If you’re an American Catholic over fifty, you certainly remember beginning and ending your prayers with the sign of the cross while saying: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” If you were like me, the only ghost you knew was in the movies or in the comics. His name— Casper! He was white; he smiled, floated about, and was, well, friendly! Some other ghosts I knew were on a television show called “Topper.” Remember their names? George and Marian! Boy, are you old!
Maybe this is why some people have only a vague notion of the Third Person of the Trinity. To say that the Holy Spirit is “an invisible friend who floats around with a silly smile” —well, that’s not vague, it’s wrong!
If you can at least understand the question, “Who is the Holy Spirit?” you can then begin to answer it. We say “Who” and not “what” because the Holy Spirit is a Person, not a “thing.” The Holy Spirit is not a part of God; the Holy Spirit is God, as the Father is God and the Son is God; yet, there is only one God. Is that clear? If we’re honest, our answer would be a resounding “No!” The reason for this answer is not because we’re ignorant or uneducated, but rather, we’re human. This means we do not have the capacity to understand everything, at least not now. As people’s personal beliefs are full of myths and misnomers, our Catholic faith is full of mystery.
There are those who laugh at us and say, “How can you believe in something you don’t see and understand?” To these I reply, “How many things in life do we actually see and fully understand?” We know it is dangerous to stick a knife in an outlet; we can see the dangerous effects of a mystery which we have named “electricity.” Yet, while I am grateful for the force which keeps my feet on the floor, I don’t recall any scientist seeing or understanding the mystery we call gravity. This is the reason why since time began, mankind has never ceased to look up and out and in. Whether it is medicine or mathematics, physics or philosophy, stars or snails, astronomy or atoms—the more we look, the more we learn. Yes, mystery is certainly all around us. In fact, we are a mystery unto ourselves.
The time between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday is nine days. This is where we get the word novena; “novem” in Latin means nine. The first novena wasn’t prayed to Our Lady or to any saint, but by Our Lady and by some saints! They were praying together as Our Lord instructed them to for “the gift of the Father”. After nine days, the gift was delivered—and it didn’t drop quietly through the mail slot! “What was the gift?” you ask. No, you mean, “Who was the gift?”
Fr. Glenn Sudano, CFR
Most Blessed Sacrament Friary, Newark, New Jersey