Blogger’s Note: I reserve the right to re-read this book and revise this review as what I’ve read continues to sink in. I wanted to write about it soon, but honestly, my head is spinning!
If you’re like most Catholics, the concept of the Holy Trinity — three persons; one God — is one of the mysteries of our faith that is most difficult to grasp. The best explanation I’ve heard uses marriage to teach us about the Trinity, and vice versa:
- God is a loving communion of persons.
- Just as God the Father loves God the Son, and God the Son reflects that love back to God the Father, so to with husbands and wives: the two are united in love so completely they are inseparable and become one person.
- Just as that shared love between husband and wife can become so powerful, life-giving, and tangible that it results in a new person and is given a name, the shared love between God the Father and God the Son is so abundant and powerfully life-giving that it takes on a life of its own and becomes a third person, God the Holy Spirit — who, in the Nicene Creed each Sunday, we call “the Lord, the Giver of Life.”
This explanation helps me to conceive of the Three-In-One, but the ability to relate to the Holy Spirit as a person remains elusive to me. I recently found up a copy of Alan Schreck’s Your Life in the Holy Spirit and decided to read it, in hopes that it would relieve this difficulty and help my devotion to the Holy Spirit as a person, rather than some mysterious force that helps me understand the Father and the Son. Schreck is a theology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville and a contributor to Catholic Answers — so he seems like a good source on the topic.
The book did help my initial question to some extent, primarily by validating the problem I was experiencing — it’s much easier to be devoted to a divine father-figure; a humble king; a suffering servant; even a virgin mother; because we know what these things are and what they do in the world around us — then devoting oneself to the various roles of the Holy Spirit. Friend, confidante, advocate — but also gift, revelator, unifier, and promise. The Holy Spirit is all these things — a tremendous blessing to be sure, but a person? The more I imagined a person that could do all these things, the less individually distinctive the Holy Spirit seemed, and the more He seemed like…God.
Still, the book is educational, insightful, and thought-provoking, moving methodically through the Scriptures and the works of saints and theologians to highlight specifically what the Spirit does in our lives and the life of the Church. It also makes the case that, perhaps in an effort to preserve the truths of our Catholic faith and to avoid misguided attempts to be too free or creative with the liturgy, we have stifled the activity and gifts of the Holy Spirit in our present time and parishes. In Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell talks of the Catholics who are deeply spiritual or charismatic feeling alienated in the Catholic church, with no one who can guide or relate to them. Schreck insists that the charisms of the Spirit, including prophecy and tongues, are poured out upon the Church even now, and that all believers are gifted in some way — but he also seems to agree that most Catholics are directionless when it comes to discerning these gifts, developing them, or putting them to legitimate good use within their parishes.
In the end, the book left me challenged in my new position, not only to continue to conceive of the Holy Spirit in a more real and personal way, but to better understand how the Holy Spirit is active in our parish. Not everyone is comfortable with the more charismatic aspects of our faith, but the Acts of the Apostles certainly seems to describes a charismatic Church in which the Holy Spirit was active and spiritual gifts were relatively common, diverse, and manifested publicly, at least among believers. Gifts from God cannot be a bad thing — how do we identify, cultivate, and and encourage them to bloom in this skeptical age?