with them always. This Holy Spirit is a mystery far beyond the grasp of the human mind, but the Bible tells us much about the Spirit, a divine breath that gives life to the world and wisdom to the minds of men and women.
The Breath of Life
'Spirit' is from a Latin word meaning air in motion, such as breath or the wind. Both of these naturally suggest life. If someone breathes it is a sure sign of life, and when death comes it is said we have 'breathed our last.' The death of Christ on the cross is thus described in the Gospel: 'Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last' (Luke 23, 46).
People thought of the wind blowing across the wide expanse of the earth, drying out and warming the soil so that life springs from it, as the life-giving breath of God. Hence when they thought of God as the giver of life, the sacred writers often referred to 'The Spirit.
The first words of the Bible tell how the Spirit of God brought design and life into the universe, brought order out of chaos and developed plant and animal life.
'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there by light;" and there was light' (Gen. 1, 1-3).
When the time was ripe God created the human race through a special action of the Spirit. Humanity received a unique gift of the breath of life.
'Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being' (Gen. 2, 7).
The Spirit who gave life to all creatures in the beginning continues to support that life. If this Spirit abandons them, they cease to breathe.
In Psalm 104 the psalmist speaks to God of his creatures:
"When you hide your face they are dismayed,-
When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust
When you send forth thy Spirit, they are created,-
And you renew the face of the ground" (Ps. 104, 29-30)
The Spirit then is God the giver of life.
The Breath Of Wisdom
The sacred writers teach that the Spirit gives skill to the hand, courage to the heart and wisdom to the mind, particularly to those chosen by God to be the leaders of the people. The skilled artisans who designed and made the beautiful things used in worship in the Holy Place received their skill from the Spirit. This same Spirit in turn gave wisdom to kings such as David, under whose lead many sacred songs were written, and to Solomon, who built the first great temple in Jerusalem.
Above all, the Spirit enlightened the minds of the prophets and sacred writers so that they declared God's message to the people. The prophets were confident that they spoke with the authority of God and were moved and directed by this Spirit. Frequently they used words like those of the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted" (Is. 61, 1).
They declared, however, that there was to come a Saviour who would be completely filled with the Spirit of God. The eleventh chapter of Isaiah says:
"The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" (Is. 11,2).
In the time of the Saviour not only prophets but all types of people, young and old, would speak under the influence of the Spirit. St. Peter in his first sermon quoted the words of the second chapter of the Prophet Joel:
'And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit" (Joel 2, 28-29)
The Spirit then is God, the giver of wisdom, and the teacher of truth.
The Breath Of Divine Life
God gives natural life to plants, animals and humanity. But he also gives to humanity a life above Nature, which is supernatural. It is, in fact, a sharing in the life of God. Jesus came precisely to give this life. He said, 'I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly' (John 10, 10). He fed the hungry, cured the sick and raised the dead. But he did more. He died, rose from the dead and went to heaven to send his Spirit that they might live the life of God.
The first two chapters of St. Luke's Gospel tell how the Spirit of God acted strongly upon all who came in contact with Christ. The angel said to Mary, when she conceived Christ in her womb: 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.' When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth was 'filled with the Holy Spirit' as soon as she heard the voice of Mary, and the unborn child, later to be called John the Baptist, stirred in the womb. Her husband, the old priest Zechariah, and Simeon, the prophet who waited daily in the Temple for the coming of the Saviour, were also filled with the Spirit and praised God.
Above all, Christ himself was filled with the Spirit. He was led by this Spirit into the desert to spend forty days praying and fasting, in preparation for his public preaching. He returned 'in the power of the Spirit'. In the first words of his first teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth, as given in St. Luke's Gospel, he applied to himself the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'the Spirit of the Lord is upon me' (Luke 4. 14-18).
Baptism Of The Spirit
The Spirit gives divine life at Baptism. John the Baptist the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, was the great prophet sent to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. The third chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel tells how he urged the people to repent of their sins to prepare to receive the message of the Saviour. He told them to be baptised, as a sign of sorrow and desire to be cleansed from sin. He promised that the Saviour would give a new and more powerful form of Baptism. He said:
'I baptise you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than 1, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire " (Matt. 3, 1 1).
Jesus himself came to the river Jordan to be baptised by John the Baptist. He had no need of this, for he was the sinless Son of God. But he had entered fully into the condition of human nature and became like all men and women (4th Eucharistic Prayer). Therefore he underwent the ceremony which was a sign of repentance. John saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove come down and rest upon him.
Jesus gave a new kind of Baptism, which not only was a sign of sorrow and cleansing from sin, but also gave new life. The third chapter of St. John's Gospel tells how Nicodemus, a pious leader of the Jews, came to question Jesus about his teaching. Jesus told him that those who would belong to his Church must be 'born anew'. Nicodemus asked how a man could be born a second time. Jesus explained that he was talking about birth to a supernatural life, a sharing in the life of God. This would be given through a baptism not merely with water, like the baptism given by John, but with water and the Holy Spirit. He said, 'Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of God' (John 3, 3-5).
The Spirit then is God giving 'new life'.
Sons And Daughters Of God
All men and women are sons and daughters of God, since he made them and they depend upon him for life. But Christians become sons and daughters of God in a fuller and deeper sense. They are lifted up by the Spirit to share the life of the risen Jesus, so that like Jesus they can call God 'Abba', which is the Hebrew for 'father'. In the fourth chapter of the letter to the Galatians, St. Paul says:
"And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father! So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir" (Gal. 4, 6-7).
Christians are brothers and sisters of Jesus and sons and daughters of God. As the heir shares in the riches of the parent, so the Christian shares in the riches of God's life forever.
The Spirit does not come to the followers of Christ only on special occasions, as was the case with the kings, prophets and writers of old. This Spirit comes to dwell in them. Each Christian is like a church or temple in which God lives. In the third chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians St. Paul asks 'Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?' (I Cor. 3, 16). The only way we can deprive ourselves of this divine indwelling is by serious sin.
The Breath Of Divine Wisdom
The fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of St. John's Gospel give the final message of Christ to the Apostles before he died. He promised that although he was going away, he would not leave them to discover by themselves the meaning of his teaching. He would send his Spirit to remain always with them and guide them into all truth. He said: 'I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth' (John 14, 16).
A counsellor, called Paraclete in Greek, is one who takes the part of or defends another, as does a friend in time of need or a barrister in a court of law. Christ was the counsellor and friend of his disciples while he was with them on earth, but after his departure he would send 'another' to protect, befriend and enlighten them so that they would remember and teach correctly what he had taught. He said:
"These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I have said to you" (John 14, 25-26)
The Apostles, and those they ordained to help them in teaching the Gospel, were absolutely convinced that they spoke and acted under the driving force and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Reading the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, one feels the enthusiasm and excitement of those first years when thousands were converted. The Holy Spirit acted so strongly upon them that he seemed to have been 'poured out,' as was foretold by the prophet Joel.
The Spirit then is God giving true wisdom to Christians in the Church of Christ.
In short, the Spirit is God's life, energy, power, vigour for action, wisdom, fire of emotion, God's tender and strong love. The Spirit acts in the people in whom this Spirit dwells, making them live the life of God more fully, The Spirit acts upon their intellects, so that they know the truth of Christ better and make sound judgements. The Spirit acts on their wills, so that they are strong in the resolve to do good, and acts on their hearts and emotions, so that they love generously and bravely.