“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”- Acts 2:2

Pentecost is the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit, the gift Jesus promised to send us after his ascension to offer us guidance and wisdom as we travel on our earthly journey. The Holy Spirit is a distinct person of the one Triune God with his own attributes and activity. Still, he is arguably the most difficult for our human minds to comprehend. During Pope St. John Paul II’s general audience on October 17, 1990, he provided some catechesis on how the Church uses symbols to give us insight into who the Holy Spirit is and how he exercises his divinity in our lives.

Referring to Isaiah 45:15, John Paul calls the Trinitarian God a “hidden God,” but his hiddenness is especially found in the Holy Spirit. Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, became the visible God as he came to us in human flesh. While he was here, people could see, hear, and touch him and witness his concrete actions. In his humanity, God became accessible and someone with whom we can have a personal experience. The Father remains invisible, but we can still understand who he is, even if in a limited way. Jesus said, “He who sees me sees the Father” (Jn 14:9) because he is speaking his Father’s words and acting according to his Father’s will. Further, we have human fatherhood that, although it does not fully reveal God’s divine fatherhood, it still provides some limited understanding by analogy. However, the Holy Spirit is a bit more of a mystery to us as he remains the most hidden of the three persons.

The Holy Spirit is the uncreated manifestation of love generated between the Father and the Son, which is then poured out into humanity. John Paul calls our human understanding and analogies of this abstract concept “fragile.” In addition to his identity of being rooted in love, many of his other titles — consoler, giver of life, source of goodness, spirit of truth, Paraclete — offer little in helping our human minds conceptualize him more concretely. Nevertheless, our human nature seeks ways to express theological and psychological realities and their activity in our lives. Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, John Paul tells us how we accomplish this: “Thus we can explain that the Holy Spirit, like human love itself, fnds its expression, especially in symbols.” While the pope does not go into an exhaustive list of the symbols that we use to describe the Holy Spirit, he does use the symbol of wind, which is “central to the Pentecost experience” to explain how this works.

Throughout scripture, the wind often refers to “a person who comes and goes.” As a good Jewish man, well versed in scripture, Jesus highlights this fact by saying, “The wind blows where it will, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). From this statement, we can unpack some of the rich symbolism that gives us insight into the person of the Holy Spirit. When a person is baptized, among many other supernatural realities taking place, they become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Essentially, with the effects of the sacrament, the Holy Spirit descends and finds a dwelling place within the person. The Spirit then moves within the person, inspiring spontaneous action as the person responds and participates in God’s activity. You can likely think of a time when you were compelled to say something or do something for another person for no apparent or discernable reason. Furthermore, when you responded to the inspiration, you may have even discovered that it was exactly what the other person needed, without you having any way of knowing. This is one of the subtle ways God carries out his will by making us participants in his activity. The more we become aware of the wind moving us here and there, the more we are part of the transformative supernatural activity that draws others to God.

John Paul goes on to explain that in the Old Testament, the Hebrew term for Spirit is ruah, which also translates as “breath.” Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit (ruah) of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” So, the very movement that initiated creation was God’s breath or wind hovering over the abyss of nothingness. Then, as he created Adam, he “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living creature,” giving him his own Spirit to dwell within him (Gen 2:7). After the Resurrection, Jesus, being the excellent teacher that he is, connects the Old Testament relationship of the Spirit, God’s breath, and wind, with a new and fuller understanding of the relationship, saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22). Wind, God’s breath, and the Holy Spirit are all used synonymously, as the source of our very life. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is not only the source of our physical life, but also our supernatural life in Christ.

Now, through the symbol of wind, we can better understand the invisible person of the Holy Spirit. Like wind, he is a dynamic force. He moves about, sometimes in breezes and other times in gusts, and affects movement in those who experience his dynamism. This symbol allows us to access our human experience of the element of wind and to have the vocabulary to describe the mysteries of God. We can also observe the effect wind has on creation to understand the effects of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. As leaves tremble and flowers bend, we also dynamically change, move, and respond as he moves through us.

Re-read the story of the first Pentecost, placing yourself in the upper room with Mary and the disciples. Using your personal experience, imagine the mighty rushing wind coming in suddenly and unexpectedly. While the disciples probably felt some fear at that moment, you now understand that this is the force that will empower you to do God’s work in the world. This week, pay attention to the different types of wind you are exposed to and use the experiences to contemplate how the Holy Spirit moves in your own life. Also, consider some other symbols for the Holy Spirit — fire, light, dove — and apply their attributes to your understanding of the Holy Spirit’s divine activity in the world.

Pray the Chaplet of the Holy Spirit.

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