Fr. Brian Cavanaugh TOR reflects on the role of the Holy Spirit in our journey through life.
Have you ever asked yourself, ‘What is the role of the Holy Spirit? What is the Holy Spirit’s function in my life? And, how do I respond to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration?’ These were questions I reflected upon for some time. The symbol of the Holy Spirit as a dove just left me searching for an image I could grasp; something I could relate to and comprehend. Yes, I could recite the Church’s teachings on the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Trinity, but something was not connecting in my understanding. Talking with others it seemed that the role and function of the Holy Spirit is often not comprehended, especially as to how the Holy Spirit affects my life and how I am to respond. Saint John Paul II, in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Third Millennium, wrote the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveni ente (November 10, 1994). He asked that the three years prior to the millennium be devoted, one year each, to reflections on each person of the Trinity. These papal exhortations stirred something within me, and my reflections began to coalesce into an image of the Holy Spirit that I could grasp. In this article, I will share you how I journeyed to this personal understanding. A word of note: following are my own personal reflections on the function and role of the Holy Spirit. They are not intended to be theological statements; any errors in thought or conclusion are my own.
With my computer bible program, I clicked on what I refer to as my power verse – that is, a bible verse that decisively focuses your attention – from St Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians 5:11. It begins: ‘Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.’ I noticed on the screen that the Greek word for encourage was parakaleo. That sure had a familiar sound to it as in John 14:16: ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you always …’ Other translations use the terms Advocate or Counsellor or Comforter. I began to search the Greek text for other verses with the same root and came across parakleto and paraklesis . When I clicked on the screen, these Greek words produced the English terms: encourage, urge, exhort, implore, counsel, comfort, console and advocate.
Coach for Our Lives
I want to propose the image of the Holy Spirit as the ‘Coach for Our Lives’ . Isn’t a coach the one who urges, implores, encourages, exhorts, as well as, counsels, comforts and consoles? Coaches anxiously pace the sidelines shouting instructions, encouraging players, sometimes comforting a player, other times consoling a player, and even interceding on a player’s behalf with a referee. Through it all, however, the coach cannot play the game for the players, he can only get them ready for the game; they have to go out and play it themselves. The Holy Spirit as ‘Coach’ becomes, then, a good role model to lead our lives. A good way to affect other people’s lives, as well by encouraging, urging, exhorting, consoling, comforting and being an advocate for, or interceding on behalf of.
We read in the Gospel of John: ‘I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.’ What a terrific thought - we are called to abundant life living , which means not to settle for little, less or least in life. The Holy Spirit as coach exhorts each of us: ‘Give me your best! Your best!’ The Holy Spirit calls us on, urges us, exhorts us, nudges us, and sometimes just pushes us into the pool of life … making us do what we can, filling us with power and courage, making us do what we do not want to do in order to achieve what it is we want to achieve - our eternal salvation!
Concept of Encouragement
Let’s look at this concept of encouragement a bit more. The full text of my power verse is: ‘Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing … Be at peace among yourselves … See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’
Imagine what might happen if more people allowed the fullness of the Holy Spirit to guide their daily lives? Imagine as parents, pastors, teachers, coaches, administrators and as bosses and employees, imagine what your home/parish/school/office would be like if this power verse from First Thessalonians was your guiding principle? If you can begin to imagine it, you can begin to achieve it. Just imagine!
Dr Larry Crabb wrote an insightful book Encouragement: The Key to Caring that enhances this reflection on the Holy Spirit as the Coach for Our Lives . The book’s theme is encouragement through the careful selection of words that are intended to influence another person meaningfully toward increased godliness.
Dr Crabb examines a key text from the Letter to the Hebrews 3:12-14, where we read: ‘See to it … that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.’
Literally this means, ‘to stir up, to provoke, to incite people in a given direction’ toward a greater share in Christ. This “ … includes idea of… joining someone else on a journey and speaking words that encourage each other to keep pressing on despite obstacles and fatigue.”
Stir Into Flame the Gift of God
St Paul in his Second Letter to Timothy exhorts each one of us: ‘For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God… For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self - control.’ A spirit that empowers us to triumphantly cope with life.
Let’s now ask a question. “So, how do Christians encourage one another?” Or, “How about Christian men?” Is encouragement a manly thing to do?” Absolutely, though such encouragement requires a conscious commitment amid the routine of daily life to promote other people’s welfare, be it in family, friends, co-workers, teachers, students or parents.
Dr Crabb again writes, ‘… I am insisting that every encouraging sentence reflects an awareness that people are needy and fearful. Encouragers must constantly remind themselves that people with whom they rub shoulders are facing problems in life which, but for the grace of God, are ultimately overwhelming. It is this conscious awareness that can give encouraging power to even the most trivial conversation.’
So, how do Christians encourage one another? Mainly, it’s to have ‘a conscious commitment amid the routine of daily life to promote other people’s welfare…’ That’s not too difficult once we get out of that little world called ‘me.’
Here are a few simple ideas to stimulate your creative juices: send a postcard, write a short note to recognise and show appreciation for someone else. It might be your neighbour who planted lovely flowers that make the whole neighbourhood look better. It might be a co-worker who ran his or her first marathon, was elected to the school board, or completed a special program. Get creative! Catch people doing well with as much energy as is used in “fault-finding,” and tell as many people, too.
Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, “Every person is an icon of God.” What a profound perception, to see each person as an icon of God. Do you see God’s image in each person you meet? How about in yourself? To be able to encourage one another we must, first, be able to treat each person with dignity and respect. And that includes, first of all, the person with whom you brush your teeth – yourself!
Let me emphasise here that the Holy Spirit is the “final and indispensable agent of change.” First in ourselves, and then in others, but we need to ask for this Spirit and allow the Spirit to work in us. The Holy Spirit works from within to re-create and renew, to encourage, to exhort, to urge, to implore, to comfort, to counsel and to console. But, first, we have to open the rusty, hardened door of our heart to allow the fire of Divine Love to be stirred into flame.
Chuck Keller in his poem ‘Windows to the Soul (A Sonnet) ” writes, ‘They say the eyes are windows to the soul. Depth of experience, inner beauty, honesty, qualities we all extol can be found there …’ To which we might ask, “What do people see reflected when they look into your eyes? Is there the reflection of the Divine Fire within you brightly shining? Or a “Vacant” sign that reads ‘no one home’?
The Lord, the Giver of Life
I want to look at ‘What is the function of the Holy Spirit?’ Through the Sacrament of Confirmation, Catholics receive the promise of the fullness of the Holy Spirit within us as the animator, energiser, encourager, the Paraclete – the giver of new life. That is, however, only when we open up the rusty, hardened doors of our hearts to allow the Spirit to enter in.
I’m reminded of a conversation at our friary table with a monk who was passing through and stayed with us a couple of days. He had the good fortune to visit with the late Mother Theresa of Calcutta on one of his journeys. He asked Mother Theresa if there was a special intention she had that the monks could pray for. After a brief pause, Mother Theresa said, “Pray that I don’t get in the way. Pray that I don’t get in the way of the Spirit of God.”
Now that is a good intention for each of us to take to prayer – that we don’t get in the way of the Spirit of God. Likewise, we might take some time to reflect on what areas of our own lives that might be getting in the way of God’s Spirit.
So this is a two-way prayer – that I don’t get in way of the Holy Spirit through my ego, pride, position or power, and that I don’t put things in the way of the Holy Spirit through my fears, busyness, anger, or a hardened heart.