Arts and Culture

The Spirit of Love

by Father Robert Lauder

MY EXPERIENCE, and it may be the experience of all Christians, is that at different moments in my life, some doctrine assumes a new importance; some belief, that may have been somewhat peripheral, assumes center stage.

I am embarrassed to write that for the last few years belief in the Holy Spirit has assumed a more important role in my efforts to grow closer to God, to allow God to draw me into a deeper relationship. This is strange because the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity is the central mystery of Christianity – a doctrine that I memorized in the first grade. I can remember reciting by rote over and over again the words from the catechism that were the verbal expression of our faith. Neglect of the Holy Spirit also surprises me when I recall that I have probably blessed myself “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” a few million times.

Perhaps I can attribute my neglect of the Spirit to some of the theology that I studied for not emphasizing the role of the Spirit in salvation history.

Probably the fact that the artistic depictions of the Father and Son in traditional Christian art are more imaginative and perhaps more challenging and inspiring than depictions of a dove contributed to some extent to my neglect of the Spirit. However, most of the blame has to be borne by me.

What has caused the change in my approach to God? Reading some contemporary theology has helped. Doing some scriptural study has helped. Personal reflection and prayer have also helped. I hope most of the help has come from God’s grace.

We do not believe in three Gods. We believe that at the heart of God is relationship. We believe that the Holy Spirit is the love between Father and Son.

Perhaps the best way to reflect on the reality of the Holy Spirit is to look at the Church’s liturgy. The structure of prayer throughout the liturgy is almost always patterned after the way that God has appeared in salvation history. Liturgical prayer is offered to the Father, through the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit. In his The Word In And Out Of Season: Homilies for the Major Feasts, Christmas, Easter, Weddings and Funerals (New York: Paulist Press, 2001, pp. 118) Father Richard Viladesau writes the following:

“If we look at the prayers of the Roman church, we will find that they are almost always structured in accord with the way God is revealed in salvation history: that is they are addressed to God our Father, through Jesus, in ‘the unity of the Holy Spirit.’ … The Spirit of God is conceived as God within us, God making us one, rather than as one whom we address. The Spirit…is God’s self as the inner dynamism of our being. (Clearly this notion can only make sense if one takes seriously the Christian doctrine of grace as ‘divinization’ or ‘participation,’ an actual sharing in the divine life.) In this perspective it becomes apparent why the Christian tradition does not commonly address itself to the Spirit as one ‘out there,’ over against us. We do not ‘encounter’ the Holy Spirit; rather, the Spirit is our encounter with God as Father through Christ. (pp. 117-118)

Father Viladesau goes on to note that when we talk about the coming of the Holy Spirit, what this means is not that the Holy Spirit is physically moving from one place to another. Because the Holy Spirit lives within us, the coming refers to our becoming, our growing in God’s life.

In thinking about the Holy Spirit as divine love dwelling within us, I am helped by the image of two people in love. Their love for one another draws them together. It even seems to deeply affect their personalities. The love that each has for the other is so powerful that the lovers “create” one another. The more deeply they are in love, the more profoundly they are influenced by one another. Some thinkers refer to this union of love as “indwelling.” The union is so deep that the lovers seem to live in each other. Yet as close as they are, their love actually strengthens the unique identity of each. The Holy Spirit helps us to become more deeply the unique image of God that each of us is.

Today we hear a great deal about “the new evangelization.” Each Christian is called to be an evangelizer. If we believe that the Holy Spirit is living within us, then we should be confident that our efforts at being Christian will have a special power to touch others – not because we preach at people but rather because of whom the Holy Spirit has made us.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.