The Power of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Faithful
by Fr. Moses Nwabueze Nwokocha, sdv.
The Holy Spirit is an active agent in the life of the church and among Christians. As indicated in the theme of our reflection, we are going to explore the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives as Christians. Every believer ought to be filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore should work under the unction of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I ask: What are the powers of the Holy Spirit working in Christians? And how can a Christians or in our case a Catholic Christian, access that power?
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity. He is the unifying agent that unites the Father and the Son, and the Christians; as well as unites Christians to God. The Holy Spirit is the seal of ownership which God marks on his people (Eph 4:30). It is the Holy Spirit that lightened the darkness of the void world at creation. “But the earth was empty and unoccupied, and darkness was over the face of the abyss; and so, the Spirit of God was brought over the waters” (Gen 1:2 ).
The Holy Spirit in the new dispensation is a gift from God to those who are made his own in baptism (Matt 28:20). During baptism, the baptized receives the Holy Spirit; and the power, gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit are made manifest during confirmation (laying on of hands). In other words, every baptized has the Holy Spirit; but the manifestations of the Holy Spirit depend on the recipient’s disposition towards God and holy things. On these baptized people (male and female; old and poor), the Holy Spirit pours its gifts “of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and piety and the spirit of the fear of the Lord” (Is 11:2-3). These gifts of the Holy Spirit are empowering spiritual gifts given to the baptized and confirmed for the building of the body of Christ, the Church.
Connectedness to the Church is a power the Holy Spirit gives to the believer. It is manifested in the Holy Spirit’s gifts of piety, fear of the Lord and counsel at work within us. Piety serves to align all endeavors in the Church‘s ministry and proclamation to the glory of God, within the Church he established. Fear of the Lord leads us to refuse anything less in our relationship with Christ than everything Christ offers us, and that must include his Church. Counsel is that gift, guided by the gift of wisdom that directs our discernment of how to best proclaim the saving message of the Gospel.The believer needs a connectedness with the one Church, her one Gospel and her pastoral presence to verify the truth of what we profess. The authentication of our message of everlasting life depends on our communion with the Church and solidarity with her pastors.
Another power of the Holy Spirit is a sense of urgency. We see in Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth how the Gospel recounts that Mary set off in haste on a long and difficult journey. There is no time to be lost because our spiritual journey is so important. This urgency urges us to go out, to encounter, to engage and to witness. The gift of the Spirit is not a personal possession – a talent to be buried. Rather, it is a gift that carries with it a sense of outreach. “Always forward.”
Similar to the above is the power of fortitude. Fortitude allows us to stay on the course despite pressures and resistance inviting us to turn away. Today’s secular culture requires missionary disciples to move forward with the strength of the Holy Spirit. The gift of fortitude also tells us with clarity - who we are - children of God and in whose name, we dare go out. In addition, the Holy Spirit bears “fruits of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23) in and among the baptized. These fruits determine the power of the Holy Spirit in a believer.
A search through the sacred scriptures reveals other powers of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of the baptized catholic. Jesus in the gospel of St. John enumerated the powers of the Holy Spirit at work in the baptized catholic. “Jesus said to his disciples: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you”. (Jn 16:12-14)
From the above quotation, one comes to know that the Holy Spirit gives the faithful the disposition to understand the word of God. As Jesus said: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth”. In the church, the Holy Spirit is known as the agent of conversion. Without the Holy Spirit watering the soul, the word of God will only hit the rock. This is why it is best to pray before preaching the word of God. When the Holy Spirit has taken possession, hear what God will say: “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD” (Jer 31:34; Heb 8:11). That is why in the Sequence of the Solemnity of the Holy Spirit, the church prays to the Holy Spirit: “Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray”. No wonder then Jesus said; “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you--they are full of the Spirit and life” (Jn 6:63).
The Holy Spirit bridges the gap between God and the faithful. Again, Jesus said that “He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears”. God in the sacred scriptures and in the Tradition speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. Articulating this point St John in the Book of Revelation often persuades his audience “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying...” (Rev 2:17; 2:29; 3:22). Whether in prayers, or in the sacramental life, it is the Spirit of God who bridges the gap between us and God and brings all we do to fruition. “... the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God”. (Rom 8:26-27)
Referring to the Holy Spirit, Jesus once more said that the “Holy Spirit will declare to you the things that are coming”. Whoever has the Spirit of God is seldom taken unaware. “Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants...” (Amos 3:7). Living in the Spirit implies living in God’s world. And nothing comes as a surprise to God. In the same way, nothing takes a true believer by surprise because he/she is the fulfillment of God’s promise. “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions”. (Joel 2:28).
In addition, Jesus speaking about the Holy Spirit says “He will glorify me”. By this, Jesus means that the believer will only be able to glorify Christ if the person has the Holy Spirit. St. Paul says “Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit”. (1Cor 12:3). Whether we are singing to praise God, or praying the Psalms of praises, or we are doing charity, it is the Spirit of God in us doing them. And Jesus will be glorified.
The Holy Spirit grants courage and confidence. Let us not forget about the power of the Holy Spirit in turning us into good Christian leaders. Remember the men Moses selected for leadership roles among the Israelites in the book of Numbers chapter eleven. And remember how Moses prayed and the Holy Spirit descended on them and prepared them for the leadership role. The Holy Spirit plays an essential role in taking the raw materials of gospel potential and turning them into the sweet fruit of gospel impact. We see this throughout the Scriptures but perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the life of Peter and the rest of the apostles. The apostles were devastated by the events of Jesus’ death: their Master killed, their honour destroyed, their courage and spirit crushed. But all of a sudden, at the descent of the Holy Spirit on them, cowardice was replaced with courage; incredulity was replaced with faith; ignorance was replaced with knowledge and division was replaced with unity. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that made illiterate peasants from Galilee conquer the world without any physical ammunition. The Holy Spirit will spur a Christian to stand up to those who would disparage truth and righteousness and to stand up for the cause of Christ and the gospel. The Holy Spirit graces the faithful with fortitude, courage, boldness borne of confidence in Christ. We cannot be lukewarm, but must be on fire with the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit empowers one against the enemy, physical and spiritual. A Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit does not get intimidated. He/she is combatant because the Holy Spirit turns a timid fellow into a soldier of Christ. Friends, Satan isn't scared of us, but he's terrified of who's within us. Referring to the power of the Holy Spirit in us to overcome our enemies, St. John writes: You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 Jn 4:4). The Holy Spirit within us is far more powerful than the devil.
It is the power of the Holy Spirit that opens up a Christian to identify when he/she is in sin. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, says Jesus, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. (Jn 16:7-8). The profound duty of the Holy Spirit is to let us know when we are doing the wrong thing. Not necessarily to make us plunge into depression but to make us sober, repent of our sins, confess our sins, do penance and get closer to God. He convicts us of sin so that we will draw nearer to the Saviour. But conviction often hurts. It's like being in a dark room for some time and having someone suddenly turn on the light. It hurts your eyes.
The power of the Holy Spirit expands the knowledge of God in the one who has it by leading the person to the knowledge of God through his/her dependence on the sacred scriptures. After the descent of the Holy Spirit, Peter used the scriptures to back up his arguments. See how many Scriptures Peter quoted in his sermon? He quotes Joel 2:28-32, Psalm 16:8-11, and Psalm 110:1, all in an off-the-cuff sermon! Now, we shouldn’t think of Peter as someone who had never heard the Old Testament Scriptures – the Holy Spirit isn’t allowing him to quote passages he’d never heard. But we do see the Holy Spirit bringing the words of Holy Scripture to mind, as an obedient heart rushes to stand up for Christ. The Spirit and Scripture always go together: The Spirit of truth breathes out the Word of truth.
The power of the Holy Spirit in us leads to holy forgetfulness. Let’s be as clear as possible: Peter had plenty of ministry failures in the Gospels. He had betrayed Jesus! Yet, Peter didn’t let his past failures control him or stop him from jumping to the front of the crowd to proclaim the gospel with history-changing results. Peter seemed to forget his past failures and looked at the 'right - now' as a new opportunity to be Christ’s witness. That’s the effect of the Holy Spirit on a leader. Some in our congregations have stepped back when they should have stepped forward, letting an opportunity slip by to suffer for Christ. Some have tried to lead or serve and have messed up royalty. Yet the Holy Spirit helps us act in his power, not our own power. Suddenly our failures don’t paralyze us, and our spotty track records don’t disqualify us. As the Holy Spirit works, we’re ready to forget the failures of our past and claim the day for Christ.
The Holy Spirit grants a Christian the skill of turning a conversation into a message on Christ. The ability of turning any interaction into an opportunity to explain the gospel is an effect of the Holy Spirit. People asked the followers of Jesus why they were talking in foreign languages, and within minutes Peter has turned the situation into a clear explanation of the gospel: Jesus is Lord; you have sinned and crucified him; you must cry to him for salvation and forgiveness; and you can do this by repenting and committing to identify yourself with him and with his people.
Summarizing the powers of the Holy Spirit on a Christian, St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes that the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each human as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of this action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous. The Spirit makes one person a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one person’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good... The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.
Throughout the world women no less than men, tender girls as well as boys, have accepted the Holy Spirit and its powers. The power of the Holy Spirit is responsible of all good things Christians do. It is the power of the Holy Spirit in a believer that has driven out devils, healed the sick and raised the dead. Without the Holy Spirit, a Christian fellow becomes moribund.
May 29, 2020