Some time ago, I had the privilege of teaching a sixth grader who had a gift of seeing things in a different way. His name was Miguel. The year he was in my class, I taught a lesson about St. Patrick on his feast day. I mentioned to the class that St. Patrick used common things found in nature to explain profound theological topics. I told them that he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity to people. After telling the class the entire story about St. Patrick, I asked, “If you were trying to explain to your little brother or sister about the Trinity, what analogy would you use?”
Immediately, Miguel’s hand went up. But before I can continue the story, I need to explain an experience to make his analogy understandable. You see, a week before my lesson, a local high school visited the school to present a musical concert for my students. But this concert didn’t have the “normal” type of instruments. Rather, it was all about introducing lyres and lap harps to the middle-school students. The high school boys (they were from an all-boys school) were playing reggae and rap on lyres! Needless to say, my students loved the rhythms and how the high schoolers played their instruments!
As I called on Miguel to answer my question, he said, “Sister, I was thinking. If I would need to explain the Trinity to my younger brother and sister, I would use the lyre as an image.” Intrigued, I said, “Please explain.” He went on, “You see, the Father is on one side of the instrument and the Son is on the other side.” I interrupted, “What about the Holy Spirit?” He quipped, “Sister, be patient, I am getting to that! The love bond between Father and Son is represented by the strings. When the Father looks at the Son, He sighs in love. When the Son looks at the Father, He sighs also in love. Their love sighs pluck the strings, creating music that only lovers can hear. This ‘melody’ of lovers is the Holy Spirit.”
I am reminded of this story as I begin a new series on the Holy Spirit. I was recently asked to give a retreat on the Holy Spirit. As I was preparing for it, I felt a wee bit overwhelmed about the majesty of the Third Person of the Trinity. Thinking about all of this, I realized that I have rarely heard a homily on the Holy Spirit outside of Pentecost. So, this is my feeble attempt to begin to explain who He is.
That being said, let me reiterate that I, a creature, am trying to put into words something that can’t be fully comprehended. There is an element of mystery to it. What I mean by this is, we can understand something of who the Holy Spirit is, but not His totality.
According to the Catechism, the Holy Spirit is “found in Scriptures; in Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses; in the Church Magisterium, which he assists; in the sacramental liturgy, though its words and symbols in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ; in prayer, wherein He intercedes for us; in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up; in the signs of apostolic and missionary life; in the witness of saints through whom He manifests His holiness and continues the work of salvation.” (CCC 688)
This explains where to find Him, but who He is – that’s another topic. I came across a blog on the Holy Spirit. The author, Trenton Mattingly, explains who He is in this way, “The Holy Spirit is love, to put things very simply. I know this answer is cliché and isn’t what you were hoping for, so don’t fret — there’s more. The Holy Spirit is a distinct person of the Holy Trinity, who exists as the communication and personification of the mutual, flowing and never-ending relationship of love and unity between God the Father and God the Son. This is what the Nicene Creed (the one we say at Mass every Sunday) means when it says the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” … [It’s] also tempting to think the Holy Spirit is just love between the Father and Son. Don’t forget that the Holy Spirit is a distinct member of the Holy Trinity who has existed for all of eternity and plays a big role in the creation of the universe (Genesis 1:2) and bringing about our salvation through Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:18).”
Many great theologians and saints throughout history have realized how difficult it can be to understand all of this, and managed to come up with an easier way to think of things. They compared the bond between the members of the Holy Trinity to a never-ending dance where the Father and Son are the dancers and the Holy Spirit is the structure of the dance they are following. … The Holy Spirit constantly invites us and encourages us to take part in this dance.
Think about Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:13-17. The clouds in the sky open up, the Holy Spirit rockets down to descend upon Jesus, and a voice booms, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” When we are baptized, the heavens may not open up and God may not announce our identity, but the Holy Spirit does descend upon us and make a home inside our souls, and is well pleased with us. Think about how incredible of a gift this is: The creator of the entire universe and everything in it has made a home inside of you. He has made a gift of Himself. Jesus promised us no less in John 14:20. And if the Holy Spirit is inside of us, and if the Holy Spirit is part of the flowing relationship of the Trinity, we suddenly find ourselves swept up in the greatest dance of all time! This love, if we are willing to accept it, slowly changes and transforms our mind and soul to be more aware and accepting of the incredible love of God. As Pope Benedict XVI once advised, “Let us invoke the Holy Spirit: he is the artisan of God’s works. Let his gifts shape you!”1
I wonder if the music of this eternal dance would be played by lyres!
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness