The mission of the Holy Spirit

Extract from Christ in His Mysteries (1919)

What indeed was the work of the Holy Spirit in the souls of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost?

To understand it well, I ought first of all to recall to you the Church’s teaching upon the character of divine works. You know that in the domain of the supernatural life of grace, as well as in the works of the natural creation, all that God produces outside Himself, in time, is accomplished by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, without distinction of persons. The three Persons then act in the unity of their divine nature. The distinction of Persons exists only in the incomprehensible communications that constitute the innermost life of God in Himself.

But in order to remind ourselves more easily of these revelations concerning the divine Persons, the Church, in her language, attributes specially such or such action to one of the three Persons on account of the affinity that exists between this action and the exclusive properties whereby this Person is distinguished from the others.

Thus the Father is the first principle, proceeding from none other, but from Whom proceed the Son and the Holy Spirit. Therefore the work which marks the origin of everything, the creation, is especially attributed to Him. Did the Father create alone? Certainly not. The Son and the Holy Spirit created at the same time as the Father, and in union with Him. But between the property, peculiar to the Father, of being the first principle in the divine communications and the work of the creation, there is an affinity, in virtue of which the Church can, without error of doctrine, attribute the creation to the Father.

The Son, the Word, is the infinite expression of the thought of the Father; He is considered especially as Wisdom. The works in which this perfection shines forth above all, as in that of the ordering of the world, are particularly attributed to Him. He is indeed that Wisdom which, coming forth out of the mouth of the Most High, “reacheth from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly” — O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia. (Antiphon for 17 December; cf. Sir 24:5; Wisdom 8:1)

The Church applies the same law to the Holy Spirit. What is He in the Adorable Trinity? He is the ultimate term, the consummation of life in God; He closes the intimate cycle of the admirable operations of the divine life. And this is why, in order that we may remember this property, which is personal to Him, the Church specially attributes to Him all that which is the work of grace, of sanctification, all that concerns the completion, the crowning-point, the consummation: He is the divine Artist, Who, by His last touches, brings the work to its sovereign perfection: Dextrae Dei tu digitus — “You are the finger of God’s right hand” (Hymn: Veni Creator Spiritus). The work attributed to the Holy Spirit in the Church, as in souls, is to lead to its end, to its term, to its ultimate perfection, the incessant labour of holiness.

Let us now contemplate, for a few moments, the divine workings of this Spirit in the souls of the apostles.

He fills them with truth. You will at once say: Had not Christ Jesus done this? Certainly He had. Did He not Himself declare, “I am the Truth”? (John 14:6) He came into the world to bear testimony to the truth (Jn 18:37) and you know, also from Himself, that He wholly accomplished His mission — Opus consummavi. (Jn 17:4)

Yes, but now that He has left His apostles, it is the Holy Spirit Who is about to become their interior Master. “He shall not speak of Himself,” said Jesus, wishing to signify by this that the Holy Spirit — proceeding from the Father and the Son, receiving from them divine life — will give us the infinite truth that He receives by His ineffable procession. “He will teach you all things and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you”; “He shall glorify Me; because He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it to you” — Ille me clarificabit. (Jn 14:26)

There is yet more. The apostles had no need to trouble about what they should reply when the Jews delivered them up before the tribunals, and forbade them to preach the name of Jesus; it was the Holy Spirit Who would inspire their replies. (Mt 10:19–20; Mk 13:11; Lk 12). And thus they should bear witness to Jesus: “you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me … even to the uttermost part of the earth”. (Acts 2:2)

And as it is by the tongue, the organ of speech, that testimony is rendered, and whereby the preaching of the name of Jesus was to go forth “to the uttermost part of the earth”, this Spirit, on the day of Pentecost, descends visibly upon the Apostles in the form of tongues.

But these are tongues of fire: And why? Because the Holy Spirit comes to fill the hearts of the apostles with love. He is personal Love in the life of God. He is, as it were, the breath, the aspiration of the infinite love whence we drew life. It is related in Genesis that “the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life” — inspiravit in faciem ejus spiraculum vitae. (Gen 2:7) This vital breath was the symbol of the Spirit to Whom we owe the supernatural life. On the day of Pentecost, the divine Spirit brought such an abundance of life to all the Church that to signify it “there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2)

In descending upon them, the Holy Spirit pours forth in them His love which is Himself. It was needful that the apostles should be filled with love in order that in preaching the name of Jesus they should give birth to the love of their Master in the souls of the hearers; it was necessary that their testimony, dictated by the Spirit, should be so full of life as to attach the world to Jesus Christ.

Moreover this love, ardent as a flame, powerful as a tempestuous wind, is necessary to the Apostles in order that they may be able to meet the dangers foretold by Christ when they shall have to preach His Name: the Holy Spirit fills them with fortitude.

Look at St Peter, the prince of the apostles. On the eve of the Passion of Jesus, he promises to follow Him even to death; but that same night, at the voice of a servant, he denies his divine Master; he swears that he knows not the man (Mt 26:74; Mk 14:71). See him now on the day of Pentecost. He announces Christ to thousands of Jews; he reproaches them freely for having crucified Him. He renders testimony to His Resurrection and earnestly exhorts them to “do penance, and be baptised” (Acts 2:23–24, 38). It is no longer the timid disciple who fears danger and follows afar off (Mk 14:54), he is the witness who declares before all in firm and bold words, that Christ is the Son of God.

What power in Peter’s words! The Apostle is no longer recognisable. The virtue of the Holy Spirit has changed him, the love that he bears towards his Master is henceforward strong and generous. Our Lord Himself had foretold this transformation when He said to His disciples before ascending into heaven: “Stay you in the city till you be endued with power from on high.” (Lk 24:49)

Again, see this same Peter and the other apostles, a few days after the event. Notice how the Jews are moved by their words, by the miracles they work, and the conversions that they bring about in the name of Jesus. The chief priests and the Sadducees, who brought about Christ’s death, forbid His disciples to preach the Saviour. You know their reply: “If it be just in the sight of God, to hear you rather than God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18–20)

What is it that makes them speak with such courage, they who, on the night of the Passion, forsook Jesus; who, during the days that followed the Resurrection, remained hidden with doors fast shut, “for fear of the Jews” — Propter metum, Judaeorum (Jn 20:19)! It is the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of love, the Spirit of fortitude.

It is because their love for Christ is strong that they deliver themselves up to torments, for the Jews, seeing that the apostles pay no heed to their prohibition, bring them before the Council; but Peter declares in the name of all that they “ought to obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

You know what the Jews then did. To overcome this constancy, they scourged the apostles before releasing them. But note what the sacred writer adds. On going forth from the Council, the apostles rejoiced “that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus” (Jn 5:41). And whence came this joy in suffering, and humiliations? From the Holy Spirit, for He is not only the Spirit of fortitude, He is too the Spirit of Consolation. “I will ask the Father,” says Jesus, “and He shall give you another Paraclete … the Spirit of truth” — Rogabo Patrem, et alium Paracletum dabit vobis … Spiritum veritatis. (Jn 14:16–17)

Is not Christ Jesus Himself already a Consoler? Certainly He is; did He not say, “Come to Me, all ye that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you”? (Mt 11:28) Is He not, as St Paul has revealed to us, a High Priest Who knows how to have compassion on our sufferings, because He has Himself passed through suffering? (Heb 4:15; 5:2)

But this divine Consoler was to disappear from the earthly eyes of the disciples; that is why He asked His Father to send them another Consoler, equal to Himself, God like Himself.

Because He is the Spirit of truth, this Consoler assuages the needs of our intelligence; because He is the Spirit of love, He satisfies the desires of our heart; because He is the Spirit of strength, He sustains us in our toils, trials and tears: the Holy Spirit is eminently the Consoler.

Consolator optime,
Dulcis hospes animae,
Dulce refrigerium!

Sequence: Veni Sancte Spritus

Oh! Come and dwell in us, Father of the poor, Giver of heavenly gifts, Thou “best Consoler, sweet Guest, and Refreshment full of sweetness” for the soul.