Fire. A Dove. A mighty rushing wind.
All these are symbols that Scripture gives us of the Holy Spirit of God. They convey His power, His presence throughout the world and, at the same time, the difficulty in understanding and seeing His mighty work.
In today’s gospel, Jesus provides us with another image of His Holy Spirit. It is the image of water.
Water is essential for human life. Particularly in the harsh desert climate that Jesus lived in, no one could survive for long without it. In our own day, the first sign of potential life that scientist look for on other planets is the presence of water. Just so, the Spirit of God is a Spirit of life.
In the book of Genesis, we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters on the first day of creation bringing form to the void and life out of nothing. When the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit who overshadows her to conceive our Saviour in her virgin womb. And on the day of Pentecost, it is the Holy Spirit who rushes in like a mighty wind upon the apostles and Mary gathered in prayer in the upper room to give birth to the Church. That same Holy Spirit gives life to the Church today, pulsing through all the baptized, empowering us to live the good news, to care for those in need and to show love to the abandoned. Like water refreshing a parched and weary traveler, the Holy Spirit brings comfort to all those who believe in Jesus and life to those who call upon His name.
Today’s gospel is set during the Festival of Booths when the Jews commemorate how God provided water for them from the rock while they wandered in the desert. Remember that God had liberated them from slavery in Egypt but the road to freedom ran through a desert. There was little food and no water, and the people began to fear that they would not survive. They began to wonder whether they had made a mistake in trusting God and His servant, Moses. To provide His people with water, God commanded Moses to strike a rock and immediately water began to flow from it for the people to drink. It was a reminder to the people - and to us - that God is near even when He seems far away and that He can provide for all our needs no matter how impossible or dire our circumstances may be.
It is during the greatest day of this festival that Jesus cries out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me; Let him drink who believes in me.” He is telling those who heard Him that it is He who gives the living water, that is the Holy Spirit, to all those who believe. Just as God provided water to His people in the desert, so Jesus provides His Holy Spirit to those who live in a desert of selfishness, individualism, poverty and persecution. Unlike water which can only nourish us for a short while, the Spirit of God sustains us always so that we never experience thirst again.
Jesus goes on to say, “Scripture has it: ‘From within him rivers of living water flow.’” We who are baptized and who are the fulfillment of God’s promise, experience the Holy Spirit as a fountain of life within us. Within our heart and soul, the living power of God bubbles up giving us inspiration, encouragement, comfort and peace. Even if we were to be locked away in a dungeon with no light and no contact with the outside world, we would experience the presence of God within us leading us by faith. The refreshing, life-giving water is always flowing within us.
Of course, a river or well is no good unless we go there ourselves to get water. Unless we turn the faucet on, the water stays in the pipes. Just so, if we are to draw on the power of God’s Spirit within us, we must turn to Him in prayer. Prayer connects us with the Spirit and unleashes His life within us. Perhaps a good meditation for us during this week would be to imagine ourselves with a bucket going to a fountain of water. As we try to catch the bubbling water into our bucket, we can imagine all the blessings God wants to shower us with - peace, joy, love, happiness and whatever it is we may need at the moment. We can imagine ourselves being cleansed and refreshed at the fountain.
If we were to spend ten to fifteen minutes everyday this week in that prayer, we would notice a big difference in our lives. We would feel centered and focused throughout the day. We would be at peace no matter what difficulties we faced. Whenever we may feel confused or out of sorts, we would develop the habit of looking within ourselves for the strength of God within us. And we would develop trust in the Spirit to lead us in all circumstances. In short, through the power of daily prayer and the Holy Spirit within us, we would be transformed daily into the image and likeness of Christ.
Saint Paul assures us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and helps us in our prayer. The Christian life is essentially coming to abandon ourselves through the grace of God to the impulses of the Holy Spirit within us. It takes our whole life to learn how to do it, but it is possible for each of us through baptism and the power of faith. We need only take the time to pray each day, read the Bible and receive Jesus in the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist to make that promise a reality in our lives.
This day, the Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the gift of God’s Holy Spirit poured out upon all believers. He is the life of God Himself breathed into the soul of all believers, the living water that refreshes us. Let us go to the well always and draw deeply from the depth of His love. Nothing else can provide us with that for which our soul thirsts - God Himself living and active in each of us through faith.