One of my favorite works of art here in Rome is Bernini’s Chair of Peter. This masterpiece employs a variety of media in typically Baroque fashion: the chair and the Fathers of the Church are made of bronze, the Holy Spirit is alabaster, and the angels surrounding the Holy Spirit are gold stucco.
In an equally Baroque manner, it portrays dramatic motion that breaks through the barrier between art and reality and comes into our space. The Holy Spirit appears to be exploding into the Basilica with amazing power: the angelic figures surrounding it are blown back from the dove, even as some try to go towards it.
A Gentle Wave
Although the Third Person of the Holy Trinity is often referred to as “Gentle Guest of the Soul”, his gentleness in no way diminishes his power, and I can say that from personal experience. Although he never forces himself upon us and always awaits our consent, as soon as we give it, he does indeed feel like an explosion as all of his divine energy is manifested in our lives.
I like to think of life in the Spirit as surfing, but with one big difference: as powerful as this “wave” is, it protects and cares for us, never letting us fall or topple. The Holy Spirit is mighty, yet gentle. While he can amaze and disconcert, perhaps making us a little nervous, he never harms us and he always looks out for our personal well-being.
Explosion into my Life
The first time that the Holy Spirit exploded into my life was not long after I received the sacrament of confirmation at the age of 14. Although at the time I barely knew what I was doing, looking back there is no doubt that confirmation marked a major turning point in my life.
With my confirmation began an amazing series of events (material for a whole other blog!) that led me to make a radical, life-changing decision, one that I attribute to Holy Spirit: I decided to leave home to enter a minor seminary.
It was a huge decision, and people have asked me whether I was ready to take such a step. All that I can say is that, despite my age, I was entirely convinced – I simply knew it. Beyond any doubt, I was certain that God was calling me to the priesthood, and this conviction has remained undiminished for the past 15 years.
My journey since then has been an amazing one: it has been one long explosion of the Holy Spirit. He has taken me to places I never dreamed I would live and had me do things that I never dreamed I would be able to do, all along purifying me and drawing me closer to himself. I have been pushed out of my comfort zone, learned new languages, and met amazing people.
Exploding through the Centuries
On Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, the day that the Holy Spirit burst into the lives of the Apostles and poured himself upon the infant Church. It was the beginning of one big explosion that has lasted for almost two millennia. From Pentecost onward, each of the Apostles was caught up in the Holy Spirit and led to do incredible things, everything that Christ had promised them before his Ascension in Heaven:
These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up deadly serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover. – Mark 16:17-18
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. – John 14:12
We have to realize that as members of the Body of Christ, we are a part of this same explosion of the Holy Spirit into the world and into history. Even though we are human beings constricted by time and space, the Holy Spirit transcends these limitations and does amazing things through us. When we open ourselves to his action, we should not be surprised when amazing things start happening.