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It is easy to think of the Holy Spirit only in a mystical, almost magical way: The tongues of fire at Pentecost, the mighty wind, the fluttering dove. The Church, and today’s readings, tell us otherwise.
But that is not how we normally encounter the Holy Spirit. The Catechism spells out the everyday ways the Spirit comes to us daily — through the Church — and today’s readings (the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A) demonstrate each.
1: We know the Holy Spirit “in the Scriptures he inspired” — which means we have to keep his word.
The most common encounter we have with the Holy Spirit is the encounter we have when we open the Bible and read — especially if we are willing to act on what we read. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord, and my Father will love him and we will come to him.”
2: We know the Holy Spirit “in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses.”
But when the Apostles hear about a community of Christians in the first reading, they don’t send the Bible – they send apostles. We also encounter the Holy Spirit via the bishops who speak in unity with the Church.
3: We know the Holy Spirit “in the Church’s Magisterium, which he assists.”
Jesus tells the apostles: “You will know him because he remains with you, and will be in you.” The Holy Spirit to this day guides the Church and we can meet him by looking into what the Church teaches.
4: We know the Holy Spirit “in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ.”
In the first reading, the Apostles hear that the Samarian Christians’ sacramental life is lacking, so “they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” He similarly sent the sacraments via bishops and priests to us.
5: We know the Holy Spirit “in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us.”
As the Psalm puts it, “Blessed be God, who refused me not my prayer or his kindness!” He won’t refuse our prayers, either.
In the first reading we hear of all that Philip did in Samaria: “unclean spirits … came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed or crippled people were cured.” These charisms exist still in the Church today, evidence of the Holy Spirit among us — along with equally powerful if less dramatic charisms — religious and lay teachers, preachers and saints of hospitality.
7: We know the Holy Spirit “in the signs of apostolic and missionary life.”
Add evangelizers to that list. St. Peter in the second reading says “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” Those who explain the faith also bring the spirit.
8: We know the Holy Spirit “in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation.”
We have our faith thanks to men and women who spread the word in holiness before us thanks to people like St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John Paul II, St. Francisco and St. Jacinta. Now it’s our turn to live the faith as the second reading says, “with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are maligned those who defame your good name will be put to shame.”
So there you have it.
The ways the Holy Spirit are neither vague nor otherworldly; they are eminently practical. There is no sense waiting for the Holy Spirit to zap us — he is as close as the nearest Bible, Catechism, confessional or tabernacle. It is he who is waiting for us.