In the next weeks we will be examining the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the endowments of the heart of Christ, as named in Isaiah: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. But we do well first to consider the primary gift of the Holy Spirit, charity.
God is love, an eternal communion of Father and Son. The Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son, the gift they share, the tie that binds them.
The Holy Spirit is not first of all any kind of magic trick: not miracles, or speaking in tongues. Nor is he first and foremost the seven endowments named by Isaiah. In the Trinity, none of these things is needed. There is only the God of love, Father, Son, and their infinite love for one another, the Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, this is what Christianity is all about: entering into that loving relationship, joining the Son in his love for the Father, and for all those who are also caught up in that love. The Holy Spirit names what Christianity is all about. No love, no Christianity – because Christ himself is the eternal Son, the eternal relationship of infinite love with the Father.
To say that the Holy Spirit is essential to Christianity is to say, first of all, that Christianity is ultimately about love, and loving union. It means that spirituality is not a side issue. It is Christianity. There is nothing else but love. Or rather, everything else is there to support love. This is the point of the sacraments, the liturgy, the moral law, and devotions, to Mary or the saints or anything else. It is all ultimately about coming to love God. It is all ultimately about conversion of heart.
But to say that the Holy Spirit is essential to Christianity is also to say that this love is a gift, something we receive from God. We could put this two ways. Negatively, we can say that true Christian love is impossible without God. Our hearts are not big enough to love God as God deserves to be loved. Nor are our eyes big enough to see his goodness. He has to show himself to us, and expand our hearts to love him fully. Otherwise our love will fall short.
This is about overcoming sin, yes. But it is also about overcoming our natural limits. Even without sin we just aren’t big enough to love the Father as much as God the Son loves him.
But if it bothers you that I say “deserves,” as if God is annoyed that we don’t love him enough, you are on to something. Ultimately loving God isn’t something we get in trouble for doing insufficiently.
And so we can say the same thing better by putting it positively. God offers us more love than we could possibly imagine. To say that the Holy Spirit is essential to Christianity is to say the Christianity offers us the possibility of a love beyond our comprehension. It offers us the possibility to love God infinitely.
That is the offer of the Holy Spirit, the good news: beyond our wildest imaginings, God calls us into his own loving heart, the loving world of Father and Son in the Trinity.
Grace is the name theology gives for the impact of the Holy Spirit on the soul. It would almost be true to say that we love with a love that is not our own, that we love with God’s love, the Holy Spirit. But the mystery of the Holy Spirit is that he makes this love our own. God who created us creates new hearts in us, hearts that love him infinitely, through the impulse of the Holy Spirit molding our hearts.
We say “grace” to show that this transformation of us does not come from us. It is the Holy Spirit who transforms us, but it is us who are truly transformed. The other seven gifts of the Holy Spirit name the multiple fruits of this transformation, the ways this transformation marks every aspect of our souls.
Let us keep the Holy Spirit in mind this Holy Week. Jesus died of love, and died to share his love with us, to draw us into that love. The heart of these mysteries is the heart of Jesus, which he pours into us in sharing with us the Holy Spirit. It’s not meant to stay outside. It’s meant to transform us from within.
Does your Christianity sometimes forget about the Holy Spirit? How?