Holy Spirit





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The confirmation boy, asked by the bishop about the Blessed Trinity, replied, “you’re not supposed to understand; it's a mystery”.  Which, of course, raises the question as to why God bothers.

What is the point in God revealing things to us that we cannot understand?  What would be the point of telling us things - and things that effect our very understanding of God - that we poor mortal are not capable of understanding?  The Book of Isaiah will have no truck with a God who ties us up in knots:

“I am the LORD, and there is no other.

I did not speak in secret,

in a land of darkness;

I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,

‘Seek me in chaos’.

I the LORD speak the truth;

I declare what is right

Isaiah 45:18-19

God does not speak in riddles.  God is not in the business of confusion but rather speaks plainly.  So whatever the Trinity might be, it is not a mystery beyond all understanding.   In any case, when the word “mystery” appears in the Bible, it means a “wonder”, something wonderful to hear and intended to help us to live as God wishes.  A mystery in the Bible is always good news, a revealing of love working to keep us safe.

  The word was used in a religious context in ancient Greek to signify a religious experience in the temple of a god.  When one entered into the rituals practised in the god or goddess’s temple, one was initiated into a deeper level of consciousness and received divine protection and salvation.  Each initiate received assurance of salvation, certain that he or she would be kept safe in this life and in the next under the protection of the god.

  Some of the philosophers of ancient Greece taught that the process of talking deeply about deep matters is a mystery for that it is the way that an otherwise hidden truth reveals its deep meaning.

  In the Bible the concept of “mystery” is not especially prominent until we come to the New Testament.   Almost all of the 28 occurrences refer to the work of salvation God achieves in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In the four Gospels, the word “mystery” occurs only once, in Mark 4:11:

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for those outside

everything is in parables.                                Mark 4:11

The meaning here is that the revelation of all that God intends to accomplish on behalf of humanity by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is revealed only to those who are called into discipleship, to those who are open to learning, willing to become apprentices in the school of love.   To those “outside”, what is done in Jesus will be revealed to all at the end of time.

Here are a few examples from the 26 that are to be found in the New Testament.  You will see that they indicate that the “mystery” is revealed to those who believe:

(i)  The “mystery” is revealed to all but understood only by those who make the journey of faith and come to believe:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ!  Amen.                                          Romans 2:1-5

(ii)  The hidden mystery of our salvation, the glory that God held in store, is revealed for our glory and this mystery is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit:

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we speak of the secret wisdom of God, a hidden mystery which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had understood, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:6-9

(iii) A wonderful paragraph from the letter to Colossian Christians sums up the story of God’s love which is given  to us so that we can say that this glory is Christ living in us:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Him we proclaim, warning everyone and

teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

So if the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity is not beyond our understanding, as our Confirmation boy declared to the bishop, what is it that we are given to know when we bless ourselves in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?

A reflection on the Blessed Trinity

To call God our Father is a commonplace in both Old and New Testaments.  Our very being is fathered into the world by our Father: You, O LORD, you are our Father, we are the clay, and you are our potter, we are all the work of your hand (Isaiah 64:8).  Every moment of our existence is in his hands:  It is your providence, O Father, that steers the boat … so that even if a man lacks skill, he may put to sea (Book of Wisdom 14:3-4).  The LORD, Father and Ruler of my life (Sirach 23:1), directs my every step with gentleness and steadfast love for he is a merciful God and Father (3 Maccabees 5:7).  All else may fail but God’s love endures forever: You are my Father, my God, you are the Rock of my salvation (Psalm 89:26).  We are wrapped in the swaddling clothes of God’s love from the cradle to the grave and beyond: He is our Father forever (Tobit 13:4).

  We must not imagine that the ‘our’ in “Our Father” is exclusive, as if anyone could be conceived out side the Father’s love.  As 3 Maccabees 2:21 puts it, he is the first Father of all.  To be sure, each local church is in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:1) but its being there does not exhaust the divine fatherhood: He is the Father of us all (Romans 4:16).  The image to keep in mind is that of the father in the parable, the father whose eye is ever scanning the horizon for his lost children (Luke 15:11-32).

  And, of course, both the Old and New Testaments are full of sons.  But they were, at times, rather scarce. Sarah and Abraham, with the exaggeration of the good story-teller, could not produce a child until, with God’s help, they were well advanced in years (Genesis 21:2).  Their chid Isaac had but two sons, the twins Esau and Jacob. Thereafter sons and daughters abound. Sons and daughters are defined simply as those whom you loved (Wisdom 2:18).  Indeed, the whole people of the covenant are your beloved sons and daughters (Judith 9:4).   In the New Testament there are sons and daughters of the LORD Almighty (2 Corinthians 6:18).  But there is one Son whose sonship is of a more intimate nature.  He is, indeed, called my beloved Son (Mark 1:11).  Everything that is the Father’s is given him: for everything the Father has is mine (John 16:15).  Indeed, the Father and I are one (John10:30).   In the Son we see all that God intended to be ours, all that is ours:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent         forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons and daughters.

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Galatians 4:5-7

  The Spirit of his Son into our hearts?  How did that happen? In the beginning, the Spirit of God moved over the waters of chaos, waiting for the word.   In the biblical perspective, the Spirit is the agent of divine activity in creation. The Spirit went forth from God to empower the heroes of old: the Spirit of the LORD took possession of Gideon (Judges 6:34).   Even such a rapscallion as Samson is empowered: The Spirit of the LORD began to stir in him in Mahanehdan (Judges 13:25).   The prophets were consecrated with the Spirit: The Spirit of the LORD will come mightily upon you, and you shall prophesy…  and be turned into another man (1 Samuel 10:10).  The prophet Micah explains his vocation thus:  But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin (Micah 3:8).  The once and future king (David) was showered with the six-fold gifts of the Spirit:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,

and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

And the Spirit of the Lord shall alight upon him,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and valour,

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,

nor decide  what his ears hear,

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

and decide with justice y for the meek of the earth.

Isaiah 11:2-4

Indeed, God’s Holy Spirit was the dynamic power within the history of Israel, the sign of God’s presence and the voice that called Israel to the future;

And it shall come to pass,

that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

and your young men shall see visions.

Even on the male and female servants

in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

Joel 2:28-29

  With the coming of the Son, the Spirit is indeed poured out on all flesh.  A few paragraphs from the letter to the Christians in the city of Ephesus provide a rich summary of what happened when they embraced the gospel of God.  First, where were you before the Spirit of God entered your heart? :

… you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:1-10

The writer of the Letter to Ephesians can do no more that fall to his knees:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19

And this is what you have become.  This is what the Trinity has worked in you:

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:18-22

Had the confirmation boy journeyed through his Bible and beyond his catechism, he would have found a loving Father, a reconciling Son, and an energising Spirit.   In short, he would

have found God.

Blessed be his holy name.

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A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy          4:32-34. 39-40

Responsorial Psalm                         Psalm 32:4-6. 9. 18-20.  R/. v.12

A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans      8:14-17

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew


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A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy          4:32-34. 39-40

Moses said to the people:

Ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes.

… know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I and with your children after you, and that you may is giving you for all time.

Deuteronomy 4:32-34. 39-40

Jesus the Jew grew up on the teaching of Moses, the man who, at God’s command, led the slaves of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey.  The Books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers tell the story of that epic escape and how a mixum-gatherum of fleeing slaves became the people of God.  The Book of Exodus is an account of a series of callings. Moses is called by God to go to Pharaoh with God’s command: Let my people go!  On reaching Mount Sinai the bedraggled slaves are called to accept a new way of life: I will be your God and you will be my people.  The Book of Leviticus calls on the men of the tribe of Levi to be the holy priests who are to “teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses” (Leviticus 10:11).  The Book of Numbers tells of major hiccups on the way to the promised land. The people rebel against the authority of God and his servant Moses. But God continues to call the people to holiness and he feeds them along the desert journey.    The Book of Deuteronomy starts as they have reached the River Jordan and are about to enter into the longed-for land flowing with milk and honey. The book insists on holiness and presents again all that has been commanded in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  The book is a kind of retreat to ready the people to take possession of the land and to make it a holy land. God acts as Retreat Master. The theme of the retreat is clear:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.                          Deuteronomy 7:6

  The Book of Deuteronomy is one the four Old Testament books most frequently quoted in the New Testament.  It’s insistence that there is one God, the LORD of all, and that is the  teaching given us in today’s first reading.  The second reading will tease out how that teaching blossoms in our lives.

Responsorial Psalm                          Psalm 32:4-6. 9. 18-20.  R/. v.12

Blessed are the people the LORD has chosen as his own.

For the word of the LORD is upright,

and all his work is done in faithfulness.

He loves righteousness and justice;

the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.

Blessed are the people the LORD has chosen as his own.

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,

and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

For he spoke, and it came to be;

he commanded, and it stood firm.

Blessed are the people the LORD has chosen as his own.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,

on those who hope in his steadfast love,

that he may deliver their soul from death

and keep them alive in famine.

Blessed are the people the LORD has chosen as his own.

Our soul waits for the Lord;

he is our help and our shield.

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,

even as we hope in you.

Blessed are the people the LORD has chosen as his own.

Psalms 33 and 34 form part of the introductory prayers to the Morning Service on the Sabbath and on feast days in Jewish synagogues.  These psalms sing of thanks and joy to the LORD God of creation who sustains all that his hand as made.  His creative purpose is that creation be a place of love, justice, and rightness.  God’s steadfast love is showered on all that he has made. Human strategies do not last forever.  Only God’s steadfast love, God’s passion for humanity gives lasting hope and lasting joy.


A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans      8:14-17

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children   of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery again [to be] in fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption in whom we cry, “Abba!  Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our   spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.                                 

Romans 8:14-17

St Paul’s letter to the little Christian communities, the little house-churches, scattered about the city of Rome is one of the glories of the New Testament.  It is also the one that has caused the most heart-searching. Martin Luther made it the heart of his protest against what he regarded as the corruption endemic in the Church of his time.  Scholarly tomes have weighed down desks ever since. However in the last fifty years or so a consensus is emerging that both sides, Protesters and Catholics, did St Paul an injustice and managed to misunderstand the great apostle in their struggle to best each other.

What Paul wanted to do was to show that God’s love is for all humanity. A few sentences from his letters seem to me to form the bedrock of his thinking:  

  1. 1.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

Paul’s Letter to Galatian Christians 3:28-29

      All humanity, the Jewish people and the rest of humanity are one in God’s love.  Every nation and peoples are one      and seen by God as God sees his Son.  We are all embraced in the promises made to father Abraham, our

father in faith:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3

  1. 2.     For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counsellor?”

  “Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

For from him

and through him

and to him are all things.

To him be glory forever. Amen

Paul’s Letter to Roman house-churches 11:30-36

Nobody can deny that we are all sinners.  That Paul takes for granted.  But his gospel, the gospel of God that he proclaimed, is that sin does not overcome or obliterate God’s steadfast love.  If we are all sinners, we are all saved.  When Paul wrote this he was, it seems to me, as surprised as I was when I first began to realise what he   meant: he burst into glorious song, a song that should forever be in our hearts:

Oh, the depth of the riches

and wisdom

and knowledge of God!

  1. 3.   So now faith, hope, and love abide,

these three;

but the greatest of these is love.

Paul’s Letter to Corinthian churches 13:13

What you need to realise, when you are listening to Paul’s beautiful poetry at your child’s wedding, is that Paul has two loves in mind.  There is human love and there is God’s love. We know only too well that our love is brittle. Not so with God’s love. God has faith in us, God has hopes for us, and in the end, when all else fails, it is God’s love that lasts forever, a trinity of care.  

Today’s second reading from St Paul says all that I have written above.  We are adopted into the care of God. The gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of baptism, is the gift of adoption into God’s good care.  What we must proclaim to the world is that, in the words of a great American Catholic playwright Eugene O’Neill, all God’s chillun got wings.

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew


Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee,

to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him,

but some doubted.

And Jesus came and said to them,

“All authority in heaven and on earth

has been given to me.

Go therefore

and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them in the name

of the Father

and of the Son

and of the Holy Spirit,

teaching them to observe

all that I have commanded you.

And behold!

I am with you always, to the end of the age

Matthew 28:16-20

As it was in the beginning:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God-with-us)

Matthew 1:23

Is now:

For where two or three

are gathered in my name,

there am I among them.

Matthew 18:20

And ever shall be:

I am with you always,

to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:16-20

Dr Joseph O’Hanlon

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