Every year at Pentecost the Church commemorates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary as they gathered in Jerusalem awaiting the “promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4): the gift of the Holy Spirit that continues to be poured out upon the disciples of Jesus. At Pentecost, we celebrate all the ways in which the Holy Spirit is present and active in our lives and in the lives of those we love and serve. For those who have devoted themselves to the service of the sick and suffering, we might reflect upon the ways in which the Holy Spirit is present and active in the lives of the persons for whom we care and how the Holy Spirit can work in us for them.
The Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life
In the Nicene Creed we profess, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.” We see this life-giving work of the Holy Spirit in the creation of the world. Genesis tells us that when “God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1), “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). We see the Holy Spirit’s role most especially in the creation of the human being. When God formed a man out of the dust of the ground, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7). In the Biblical languages, ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ are signified by the same words. When we read that God breathed into the body of the man, we are meant to understand that God gave life to the man through the working of God’s life-giving Spirit. When the God’s people had fallen into sin, God promised to restore them by the gift of the Spirit: “I will put my spirit within you . . . and I will be your God” (Ezek 36:27-28). The Holy Spirit is also the giver of new life in Christ. We read in Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11).
The Holy Spirit is the giver of life, the restorer of life, and the renewer of life. When a person is sick, it the Holy Spirit who is able to restore again the life that is His gift. We do well to pray to the Holy Spirit for healing. In fact, “gifts of healing” are among the gifts of the Spirit enumerated by Saint Paul (see 1 Cor 12:9). We also pray to the Holy Spirit for the renewal of the inner life of the sick person. Saint Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit dwells in us as in a temple. When a person is sick, especially if that person is in danger of death, we pray that the Holy Spirit will be working in their hearts and giving life to their souls.
The Holy Spirit Speaks through the Prophets
We also profess in the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit has “spoken through the prophets.” This certainly means we believe the Holy Spirit has inspired the spoken and written words of the Old Testament prophets and the Biblical writers. But Scripture also says that the Holy Spirit speaks in us. Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12). Saint Paul says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).
It can be difficult to know what to say to a person who is sick and suffering. Yet, the kind words of a doctor or nurse can be a great consolation to a hospitalized patient. Words of encouragement, faith and prayer from a chaplain or Eucharistic minister can go a long way. The Holy Spirit can give us those words. The Holy Spirit can speak through us and give to our words the power of God’s Word.
The Holy Spirit is the Advocate
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name – he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit is the Advocate. The Greek word we translate as “advocate” (paraclitos) can also be translated using a variety of other English words, including “counselor’, ‘comforter’, ‘defender’, and ‘mediator’. This range of meanings suggests that we can call upon the Holy Spirit for different kinds of help in different sets of circumstances. Saint Paul tells us that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” and “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26)
It is comforting to know that the Holy Spirit is an advocate and intercessor for the sick people in our care. We are all weak and in need of the Spirit’s comfort, counsel and protection. However, the sick and suffering are afflicted with different kinds of weakness and have a variety of particular needs. It is good to know that the Spirit helps them in their weakness. It is also good to remind our sick brothers and sisters of that promise. Come, Holy Spirit!