THE HOLY SPIRIT: The Holy Spirit Fills Our Loneliness by Raniero Cantalamessa

Meditations on the Veni Creator

The Holy Spirit Fills Our Loneliness by Raniero Cantalamessa

From: Come, Creator Spirit

Let us pass on to the second characteristic: the Holy Spirit as a mystery of goodness, gentleness, indulgence, closeness, and as a mystery of quietness and rest.  Western Christianity has attempted to express this bouquet of qualities using the verse from the Bible that, in the Latin Vulgate, said, “Oh, how good and how sweet, Lord, is your Spirit in all things,” (Wisdom 12:1).  In a sermon on Pentecost, Pope Innocent III exclaimed: “Oh, how agreeable is the Spirit, how peaceful, how gentle!  Those alone know him who have tasted him!”

In Semitic languages, the noun, “spirit” is feminine, and this has certainly made its influence felt, so much so that (particularly among the ancient Syriac authors) there has been a rich development of doctrine on the Holy Spirit as “mother,” which stresses these “gentle and tender” characteristics of the Spirit.  In one of these authors, we read that Adam’s disgrace after the Fall was that “he no longer saw the true Father of the heavens, nor the benign, good Mother, the grace of the Spirit, nor the agreeable, desirable Brother, the Lord.”

Because of the way the Gnostics abused this theme in the early days, the mainstream of church tradition left it almost entirely aside.   One thing, however, is sure: Of the three divine persons, the Holy Spirit is certainly the one that, in revelation and in language, is least characterized as masculine (the first person is “Father” and the second is “Son,” and he became “man”).

Though they avoided any speculation on the Spirit as “mother,” church writers did not hesitate to make use of this title while speaking of the functions of the Paraclete.  When teaching us to cry “Abba,” the Spirit behaves “like a mother teaching her own little baby to say ‘daddy,’ repeating that word along with the baby until it becomes so much the baby’s habit that it calls its daddy even in its sleep.”

We need only to look at the position of women through the stages of our history to see that, in every facet of life, women have been marginalized.  In every domain, except that of family, the position of women in history appears to be inferior to that of men: in philosophy, literature, art, politics.  There is only one area of achievement in which, most fortunately for us all, women have maintained a footing of absolute parity with men, and that is in holiness.  In the history of the church it is very difficult to make out whether the greater saints have been men saints or women saints.  The Holy Spirit sanctifies both men and women, and in so doing always preserves total respect for the differing sexual nature of each, but the sanctity he creates in men and in women is always one and the same sanctity.  In women it shines out as feminine, and in men as virile.  Thus we see that in men the Spirit has tended to manifest its presence as power, strength, and courage, and in women as tenderness, loving care, and gentleness.

We said that ruach, meaning breath, indicates that which is most intimate and secret in God, just as it indicates what is most intimate and unrevealed in human beings: the very principle of life, the soul.  This is the sense in which it is used where we read that no one knows the secret thoughts, the depths, of a person but that person’s own spirit and no one knows the secret depths of God but the Spirit of God, (see 1 Corinthians 2:11).

The scripture begins at a relatively late stage to speak of the divine Spirit as one who enters into human beings in order to dwell or remain with us in an uninterrupted way.  This was in fact a remarkable achievement, a significant advance in relation to the way the Spirit acts in his charismatic manifestations.  Isaiah spoke of the Spirit of God caused to dwell with Moses, (Isaiah 63:11), and also of a Spirit that can be saddened and grieved, (Isaiah 63:10).  However, only in the New Testament does this aspect come fully to light.  When Jesus promised the Spirit he said, “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you,” (John 14:17).  The Spirit is in you to stay, and no longer simply passing by.  We become the Spirit’s temples, (1 Corinthians 3:17; 6:19).  This is the idea behind another of the lines of the Sequence for Pentecost, dulcis hospes animae, “sweet guest of the soul.”

We have looked at the way the Spirit shows himself, first as “causing us dread” and next as “fascinating.”  What does this second “agreeable” mode say to us?  Saint Basil, in one simple and stupendous phrase, says it all: the Holy Spirit is the one who creates “intimacy (oikeiosis) with God.”  This image is Biblical; in the letter to the Ephesians we read:

Through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God (oikeioi).  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God, (Ephesians 2:18-22)

The term used has a whole range of meanings that make the concept all the more significant: it conveys the notions of appropriation, attraction, affection, and familiarity.  In the Holy Spirit God becomes ours, he draws us lovingly to himself, he takes away from us the fear and the sense of unease that, as heirs of Adam, we would feel in meeting him.  Through the Spirit we are “at home” with God!  John, in his turn, writes: “We can know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit,” (1 John 4:13).

This, stripped of all metaphor and human imagining, is what intimacy with God means: God in us, and we in God, due to the presence of the Holy Spirit.  (The Latin word intimus, intimate, is the superlative form of intus, inside.)  Augustine, then, was perfectly right when he said that God is “more intimate to me than I am to myself.”

Intimacy is one of the very few words in human language that always and everywhere is used only in a positive sense: the intimacy of a loving couple, the intimacy of the home, between friends.  In intimacy with another person we experience a reconciliation of identity with otherness, of I with thou.  In every moment of honest intimacy the Holy Spirit is at work in some way.  Just as all fatherhood comes from God the Father, (see Ephesians 3:15), all intimacy too comes from the Holy Spirit.  In fact, intimacy does not arise out of being together in a place; it is created by love, and love comes from the Holy Spirit.  In every experience of genuine human intimacy, including the conjugal embrace, what people are seeking is intimacy with God, intimacy that is absolute.  In fact what we are seeking, though perhaps we may not know it, is that center of being, that point at which all melts into one, that place of perfect rest apart from which we know there is nothing more profound and nothing that can give greater happiness.

This, too, has a practical consequence for us.  The Holy Spirit is the answer to loneliness, which, along with fear and weakness, is the greatest cause of human suffering.  What really overcomes loneliness?  Certainly not finding yourself in the midst of a great crowd, but rather having a friend, someone to share thoughts with, a companion.  If we are open to him, this is what the Holy Spirit wants to be to us.  It is again Saint Basil who says that the Holy Spirit was “the inseparable companion” of Jesus during his life on Earth, and that Jesus “always had the assistance of the most agreeable Spirit, consubstantial with him,” just as he seems to suggest that Moses, all his life long, had his brother Aaron as companion and counselor.

If it is possible for weakness to provide an occasion for us to experience the strength of the Spirit, it is possible for loneliness to be the occasion and also the stimulus for us to experience the Spirit as “sweet guest.”  By faith we know that no one is ever truly alone in this world.  If we need to speak with someone about something, and it is simply not possible to find anyone to speak to, we can learn, little by little, to talk it over with that guest, who is discretion itself and who also is “perfect consoler” and “wonderful counselor.”

As mystery of rest, the Holy Spirit is also the answer to our restlessness.  Our heart is restless, searching, dissatisfied; the place where our heart finds rest is the Holy Spirit, in whom our heart quiets and finds peace.  The Sequence for Pentecost has us call on the Holy Spirit as in labore requies, “rest in the midst of labor.”  One of the things one sees most often in Pentecostal and charismatic circles is the phenomenon called “resting in the Spirit.”  It is something that calls for much discernment, but in many cases its authentic spiritual character cannot be denied.  The one who is “touched” by the Spirit falls, but gently, as if lying down on the ground; all thought ceases, and if afterward that person tries to describe the experience, the only words to be found are, “Peace, such profound peace!”

It is not necessary, nor may it even be possible, to experience the Holy Spirit as power at the same time we experience the Spirit as tenderness and intimacy, or to experience the Spirit simultaneously in his dynamism and his rest.  The Spirit reveals himself at various times under one or the other form, and we experience him sometimes in one way and sometimes in another, depending on our need, our disposition, and the grace of the moment.  On Sinai Moses perceived God in the thunder and the stormy wind, (Exodus 19:18-19); Elijah, on the same Mount Horeb, perceived God in the gentle breeze, (1 Kings 19:12).

2 Comments on THE HOLY SPIRIT: The Holy Spirit Fills Our Loneliness by Raniero Cantalamessa

  1. Ross Gunderson // June 25, 2017 at 3:53 pm // Reply

    Please print x


    • Ross, if you go to the bottom of the article, where the share buttons are, you will find an icon for a printer. It’s the last one in the row. Just click on that and the article will print.


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