A young couple whom I knew as students when I was a college campus minister are now married, and have five children. I’ve baptized all five kids, and have given First Holy Communion to three of them. I’ve known the children since they were infants, but sometimes I find it difficult to remember the name of the one I’m addressing.
The parents laugh because they know how confusing it can be to have so many kids around. The kids, however, are not amused by my forgetfulness. They get pouty looks on their faces, and their shoulders slump; they are very forthright about their disapproval when I can’t remember their names. Everyone wants to be called by name; none of us enjoys being treated as a generic entity. Surprisingly, however, we often do this to God.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus promised his disciples that he would send them an Advocate as companion and helper. (John 14:26) We know this Advocate to be the Holy Spirit. Have you ever wondered who, or what, is the Holy Spirit?
For the first generations of believers the Holy Spirit was the Divine power that produced prophetic teaching in the Church. There is an example of such prophetic teaching in today’s first reading. This Sunday’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles recounts an event that might seem inconsequential to us, but was of the utmost urgency to the first generation of Jesus’ disciples.
The first disciples of Jesus were Jews who continued to practice Jewish piety and morality after their acceptance of Jesus as Messiah. Very quickly, however, significant numbers of gentiles came to embrace faith in Jesus. This presented a very practical question about whether it was necessary first to join the Mosaic Covenant before accepting Baptism as a disciple of Jesus.
The leadership of the nascent Church came to a decision about this serious, but unforeseen, question by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. They wrote to the gentile converts saying, “It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.” (Acts 15:28-29)
Those first generations of believers experienced the Holy Spirit as Divine inspiration that led them to discern, and teach about, unresolved issues of faith and morals. Today, the Spirit is the presence of God which keeps us faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, and offers us guidance in our decisions. The Spirit is the voice that urges us to persevere when faced with trials or temptations. The Spirit encourages us when we choose those actions that serve God’s will.
We can trust that God will grant us the power and discernment of the Spirit, but in order to receive the Advocate’s help it is incumbent on us to address the Spirit appropriately in prayer. It is necessary, therefore, to understand that Christianity is a Trinitarian religion. There are three Divine persons in the Trinity, each with their own particular relationship to us.
Have you ever noticed that some prayers are addressed to God the Father, others are addressed to Jesus and still others addressed to the Spirit? If you attend closely to the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass today, you will notice that the Preface is addressed to the Father:
“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
at all times to acclaim you, O Lord,
but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously,
when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.”
The Eucharistic Prayer continues with an address to the Father:
“You are indeed holy, O Lord,
and all you have created rightly gives you praise.”
That address to the Father shifts, a few lines later, to a petition to send the power of the Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine:
“We humbly implore you:
by the same Spirit graciously make holy these gifts we have brought to you for consecration.”
Other prayers during the Liturgy are addressed to Jesus:
“Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”
The Divine Persons of the Trinity create three unique relationships with us; those relationships require our conscious awareness of their distinctiveness. Some prayers are most appropriately addressed to the Father; others are most appropriately addressed to Jesus. The prayers that are most appropriately addressed to the Spirit are our requests for discernment with regard to God’s will and our requests for understanding with regard to beliefs and practices.
Neither persons nor prayers are generic; each is highly individual. Praying appropriately requires that we address our prayers distinctly to the Persons of the Trinity. Hearing the answers to our prayers requires that we develop a sensitivity to the distinct voices of the three Divine Persons. Need inspiration for making a difficult decision? Jesus said, “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (John 14:25-26)