In the beginning

Column: To discover the Spirit, read between the lines

by Father Mike Stubbs


Many hymns honor the Holy Trinity verse by verse. Perhaps you will sing one of them this week, when we celebrate Trinity Sunday.

The first verse will focus upon God the Father, the first person of the Holy Trinity. Then the second verse will turn to God the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Finally, the third verse will direct our attention to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity.

Often, though, for reasons of convenience, the third verse is omitted. Many parishes believe that two verses of any hymn are sufficient. In that case, the Holy Spirit gets left out of the picture once again.

The Holy Spirit often appears to be missing. After all, it is hard to conceptualize the Holy Spirit. Compare the Spirit to the other two persons of the Holy Trinity. We can all imagine what Jesus looked like. After all, he had a human body. We can think of God the Father in terms of our own human father. But by definition, the Spirit is invisible. No wonder that the Holy Spirit often appears to be missing from the picture.

That even holds true for the Gospel reading this Sunday, Jn 3:16-18. It begins with the familiar verse: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This verse, and the rest of the passage, mentions the Father and the Son, but appears to leave out the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit is present throughout, even when not mentioned, even though invisible. After all, the coming of the Messiah was foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament, who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. When the right moment arrived, Mary conceived her baby Jesus by means of the Holy Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river, a dove flew down from the heavens, to represent the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Consequently, Jesus went into the desert for 40 days to fast and pray, led there by the Holy Spirit. Throughout his ministry, the Holy Spirit is present with Jesus, because Jesus is anointed with the Holy Spirit. That is why we call Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah — that is to say, the Anointed One.

Jesus is intimately connected to the Holy Spirit, just as he is to the Father. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit is continually revealed — not through any one single event, although Pentecost stands out — but throughout Jesus’ life. The Holy Spirit is constantly present behind the scenes, always at work, even when unnoticed. We just have to look more closely.

In the same way, the Holy Spirit is present in Sunday’s Gospel reading. We only have to read between the lines.

About the author

Fr. Mike Stubbs

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