“And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon everyone of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.”
The action of the Holy Ghost is fourfold:
1. He gives to all men actual graces by enlightening the mind and heart, and spurring us toward God.
2. He gives to some men sanctifying grace, separating from the world those who belong to God by special adoption.
3. He usually gives the seven special gifts (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord), and occasionally quite extraordinary graces (such as tongues, miracles, prophesies, discernment of spirits, visions, ecstasies, etc.).
4. He sustains and guides the Catholic Church.
No doubt every devout Catholic knows that the Holy Ghost gives actual graces, enlightening the mind and heart. Likewise, there’s no doubt that all traditional Catholics know each of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, and how the Holy Ghost guides and sustains the Catholic Church, securing Her from complete destruction, preserving Her from error, and supporting her rulers, especially the pope. Perhaps less have heard sermons explaining how the Holy Ghost raises up champions in times of danger to defend Holy Mother Church, but those traditional Catholics with a pension for history know this fact quite well.
These things are all good for our consideration and contemplation on this Whitsunday. Today’s reading from the Acts of Apostles, which retells the well known story of how the Apostles were moved to extraordinary courage, a miracle of many tongues, and evangelical action by the power of the Holy Ghost acting through them, highlights these aspects of the Holy Ghost’s action in the Church since that first Pentecost.
However, there are some preachers who, out of the good intention of highlighting how the Holy Ghost is an advocate, misrepresents, nonetheless, the true nature of the Holy Ghost’s action in the life of the Church and in the lives of God’s elect. I’ve even heard the Holy Ghost likened to a nitro-injection system in a hot-rod car. The Holy Ghost is NOT some kind of fuel additive in our spiritual engines. He’s not a booster that makes us pray faster or harder, or practice virtue with more “oomph”. The Holy Ghost isn’t like a cup of coffee in the morning.
This is where I think the Pentecostals, Catholic and Protestant, get it wrong. They often treat the Holy Ghost as an emotional “additive” to their prayer or worship, a booster, so to speak, that makes them dance around like fools, wave their arms ecstatically, and mumble nonsensical utterances. If you want to know, in my opinion, what is meant by speaking in tongues, you ought to look to today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. However, the Church has never given us a definitive teaching on this subject, and my opinion is just that, my opinion. At any rate, however, experience seems to bear out my thoughts on this Pentecostal approach. Those who enthusiastically partake of the charismatic movement seem to fall out of charismatic practices once they are separated for a significant length of time from their fellow charismatics. Why? Perhaps what we are dealing with, then, isn’t the action of the Holy Ghost, but something more akin to group hysteria.
There are indeed extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, as the Church rightly teaches, but we ought to look to Holy Writ to understand them, and not to recent innovations such as Pentecostalism, which, by the way, only dates back a little over a hundred years. Such movements and fads rarely reflect or articulate the mind and will of God.
So, no, the action of the Holy Ghost in the Church, and in the lives of individual members of the Church, is not some sort of spiritual pick-me-up. Such an understanding wholly misses the depth, the fecundity, and awesome nature of Pentecost and the action of the Holy Ghost among God's elect. The depth and awe inducing nature of the action of the Holy Ghost in our daily lives is demonstrated in today’s Gospel from St. John, a Gospel that Holy Mother Church, in her ancient wisdom, presents for our reflection on this most august of feast days: St. John, Chapter 14, verses 23-31, which is part of Our Blessed Lord’s Last Supper discourse. The first part of this discourse was heard yesterday morning for the Mass of Whitsun Eve, and the two are clearly intended to be heard together.
This discourse was preceded by Our Blessed Lord’s words: “Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now” (Jn 13. 36). The thought of losing their Lord filled the apostles with with anxiety, as is evident by Simon Peter’s response to Our Blessed Lord: “Why cannot I follow thee now?” (Jn 13. 37).
The discourse that followed was a detailed response to that question, wherein Our Blessed Lord revealed many things about Himself and the Triune God. Our Blessed Lord gives us essential details regarding His divine and human natures, the Trinity, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. But important for our purposes here on this feast of Pentecost, this discourse reveals our place in relation to these august realities beyond our comprehension, but absolutely crucial, nonetheless, for solicitude and beatitude.
Our Blessed Lord makes clear to St. Philip and the rest of the apostles that those who have seen the Son, Who is “the way, the truth and the life”, those too have seen the Father. Jesus says:
“Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, he doth the works. Believe you not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?” (14. 10-11).
Concerning the Holy Ghost, Our Blessed Lord says: “And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever” (Jn 14. 16).
The word, Paraclete, comes from the Greek, paraklētos, which literally means "intercessor" or "advocate"; someone who “calls out” or “invokes” on behalf of another. This intercessor and advocate “shall abide with you, and shall be in you,” says Our Blessed Lord (Jn 14. 17).
St. Augustine in his commentary on Our Blessed Lord’s Last Supper discourse, wrote:
“There is therefore a kind of inward manifestation of God, which is entirely unknown to the ungodly, who receive no manifestation of God the Father and the Holy Spirit: of the Son, indeed, there might have been such, but only in the flesh; and that, too, neither of the same kind as the other, nor able under any form to remain with them, save only for a little while; and even that, for judgment, not for rejoicing; for punishment, not for reward.”
Amongst God’s elect there is an indwelling, an inward manifestation of God. God comes and takes up residence in the soul of him who possesses, by the Holy Ghost, don’t forget, sanctifying grace.
The world without the Holy Ghost is like the dark of night. The world at night is not totally denuded of beauty or comeliness. For example, the stars are quite lovely, and they can only be seen at night. The night is full of interest and intrigue. Human curiosity about the various strange sounds and fleeting shadows inspires courage and investigation. Such things are not bad in and of themselves.
However, the night is also full of dangers. Our sight is limited. No one likes traveling at night, or even traversing the backyard in the dark. We can't see the potholes, hedgehog holes, fallen branches, stones and other obstacles that cause us to stumble and fall. Creatures may lurk in the dark shadows, waiting for unsuspecting prey. When we walk the world without the Holy Ghost, we often stumble on things unseen, mistake things for things they are not, and our souls fall prey to wild beasts hiding in the dark.
The Holy Ghost is like the sun dawning on our dark night. The Sun, it is true, obscures the stars. The stars are still there, but their luster is overcome by the glorious brightness of the morning sun. When the Holy Ghost dawns in our lives, He outshines the things of this world. We know that no matter how much we appreciate the stars, plants need the light of the sun to grow. Star light is not adequate for the growth of the earth, and neither are the things of this world for growth of our souls. When the Holy Ghost enlightens our souls we come to despise all earthly objects which formerly attracted our love, such as eating, drinking, playing, etc., and all our thoughts are turned toward God. So our souls, even though they can be edified to some degree by things belonging purely to creation, can not grow without the light of the Holy Ghost, as Holy Mother Church teaches us from the secret of the Mass for Whitsun Eve: “cleanse our hearts by the light of the Holy Spirit.”
Our lives are completely changed by the inward manifestation of the Holy Ghost. When the sun rises, the shadows flee. The light of the sun reveals to us the true form of objects, the stones and branches that we mistook in the night for sleeping giants and grasping monsters. We see clearly the potholes and obstacles, we can see clearly the directions of the roads that lay before us. The brightness of the Holy Ghost in our lives totally changes the landscape of our spiritual vision. The Holy Ghost shows us the true value of earthly things, our own sins, and the true goal of life. When the sun rises the ice begins to melt and the plants to blossom. In the same way the Holy Ghost warms our hearts, stirring them with the love of God and our neighbor, and makes us, in thought, word and action, worthy of heaven.
Our whole perspective changes! Everything is changed! Everything becomes new!
Our Blessed Lord announces in St. John’s Apocalypses: “Behold, I make all things new!”
Indeed, He does in the receptive heart.
Our Blessed Lord says in today’s Gospel: “The Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.”
In the dark we feel small and insignificant. The world is a dark and vast place, and we are but mere specks, lost and unsure of where to go, what to think, or how to feel. When the Holy Ghost takes up His rest in our hearts He shows us the truth about the world in which we live. The Holy Ghost lights up the world, and we are able to see it as it is, and it is not some vast vacuum, with a distant and amorphous heaven and a distant and amorphous hell somewhere “out there”.
The Holy Ghost shows us that the world is nothing of the sort; it is rather a moment, an extremely brief crossroads in time, between the vast and eternal glory of heaven, and the vast depths of fury and everlasting agony that is hell. The Holy Ghost reveals our souls as not lost and insignificant, but He shows us that we are made little less than the angels, in the image and likeness of the Almighty, designed for heaven. As St. Peter Chrysologus said: “A heavenly seed is sown in us, destined to spring up to everlasting life. We are of a heavenly family, and Our Father is enthroned in heaven.”
When the Holy Ghost takes up his rest, the inward manifestation of the Holy Ghost, in the hearts of the elect everything changes. As creatures of God’s creation, indeed the highest and noblest of God’s creatures, our souls do have a natural life of their own in which the intellect and the will learn to appreciate the true, the beautiful, and the good. However, this natural life, this life in the dark, so to speak, compared with the life imparted by God, is like the statue compared to its living original. This divine life is acquired by the soul when the Holy Ghost takes possession of the soul with His grace, and it enables the soul to know, love and enjoy God.
This, in short, is the supernatural life.
We are made adopted sons and daughters. We become sharers in the divine nature! St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that we are no longer illegitimate children, but we have been made adopted sons of God, and thus we are also heirs, heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “By the action of the Holy Spirit we are transformed into gods.” St. Maximus preached: “As iron glows when heated in the fire, so is man changed by the Holy Spirit into the Godhead.” This is God’s plan for us. Lucifer and the first man and woman wished to be as God, but independently of Him. God wills that we should strive to as He is, but in union with Him. “To be numbered among the sons of God,” says St. Cyprian, “is the highest nobility.”
In him to whom the Holy Ghost has taken up His rest, that man has the greatest of all kingdoms, the very kingdom of God resides in His soul! Our constant example should be the blessed life of the Virgin Mary, who from the moment of her Immaculate Conception was completely possessed of the Holy Ghost. “Hail Mary, Full of Grace!” No, no one else was conceived without original sin or is free from concupiscence. However, Our Blessed Mother stands out as the example for us, in the mysteries of her Assumption and Coronation, of the gifts that await us in heaven. There we too will bodily reside in eternal bliss, taking our rightful places in the hierarchy of heaven as the heirs of the Father, and co-heirs with Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
How pitiful, how woeful, what a tragedy, that this gift is forsaken by even those who call themselves Catholic! How sad that so many men should neglect this, their privilege, their very birthright, to forsake the bright splendor of the Holy Ghost to walk in the dark, and to give themselves up to the lusts of their flesh, the food of worms.
Sanctifying grace can be diminished in our lives by venial sin, and driven away altogether by a single mortal sin. Just as tangled weeds and unkempt trees can prevent the sun from reaching the earth and giving it increase; so do our venial sins hinder the Holy Ghost from acting in our souls. When we commit a single mortal sin we banish the Holy Ghost from our hearts. In the instant of committing a mortal sin, storm clouds arise between God, the Sun of justice, and our souls, the brightness of which is at once extinguished. With the departure of the Holy Ghost are united the darkening of the understanding and the weakening of the will. Louis of Granada wrote: “When the sun goes down the eye is darkened and can no longer make out objects. So when the light of the Holy Ghost is taken from the soul, it is filled with darkness, and loses the knowledge of the truth.”
He who has not the Holy Ghost sits, according to St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, “in darkness and in the shadow death” (2. 14). Those who have lost sanctifying grace and driven away the Holy Ghost from his soul by committing a mortal sin is spiritually dead and will suffer eternal ruin in hell. This is a truth of our Catholic religion that is not open to debate. To complain about this reality is like a man who in a fit a rage gouges out his own eyes, and then laments that the light is at fault for leaving him in darkness.
Remember that this world is but a fleeting moment between the eternal realities of heaven and hell. There is no time! Do not delay! If you know that you have driven off the Holy Ghost and have lost sanctifying grace by committing and continuing to live in a mortal sin, rush in all haste to the well spring of the confessional. With true sorrow confess your sins, do your penance and amend your life, for the time is short, and you stand on the verge of heaven or hell.
Do not delay in amending even those small offenses, those venial sins, by frequenting the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion. Just as soil must be nourished in order to sustain the growth of a plant, so too must our souls be nourished by the sacraments, by the teachings of Christ, found in all clarity and without error in the Holy Catholic Church. Our souls are nourished also by prayer, and especially by piously and reverently assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Sanctifying grace can be increased in the soul. As St. John says in his Apocalypses (12. 11): “He that is just let him be justified still; and he that is holy, let him be sanctified still.” As the Council of Trent teaches us, by good works the sanctifying grace that we have received may be confirmed and increased in us (6, 26). The Holy Ghost inspires us to ever more works of charity and goodness, but we must cooperate with the urgings of the Holy Ghost. The sacraments, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, are absolutely crucial for us in increasing the graces of the supernatural life that have been endowed upon us by the Holy Ghost.
The Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. A simple truth about the Trinity is that where the Son is, so are the Father and the Holy Ghost; where the Father is, so are the Son and the Holy Ghost; where the Holy Ghost is, so are the Son and the Father. The most ready means by which this inward manifestation of the Triune God is accomplished in our hearts is by the Holy Eucharist. It is accomplished by reverent worship, and by a worthy reception.
As we turn toward the Altar of the Most Blessed Sacrament upon this feast of Pentecost, let us remember Our Blessed Lord’s words in today’s Gospel: “If any one love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and will make Our abode in him.”
And, oh, how everything will be made new!