Faith & Thought

The Holy Spirit Is Operating in The Church and Each Person

This series of columns has caused me to reflect on my past understanding of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and also on the importance of human relationships. I know that when I was a young priest I hardly ever mentioned the Holy Spirit in my Sunday homilies.

Now I almost never give a homily in which I don’t mention the Holy Spirit. I have no recollection of spending any time reflecting on the meaning and mystery of interpersonal relationships when I was studying philosophy as a seminarian. Now in the philosophy courses that I teach at St. John’s University, the meaning and importance of interpersonal relationships is at the center of just about all the courses I teach.

Not only that. The importance of interpersonal relationships seems to influence both what I read and what I write. It seems as though some type of revolution has taken place in my thinking.

In his “Power and the Spirit of God: Toward an Experience-Based Pneumatology” (Oxford University Press, 1904, 209 pp.), Bernard Cooke offers many insights into the mystery of the human person. Reading his book has helped me to recall how exciting and inspiring his lectures were when I took his courses at Marquette University. Commenting on human maturity, Cooke writes the following:

“Current reflection on human maturity leaves little doubt that the measure of maturity is a person’s capacity to love and that one acquires this capacity most importantly through loving and being loved.

“Professional psychology would examine maturity in terms of a person’s ability to deal with relationships — which is saying basically the same thing. Here we may be in the midst of a ‘revolution’ in psychology: whereas the basic thrust of Freudian thought is that one attains autonomy (and presumably maturity) by freeing oneself from dependence on relationships, some current reflection … insists rather on preserving, cherishing, and deepening key relationships” (p. 168).

What is beneficial and important for psychological and emotional growth assumes a special importance, I think, when we reflect on the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is almost impossible to exaggerate that power. It is not a physical power but rather the power of love which is greater than a physical power.

There is much of what I would call “bad news” about religion in contemporary society. What I am referring to are polls indicating the small percentage of Catholics who regularly attend Sunday Eucharist or stories about the closing of parishes or Catholic schools or stories about Catholics who no longer identify themselves as Catholics.

If this type of news predominates in our consciousness then it may be easy to give in to discouragement about the future. Such bad news can make us very pessimistic about the future.

Does the “bad news” reveal all there is to say about religion in contemporary society? Does it reveal the ultimate truth about people and religion? Is it the final word? I don’t think so. Not only is it not the final word. It is not the most important word. It is very important that those who profess faith in Christ and His Spirit remember that.

I find it very helpful to balance reflections about the future by focusing reflection and attention on some of the central truths of the Catholic faith. Doing that helps me to be hope-filled. Central to Catholic faith is the belief that the Holy Spirit is operative in the Church and in every person’s life.

This reminds me that there is a sense in which the battle has already been won because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and his gift of the Holy Spirit to us. Though we do not redeem people or save people, we do have a crucial role to play in God’s plans for the future. We are part of God’s plan.

Cooke writes the following:

“Finally, it is essential to draw attention to the communal dimension of the Spirit’s powerful embrace. Though it does touch each individual with creative regard for his or her distinctiveness, the outreaching of God that is the Spirit embraces humans in their relationship to one another, that is, as a community.

“Like a parent whose spiritual embrace of children reaches out to unite them as family, so the divine Parent reaches out to gather humans together into the reign of justice and peace. This is reflected in Jesus’ parables that speak of God gathering in the harvest. …

“Ultimately, this is the story of humanity’s advancing history: Embraced by the Spirit-power of God, men and women will be able conquer those powers that would diminish them and instead use beneficent powers to become united with God and one another in the power of the Spirit” (p. 189).

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.