Thinking Anew – The Holy Spirit is central to our faith

The Holy Spirit  is the presence of God in the world. Photograph: Getty Images

The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in the world. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Nowadays people often say that they are not religious, but they are spiritual. What do those words mean? What does it mean to be religious, what does it mean to be spiritual? Have we attached some sort of silly piety to them that has really taken away all meaning from both words?

The term “Holy Joe’” is often used in a derogatory sense, implying a fake practice of religion. And these days we are constantly confronted with fake news. It’s important that we can distinguish between what’s genuine and what’s fake. Long before we ever heard of fake news, we had our “Holy Joes”.

When I hear someone being described as “a holy person”, too often the phrase conjures up some sort of atrophied creature, one who fawns and plays games with genuine holiness.

Unfortunately these are the first thoughts that come to my mind when I am told someone is “holy”, whereas the real and inspiring meaning of holiness is to imitate God, or to be God-like.

Tomorrow is the feast of Pentecost. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world. There’s that word again, holy, and tied along with it, is spirit, obviously clearly linked with spiritual. What or who is the Holy Spirit? What does it mean to say that the Holy Spirit comes among us? Too easy to say that it is a mystery and then run away from the idea. But everything to do with God is a mystery and I’m always wary of anyone who tells me that they have a handle on God.

That there are three persons in the one God is central to our Christian faith. It brings home the idea that Christianity is fundamentally about people living in union and harmony with each other and with God. That idea of harmony and unity exists in a perfect state in God. One of the persons of that Trinity is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. Christians believe that this Spirit is present in the world. The Holy Spirit is central to our faith, and fake news or “Holy Joes” do not come into it.

It is always dangerous to put individuals on pedestals but sometimes people have an aura about them, the sort of person who walks into a room and automatically gets the attention of the assembled gathering. Great statesmen or women sometimes can have an aura that seems to give them, dare I call it, some God-like charisma. People such as Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi inspired people, friends and foes, to look for better ways of living out their lives.

It seems we must have our heroes, whether in sport, entertainment, politics, whatever. We like to be inspired. We often read about football managers speaking such inspiring words to the team that they go back out on to the park invigorated and with a new determination to win. However, our relationship with God is above and beyond all that. Words spoken about or of God come close to being beyond our comprehension. The Holy Spirit is with us in all of that. It is the presence of God in the world.

My mother died in 1988 and my father in 2004. A day never passes when I don’t think of them. Their spirit lives on in me. I am profoundly conscious of their presence, their guiding hand in my life. Everything we say about God is said in terms of analogy. But if the spirit of my parents plays a role for me in my daily life, what must be the guiding power of the Holy Spirit in all our lives?

The promptings of the Holy Spirit give witness to the words and actions of the historical Jesus. In tomorrow’s Gospel St John (15: 26 -27; 16: 12-15) writes: “When the Advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who issues from the Father, he will be my witness.”

The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in our world. And just as we so often miss the wonder of the little things in our lives, it is easy to miss the Holy Spirit. But that does not at all mean that the Holy Spirit is not ever-present, guiding us on our journey in this fragile and confusing world of ours. We need to open our hearts, that’s all.

And may I stress again, I’m nervous of the “Holy Joes”.

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