Trinity by Andrei Rublev
by Arielle Chua
There is a famous icon of the Holy Trinity that can be found in many places. In it, the Trinity is depicted as 3 angels sitting at a table, when they visited Abraham at his tent at Mamre. When I encountered this icon for the first time, I was surprised because the Holy Spirit was also in the form of a person, sitting alongside the Father and the Son. Where was the familiar dove or flame that I was accustomed to seeing?
Later on, I would realise that this instinct to think of the Holy Spirit as not-a-person betrayed my own lack of understanding of who he really is. As we near the feast of Pentecost, we will be sharing a 3-part series which will help us to get to know the Holy Spirit better. Today, we hope to scratch the surface of who the Holy Spirit is.
More Than Just A Dove
When reading the Acts of the Apostles, you might think that the Holy Spirit could be some kind of “power” or “force” called upon by the apostles to show the glory of God. Or maybe we remember the symbols that describe the Holy Spirit. We easily recall the fire at Pentecost, or the dove, and the great gusts of wind that signify the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Yes, these symbols reveal what the Holy Spirit is like, and were probably the best way that human words could describe what it was like to meet the Holy Spirit in that specific time & place. But the Holy Spirit is much more than these.
Perhaps you realise that your understanding of the Holy Spirit has not gone further than the surface description. These symbols aren’t wrong, and they do tell us about the Holy Spirit, but we are always invited to go deeper, to welcome the Holy Spirit in our daily life and know him better.
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is a divine person, co-equal with the Father and the Son. He is not a ‘force’ like what the Jedi masters in Star Wars use to do their bidding. Instead, we are supposed to be the ones who follow the bidding of the Holy Spirit, for, as we profess in the Nicene Creed, the Holy Spirit is Lord.
More Than Just Pentecost
The Holy Spirit Was There From the Beginning
We always hear of the descent of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, also known as Pentecost. Maybe we forget that the Holy Spirit was there from the beginning, and that he continues to be present in the Church today. Yes, the Holy Spirit descended and made himself known in a fuller way at Pentecost, but even before this event, the Spirit has been at work, though hidden (CCC 702).
The Holy Spirit was with God and at work from the beginning. In other words, the Holy Spirit is co-eternal with the Father and the Son. The Catechism illustrates the work of the Spirit through the ages, from the Creation of the world, and all throughout the history of Israel: the time of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, King David, and all the prophets. He is present at the Annunciation, and throughout Jesus’ whole life. Finally, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles at Pentecost, and this is when the Spirit is given to us (CCC 731), no longer hidden, as our advocate and helper. At this point of time, the third person of the Trinity is fully revealed.
The Holy Spirit is Still Acting Today
After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit continues to be with the Church. As promised by Jesus, “the Holy Spirit will … be with us for ever; he will remain with us.” (CCC 729)
Today, the Holy Spirit can be seen in the movements of the Church, in the work and mission of our leaders, the apostles, martyrs, preachers, evangelists. He can be seen in the parish, in everyday people who are building the kingdom. He can be seen in the ordinariness of a family striving to live a holy life. The Holy Spirit is at work in us, and has been at work in us from the moment of our baptism. Pentecost was not a one-and-done event. God has not left us as orphans to fend for ourselves, he has given us his spirit that allows us to cry out “Abba! Father” (Gal 4:6).
Through my own experiences, I have also seen how the Holy Spirit has changed and grown myself, individuals in my community, and people in my parish. He is that gentle nudge, that verse suddenly remembered, the conviction to do what is right. He is with us every day, for his mission is also Christ’s.
Looking at the icon again, I remember the story of the three angels (who are God in disguise), and how Abraham immediately welcomed them into his home. Dear reader, may you also welcome the Holy Spirit with the same enthusiasm, and I pray that you may know him better as God and seek him each day!