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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Mission of the Holy Ghost

By Brother André Marie
Pentecost is the anniversary of the Holy Ghost’s mission on earth. Because that mission is largely neglected, sorely misunderstood, and vitally important for the life of the Church and individuals, we should do our best to understand it so that we can profit by it.

The Promise Fulfilled. We get a description of the Pentecost event today in the lesson from the Book of Acts. We’ve been expecting it since the Ascension. It comes to us, much as it came to the Apostles, by way of a promise fulfilled. Remember that Our Lord called the Holy Ghost “the Promise of the Father,” as St. Luke relates in both his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles.

The List. By way of summarizing who and what the Holy Ghost is, I would like to speak on three important truths about the Holy Ghost. First, the Holy Ghost proceeds in eternity from the Father and the Son, who also together send Him on His temporal mission. Second, that mission of the Holy Ghost is to build up the Church. Third, the Holy Ghost sanctifies each of the faithful. There is an order to these three truths, going from general to specific, the abstract to the concrete, the eternal to the now, the universal to particular, or the big-grand-and-cosmic to the little-you-and-me.
I. The Eternal Procession. First, the Holy Ghost proceeds in eternity from the Father and the Son and He is sent in time by the Father and the Son. In the one substance of the Godhead, there are three Persons. The First Person is the Principle without principle, the Origin without origin. In knowing Himself perfectly, He utters a Word, which we can call His perfect and adequate self-knowledge. This Word is not a creature, but is of the very substance of the same Godhead: it is God from God, light from light, true God from true God. The utterance is also a generation or a begetting. For this reason, we call the Word, in strictest literal truth, God’s Son. This Word, this Son, is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Father beholds His Son and loves him. The Son, in turn, loves His Father. This Love of Father for Son and Son for Father is, like the Father’s self-knowledge, of the very substance of the Godhead. It is the Third Person, the Holy Ghost, who proceeds from the Father and the Son by way of a breath of love — a breath, an aspiration, a Spirit.
Temporal Mission. The missions in time follow the order of the processions in eternity. The Father is the Principle without principle. He is sent by no one, therefore he has no “mission.” The Son is generated by the Father. He is sent in time by the Father to do the work the Father has commanded Him to do. The Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son in eternity and is sent in time by both the Father and the Son, which is why His mission in time had to come after the Ascension. “It is expedient for you that I go,” Our Lord said, “for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
Our Lord told His Apostles that the Holy Ghost would “teach [them] all things and bring all things to [their] mind whatsoever I have said to you.” In another place, He said: “He shall glorify me: because he shall receive of mine and shall shew it to you.” And again: “he shall not speak of himself: but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak.” In other words, just as Our Lord said, “my doctrine is not mine but his who sent me,” so, too, can the Holy Ghost say the same thing, but with one difference: “My doctrine is not mine, but theirs who sent me — they, from whom I proceed.”
II. The Soul of the Church. The Holy Ghost’s mission is to build up the Church. Remember that we call the Holy Ghost, “the Soul of the Church.” On Pentecost day we see a pattern of the work of the Holy Ghost: The Apostles are given gifts to preach, their preaching is heard and understood by people in diverse languages, the truth of the Faith is upheld by the wonderful prodigies the Holy Ghost works (the sound “as of a great wind,” the hearing in different languages, the profound preaching by simple men, the tongues of fire, the prodigious courage shown by the Apostles, etc.).
What was the result? Three thousand were baptized that day.
Does it end then and there, that is, on Pentecost day? No. All throughout the Book of Acts — the book sometimes called the “Gospel of the Holy Ghost” — we read of His action, and it’s always the same: building on the work of Jesus, confirming the work of the Apostles, and adding to the Body of Christ.
III. The Sanctifier. The Holy Ghost sanctifies each of the faithful. What He does for the Church He also does for each of us singly: He sanctifies us. How? By bestowing on us those gifts we learn about in our catechisms: The seven gifts of the Holy Ghost: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. The virtues are like our rowing the boat, as those little illustrations in the Baltimore Catechisms showed. But the gifts are the wind of the Holy Ghost filling our sails. The virtues perfect our natural powers, whereas the gifts perfect the virtues. The gifts also, in turn, produce in us the fruits of the Holy Ghost, which are the sweet produce of the soul that has cooperated with the Sanctifier: charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, fidelity, modesty, continency, chastity. We call these “fruits” for two reasons: first, they are the produce, or result of living the virtues and the gifts; second, like fruit, they are sweet. St. Thomas Aquinas said that “Every virtuous act which man performs with pleasure is a fruit.” So the list St. Paul gives in Galatians 5, which I’ve just cited, is not exhaustive.
His Spouse. I spoke above of two aspects of the mission of the Holy Ghost — building the Church and sanctifying souls. We see them both in seed in the Holy Ghost’s greatest work, the one appropriated to Him, but which actually precedes His temporal mission. It is His masterpiece: the Incarnation. The head of the Church was made incarnate in Mary’s womb and Mary’s own soul was filled with grace. The Incarnation is the pattern of the work of the Holy Ghost: As He formed Jesus in Mary’s womb; so He informs the Church by being the soul of the Church; so, too, He forms Jesus in the soul of each one of us.
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