Bible Alive Articles

Learning the Language of the Holy Spirit

Pope Francis said recently: ‘Let us too ask for the grace of being able to hear what the Spirit says to our Church, to our community, to our parish, to our family, and for the grace to learn the language of the Holy Spirit.’

How often do we think, pray or say, before making a major (or indeed minor) decision:

‘Guide and lead me Holy Spirit?’

Do we turn to the Holy Spirit during our day for strength, for guidance and wisdom?’

How well do we know the language of the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit, the Counsellor and our Advocate can be the neglected member of the Blessed Trinity. We are conscious of God as Father and turn to Jesus as our Savior but because we neglect to learn the language of the Holy Spirit we become dull and insensitive to the crucial role the Holy Spirit has in helping us live the Christian life.

St Augustine didn’t suffer from this neglect; he prayed:

‘O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams’.

St Catherine of Siena had a similar sense of excitement and dynamism in her appreciation of how crucial the Holy Spirit is in living the Christian life.

‘Enrich your soul in the great goodness of God: The Father is your table, the Son is your food, and the Holy Spirit waits on you and then makes His dwelling in you.’

From the very beginning we learn that the Holy Spirit played a crucial role in the drama of our salvation. Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit.

‘The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.’ (Luke 1:35).

However, Jesus’ mission in which he performed miracles, taught and proclaimed the gospel, did not begin until he was anointed by the Holy Spirit.

St Peter preaching many years later highlighted just this point:

‘You know the word… which was proclaimed throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we were witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.’ (Acts 10:36-39).

After being baptized in the Spirit in the river Jordan, St Luke tells us that Jesus returned in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4;14). Jesus was quick to point out that the power he displayed in casting out demons was because of the Holy Spirit.

‘It is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons and the kingdom of God has come upon you.’ (Luke 11:28).

We learn the language of the Holy Spirit from Jesus. Jesus spoke Aramaic but he also spoke the language of the Spirit.

The first words he spoke on embarking on his public ministry were:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor’ (Luke 4:18).

He also taught that we would be given the language of the Holy Spirit for the task of evangelization:

‘Do not be anxious how you are to speak…. for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you’. (Matthew 10:19-20).

The language of the Holy Spirit is the language of God the Father. The first words of Jesus public ministry were:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me’ and his last were, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’

He delivered up his Spirit to the Father, he can send the same Holy Spirit to us. That’s why he had said,

‘It is to your advantage that I go away.’ (John 16:7).

St Paul proclaimed that it was the Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead  (Romans 8:11):

‘If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you’.

We received the gift of the Holy Spirit through our Baptism; we were strengthened and anointed by the Holy Spirit when we received the sacrament of confirmation and the Holy Spirit is poured out when we receive any of the sacraments of the church. However, it isn’t only through the sacraments that we receive the Holy Spirit because God distributes special graces according to his pleasure and will. The vocabulary of the language of the Holy Spirit is: gifts (Isaiah 11:2), charisms (1 Corinthians 12:8-10) and fruits (Galatians 5:22-24). This teaching is very much rooted in the renewal began by the Second Vatican Council:

‘It is not only through the sacraments that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts as he wills (1 COR 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks for the renewal and building up of the Church. These charisms are to be received with thanksgiving because they are fitting and useful for the needs of the Church.’ (Lumen Gentium 12).
We have been called to learn the language of the Holy Spirit by many of the popes of recent memory. Their familiarity and intimacy with the language of the Holy Spirit should inspire us to be a people of the Spirit. Paul VI, for example who carried on the work of the Council from Pope John XXIII said:

‘Have we forgotten the Holy Spirit? Certainly not! We want him, we honor him, and we love him. And you with your devotion, your fervor, your wish to live in the Spirit: this should be. It ought to rejuvenate the world, give it back a spirituality, a soul, a religious thought; it ought to reopen the world’s closed lips to prayer and open its mouth to song, to joy, to hymns, and to witnessing. It will be very fortunate for our time and for our brothers that there should be a whole generation your generation of young people – who shout out to the world the glory and greatness of the God of Pentecost.’

For Pope Emeritus Benedict every believer needs to grow familiar with the language of the Spirit, which he saw as the language of heaven:
‘Do not grow weary of turning to heaven: the world stands in need of prayer. It needs men and women who feel the attraction of Heaven in their life, who make praise to the Lord a new way of life. And may you be joyful Christians! I entrust you all to Mary Most Holy, present in the Upper Room at the event of Pentecost. Persevere with her in prayer, walk guided by the light of the living Holy Spirit, proclaiming the Good News of Christ.’

‘Wherever the Holy Spirit is, there is freedom’ (2 Corinthians 3:17).

This freedom, the freedom the Holy Spirit brings is the freedom to live a son or daughter of God, moving and living in the power of the Spirit and living the life in the Spirit. Pope Francis said;

‘There is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he will. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and every place.’

And so, we join our prayer to the prayer of the prophetic visionary of the Second Vatican Council, that man of the Spirit, who opened the windows of the church so that the Holy Spirit would breath his light, life and refreshment and create a new Pentecost so that we could speak not the language of our own strength but the language of the Holy Spirit.

‘Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost Grant to your church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of Jesus the Lord, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen.’ (Pope John XXIII).