WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Sandra Prather says the action of the Holy Spirit can be seen throughout the Bible.
As the College of Cardinals elected a new pope March 13, the eyes of the secular world were fixed upon the Church.
Sandra Prather, a teacher in the areas of faith and spirituality, said that this provided a prime opportunity for New Evangelization, a chance to show the world what the Church - and the Holy Spirit - is all about.
However, TV news stories about the conclave depicted the Church as a corporation and the pope as its CEO. The secular world only recognized the human structure of the Church, said Prather, but missed the mark by not seeing its divine components.
"We do believe, and our faith affirms it in the witness of our tradition, that the Holy Spirit is present in our Church, leading us and guiding us," she said.
Prather was the executive director of the Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert for 21 years. She continues leading retreats, seminars and workshops for various groups.
At the Catholic Pastoral Centre on March 19 she led a session on the Nicene Creed. Fourth in a seven-part catechesis series, her presentation included three 20-minute talks on the Holy Spirit.
During group discussions, people shared how they experienced the Holy Spirit in their personal lives, the Church, and in the world.
With the imagery, metaphors and symbols used to describe the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the least visible of the three persons. While Father and Son are based on images of relationship and persons, the Scriptures describe the Holy Spirit as fire, water, wind or breath – images more difficult to relate to.
"Simply because we cannot put that same kind of face on the Spirit, it doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit is unknowable. We come to know the Spirit through its actions," said Prather.
The Holy Spirit guides and unifies the Church, and is the giver of gifts.
Various images are used to describe the Trinity. Some depict the Father as the sun in the sky, Jesus as the beam of light shining down upon the Earth and the Holy Spirit as the warming effect. Another image describes the Father as a fire, the Son as the brightness of the light, and the Holy Spirit as the warmth.
"As the one who speaks through the prophets, the Holy Spirit is explicitly the revealer of the divine saving action and will in the world. The Holy Spirit is God reaching out to us, the hands of God in the world," said Prather.
In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is a manifestation of God's strength, dynamism and creative power. In the first chapter of Genesis, the Spirit broods over chaos, the agent through whom the will of God was worked so that cosmos came out of chaos, light from darkness and order out of disorder.
"We come to life and are sustained through the breath of God. It says (in Genesis) that the clay form lived. That's a beautiful image of how God's breath is the source of our life," said Prather.
The Holy Spirit worked in diverse ways throughout Israel's history, stirring up its leaders.
"The Holy Spirit is a cleansing Spirit, helps them to keep the Commandments, and this Spirit is grieved by their sins. The Spirit of God is present in and among the people," said Prather.
The Holy Spirit is even more evident in the New Testament. The Spirit is at work all through Jesus' life, including the Annunciation, his baptism, before he is tempted in the desert, through his public ministry, and even at his death and resurrection.
The Holy Spirit is also seen in John's Gospel, at Pentecost and in the life of Paul.
Among the gifts of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, generosity, faith and self-control. Through Baptism, people live in the Spirit and receive these gifts.
All sons and daughters of God are called to be cooperators with the Holy Spirit in creation, in their relationships and in the social world, she said.
"God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, so wherever we find real authentic love, we find God. When we live in relationships of intimacy, friendship, married love, parental love, we find the Spirit," said Prather.
The Holy Spirit helps Christians address modern quandaries that Jesus never had to face, such as reproductive technologies and nuclear weapons. Through the Holy Spirit's presence, people can discern what needs to be done to make correct moral decisions.
"If you think the Church was a reality instituted by Christ 2,000 years ago and there it stays, any kind of growth or change is going to feel like heresy.
"But if you believe the Spirit is an ongoing, active, powerful presence within the hierarchy and the people of God, that the Spirit is leading us, then you will be open to seeing where the Church needs to change and how it can change," said Prather.
Her complete talks are available on the archdiocesan website. The next session in the series will be on The Church April 10 with presenter Archbishop Richard Smith.