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The Holy Spirit: like a bed for the weary traveller
In the Scriptures and in the writings of the saints of the Church, the Holy Spirit is likened to many different things: the breath of God, the finger of God and a freely moving wind; also to a dove, to fire and to water; and to a counsellor, an advocate, a witness, a judge and a teacher.
When we think about the Holy Spirit, about who he is and what he does, we need such concrete images to help us comprehend, in the way we can, his nature. Each one of these metaphors is a rich source of insight into the person of the Holy Spirit and his work in the Church and in the world.
One of the most surprising and unusual images used to describe the Holy Spirit and his work is to be found in the writings of the 14th century Italian mystic and Doctor of the Church, St Catherine of Siena. Catherine has many unique and highly imaginative ways of speaking about God and one of these is that the Holy Spirit is like a bed (Letter to Suor Costanza, T73/G154). And what Catherine has in mind is not just any bed but specifically a bed seen through the eyes of a weary traveller.
In the 14th century, travelling was done mostly on foot and was an exhausting, painful and often dangerous undertaking. Through the eyes of a 14th century traveller, a bed represented, as it does for us, a place of rest; but for such a traveller it also represented a place of safety.
To travellers in pain, a bed represented a place of healing and recuperation as well as a place to reflect on the journey, regain perspective and find renewed strength and energy for the rest of the journey.
St Catherine, who herself did much travelling in her short life, recognised in a simple bed an image to help us understand the nature and the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit does for us what a bed does for a weary traveller. A bed is where we sleep, receive all the life-giving and life-maintaining benefits of rest. During sleep we are refreshed, our energy replenished and the effects of stress and fatigue are neutralised.
Each of us is a pilgrim in this world, journeying to our home in heaven. The Holy Spirit works in our lives in much the same way as a bed. We need the Holy Spirit in our lives so that our spirits can be restored and refreshed, so that we can be renewed and strengthened, and find relief from the pain we suffer as pilgrims on a journey.
We need the Holy Spirit so that the spiritual diseases we suffer may be fought and overcome. All these benefits are given to us in the Holy Spirit and come to us when we allow the Holy Spirit to do for us what he so wants to do.
In each of our lives there have been times, very probably, when we have suffered from a lack of sleep. This can limit one's ability to think, feel and function in a well-ordered way - much like intoxication. Without sleep a person can lose control.
These kinds of symptoms may be suffered by anyone who is deprived of sleep, but they have also become traits of the kind of society in which we live.
Today in our society there is a great deal of anger, confusion and disorientation. The ability of people to think clearly and rationally and to express emotion appropriately and in due proportion have become greatly impaired for many people.
The increase in violent crime; in alcohol and drug abuse; in promiscuity - all these increases are symptoms of a society which is suffering a profound restlessness.
What society in its right mind would condone, for example, as ours does, the killing of its most defenceless members, namely, the unborn? What society in its right mind would allow, as ours does, the practice of so much that is immoral and depraved?
If our society as a whole exhibits the symptoms of a kind of sleep deprivation, it is only because the individuals within it are suffering the same.
Our souls, our spirits, need to be refreshed and renewed, healed and repaired. Supplying such needs is the work of the Holy Spirit within us, in as much as we surrender ourselves to him - just as every night we surrender ourselves to our beds.
Every Sunday is a day of rest. It is God's law that this day be given to rest because He knows we need to rest in order to live, and to live happily. Observing the weekly sabbath, keeping the third commandment, is one way of ensuring that the Holy Spirit can work in our lives. Keeping holy the sabbath day, and indeed all of the commandments, is one way of entrusting ourselves to the Holy Spirit.
Receiving the sacraments, and pre-eminently the Holy Eucharist, is another indispensable way of giving ourselves to the Holy Spirit. Regular daily prayer - a kind of resting in God - is another.
Among all the ways of entrusting ourselves to the Holy Spirit is the annual celebration of the feast of Pentecost.
At Pentecost the risen Jesus sends his and the Father's Spirit among us in the fulness of his power. It especially should be a day of rest so that this gift from the Father and the Son may accomplish within us and within our society the work only he can do and the work which is so sorely needed.
Fr Leo Duck was ordained in 1983 and is a priest of the Diocese of Wollongong. He has a licentiate in spiritual theology from the Angelicum University, Rome. The present article is adapted from a homily prepared for the Feast of Pentecost.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 17 No 5 (June 2004), p. 20
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