The Catholic Culturalist: Relying on the mysterious gift of the Holy Spirit
February 10, 2022
Jesus makes a startling statement at the Last Supper: “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” (Jn 16:7). What could be better than Jesus’s presence alongside us? Only his presence within us, made possible by his gift of the Holy Spirit!
The Spirit is the breath and life of God, poured into us as the gift of God’s own love. Although it can be easy to overlook the role of the Spirit, we see that Jesus’s mission culminated in sending the Spirit upon his Church. In Confirmation, he gives each of us the most precious gift he has – his own Spirit to make us fully alive with his divine life, enabling us to live a supernatural life in the world. The Spirit teaches us how to pray and how to live, gives us gifts, and inspires us with courage to live out our mission.
This reliance begins with prayer. Paul explains that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). Prayer should not consist just in talking at God because it is an intimate union that happens within the heart. Prayer is certainly not a technique or something within our control. It is a movement from deep within us, led by the Spirit, that draws us into a loving communion with God. Taking regular time for prayer enables the Spirit to keep our hearts open to his movements in us and to strengthen God’s presence within us.
The Christian life, suffused with God’s Spirit, is one of constant communication, with the inner movements of the heart constantly reaching out to God and the Spirit continually prompting us how to act. Relying on the Spirit enables us to listen to these inner promptings, urging us to do something, giving us things to say, and holding us back from doing or saying something that would be harmful. Jesus promised that when we are in need, we should not be anxious because “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Lk 12:12). With the Spirit, we are not simply on our own.
The Spirit guides us, not just for our own sake, but for the building up of the Church. He gives gifts to all Christians that we call charisms: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). Paul gives examples, such as knowledge, wisdom, faith, healing, performing miracles, prophecy and the discernment of spirits. As a teacher, I know, for instance, when I am teaching beyond my abilities with the help of the Spirit and being prompted with new ideas and a deeper enthusiasm. We may have never realized what gifts the Spirit is giving us, but, when we pay attention, we can recognize how certain things seem to come easier than would ordinarily and are more powerful in their effect.
The Spirit asks us to be bold in doing good for others. When we look at the Acts of the Apostles, we see how the disciples went from cowering in fear to willingly facing persecution after Pentecost. They were simply different with the gift of the Spirit. Their prayer led them to action: “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). Sometimes we think, “I could never do that,” and we are probably right. But, with God’s Spirit, we can do much more than we have ever imagined.
Although we can take it for granted, Jesus knew he was giving us what we most needed by leaving us his Spirit as his ultimate gift. Now, what will we do with it? The Spirit’s presence can grow within us through prayer, a presence that will inspire us and guide us, leading us to serve others through the gifts that he gives, and giving us courage to do what is beyond our power. Relying on the Spirit in these ways will change everything – both within us and around us.
Jared Staudt, Ph.D., is associate superintendent for Mission and Formation at the Archdiocese of Denver and visiting associate professor at the Augustine Institute in Denver. He is author of “Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture” and “The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture, Yesterday & Today.”