When I was very young I remember coming across an old 1960s catechism book referring to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. When I asked my mother why the book referred to “Holy Ghost” when I had only ever known the “Holy Spirit”, she said, “Holy Ghost scared people so they had to change it,” without missing a beat. It was an answer she thought I would understand, but I just didn’t understand any of it.
Many years later, I will not pretend to comprehend the Holy Spirit, or what transpired on Pentecost, that first evening of the week, behind locked doors, when the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples. Even the author of the first reading from Acts of the Apostles used simile to describe what happened. It was a sound “like the rush of a violent wind,” and “divided tongues, as of fire” appeared next to each of them. They weren’t the wind and fire themselves, but the best frame of reference the author had was to use them in comparison to what took place. And what kind of power do wind and flames have? Physically, their power cannot be understated, and spiritually? Spiritually, they have the power to shake things up and transform us, and to ignite and fuel passion for what we love.
Sr. Joan Chittister has written “Holy Spirit was not a disembodied ghost, not an immaterial being. On the contrary. The Spirit embodied the life force of the universe, the power of God, the animating energy present in all things and captured by none. Because of the Spirit, Jesus was not gone and God was not distant, and the life force around us bore it proof. The Spirit was the restless urge to life in us leading life on to its ultimate.” I stand in wonder at how something that seems intangible can manifest itself in such a profoundly tangible way, changing lives, guiding our path, and enabling us as purveyors of good news.
The Order of Confirmation states “through the Sacrament of Confirmation those who have been born anew in Baptism receive the ineffable Gift, the Holy Spirit himself, by whom ‘they are endowed…with special strength.’” (x)
In the weeks following the Easter Triduum, Archbishop Vienneau has been making his confirmation rounds, where he completes the baptism of each confirmation candidate by recalling the Holy Spirit descending on the Apostles at Pentecost. Each candidate is anointed with Chrism (laying on of hands), as the bishop says, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” commissioning them like the millions who have been baptized and confirmed since the time of the Apostles, to live lives of faith and witness to Jesus Christ.
Whether Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, it is a truly awesome to imagine that same spirit which descended on the Apostles resides with us here and now in ways we might even be completely unaware of.