Have you ever heard Pentecost Sunday referred to as the birthday of the Church? Indeed, this is true! This solemn feast commemorates the day when the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles, bereft after Christ’s ascension. This gift of the Spirit gave them the power to go among all peoples preaching the gospel of Christ, thus beginning the Church. Jesus had told them that He must leave so that the Holy Spirit could come, Who would comfort them. But as St. John Henry Newman teaches in his sermon “The Indwelling Spirit,” we must grasp the Holy Spirit in a deeper way so as to fully comprehend this great gift offered to each one of us. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, God Himself, Who resides in us. This is His “indwelling.”
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is God taking up permanent residence in the heart of those who have been reborn by belief in Christ as Savior. As Newman writes, “This wonderful change from darkness to light, through the entrance of the Spirit into the soul, is called Regeneration, or the New Birth; a blessing which, before Christ’s coming, not even Prophets and righteous men possessed, but which is now conveyed to all men freely through the Sacrament of Baptism.”
This spirit was present throughout all time, as recorded in the Old Testament, but in a different way. As St. John Henry writes,
“These were great mercies; yet, great as they were, they are as nothing compared with that surpassing grace with which we Christians are honoured; that great privilege of receiving into our hearts, not the mere gifts of the Spirit, but His very presence, Himself, by a real not a figurative indwelling.”
At Pentecost the Spirit began to indwell those who belong to God through Christ in a more direct way than before. Jesus predicted not only the coming of the Spirit who would live within His people, but also the new role the Spirit of Truth would play in their lives. Before the resurrection and Pentecost, the Spirit was with the disciples and influenced them, but He did not yet “indwell” them. As St. Newman writes:
“(…)He has come, not merely in the way of gifts, or of influences, or of operations, as He came to the Prophets, for then Christ’s going away would be a loss, and not a gain, and the Spirit’s presence would be a mere pledge, not an earnest; but He comes to us as Christ came, by a real and personal visitation (…)”
Newman goes as far as to call this “the substitution of His Spirit for Himself, and that, both in the Church and in the souls of individual Christians.” The apostle Paul explained this same truth about the Spirit’s indwelling: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Because believers have been purchased for God by the blood of Christ, shed on the cross for our sins, our bodies become a living temple where the Spirit of God resides. Newman expands,
“Such is the inhabitation of the Holy Ghost within us, applying to us individually the precious cleansing of Christ’s blood in all its manifold benefits. Such is the great doctrine, which we hold as a matter of faith, and without actual experience to verify it to us.”
The purpose of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is many-faceted, as St. John Henry teaches in this sermon. Firstly, the Spirit creates new life in believers, as he explains,
“ He impresses on us our Heavenly Father’s image, which we lost when Adam fell, and disposes us to seek His presence by the very instinct of our new nature.”
Secondly, “The indwelling of the Holy Ghost raises the soul, not only to the thought of God, but of Christ also.” St. John Henry reminds us of Christ’s promise of the indwelling of the Trinity in those who love Him. And explains that, “The Spirit came especially to ‘glorify’ Christ; and vouchsafes to be a shining light within the Church and the individual Christian, reflecting the Saviour of the world in all His perfections, all His offices, all His works.”
And thirdly, the indwelling of the spirit is so that our Joy will be complete.This is the lasting joy that Christ had promised his disciples and is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, removing any doubts, gloom, or impatience.
St. Josemaría Escrivá teaches that our response to this great gift is docility:
“ . . . . because it is the Holy Spirit who, with his inspirations, gives a supernatural tone to our thoughts, desires and actions. It is he who leads us to receive Christ’s teaching and to assimilate it in a profound way. It is he who gives us the light by which we perceive our personal calling and the strength to carry out all that God expects of us. If we are docile to the Holy Spirit, the image of Christ will be formed more and more fully in us, and we will be brought closer every day to God the Father. “For whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the children of God.” (Christ is passing by, 135)
This is a most glorious and uplifting realization that until we die, the Spirit remains within us, renewing and sanctifying us, comforting us in trials, and sustaining us in afflictions. With the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are never alone, never lost, and never without His power.
Come Holy Spirit!