The Gift of God
“It is the gift of the Holy Spirit Who makes us like the Son and puts us in a filial relationship with the Father: in the one Spirit through Christ we have access to the Father.”
-Pope John Paul II (cf. Ephesians 2:18)
When someone offers another person a gift, the first thing the receiver should do is acknowledge the gift, then express gratitude for it, and finally, put it to good use. This is especially true if God is the Giver of the gift and we are the receivers. God does, in fact, give us many gifts and blessings every day. Everything we are, everything we have, is ultimately a gift from Him.
The “Forgotten God”
One of God’s greatest gifts to us is one He Himself calls “the Gift of God” (John 4:10). It is a reference to the Holy Spirit, Whom He in His great love has bestowed so generously upon us! One would think that because we have received such a priceless Gift from God, we would esteem and treasure it above all His other gifts—acknowledging it, expressing gratitude for it, and using it as God intended us to! Yet, the sad fact is that God’s most precious Gift to us, the Holy Spirit, is often not acknowledged; indeed, He is often unknown. He has, for this reason, so frequently been referred to as the “Forgotten God” among the Three Divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity!
The assumption underlying this book is that many Christians, especially many Catholics, do not know and love the Holy Spirit as they should in their personal lives. But this is not a new situation by any means. It is reflected right in the Sacred Scriptures, and it has been recognized over the Church’s long history even from its earliest centuries. A few examples will illustrate this clearly.
Examples from the New Testament
This problem is very clearly presented at least twice in the pages of the New Testament. Let us look briefly at these examples.
The Samaritan Woman
The first instance is Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-42). In this incident, the woman has come to draw water from the common well for the day’s cooking and cleaning. When the Lord looks at her, He knows the sinful condition of her life, as He Himself will later point out to her: “You have had five (husbands), and the man you are living with now is not your husband!” (John 4:18).
However, Jesus is the Good Shepherd seeking one of His lost sheep. He is the Divine Physician wanting to heal one of His own from moral sickness. So He initiates a conversation with the woman by means of a seemingly simple and obvious request: “Give me a drink” (John 4:7).
After all, Jesus has just come off a long journey, and presumably it was quite hot, because—as the Gospel tells us—it is “about noon.”
The Samaritan woman, in turn, not knowing Who Jesus really is, takes offense at His request. She sees nothing in common with Him; in fact, she sees only differences and hostility! Why speak to Him? “The Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘You are a Jew.’ How can You ask me, a Samaritan and a woman for a drink?”(Recall that Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans; John 4:9).
But Jesus had come precisely to be a “peacemaker.” So, despite the Samaritan woman’s untrusting attitude, He replies with a remark that is obviously meant to stir her curiosity further in regard to Who He really is: “If only you recognized God’s Gift, and Who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him instead, and He would have given you Living Water” (John 4:10).
Here Our Lord begins to reveal His hidden identity and all that He could do for her. Because she did not know His true identity and power, she had mistakenly felt she was in a position to control the giving; after all, she could allow Jesus to use her bucket to get Himself a drink of water out of the deep well. In reality, however, it was Jesus Who could give so much more to her than she could ever possibly give to Him. The woman could give water that would quench the thirst of the body; Jesus could give “Living Water,” the Holy Spirit, Who could quench the thirst of the soul. The rather stagnant well water would satisfy for a time; the “Living Water” would satisfy for all eternity.
It was obvious that the Samaritan woman did not know Jesus; furthermore, in her sinfulness she could not recognize “the Gift of God,” the Holy Spirit! However, once she resolved to turn from her sins, she began to receive the first stirrings of the Holy Spirit. As a result, she excitedly ran off like a great missionary and shared the “good news” about Jesus. She enthusiastically told her friends and neighbors all that Jesus had said to her. Through her joyful witness, nearly her whole village came to believe in Him.
How many Catholics, even today, despite receiving the Holy Spirit both at their Baptism and Confirmation, fully realize or appreciate this priceless treasure? Might not Our Lord’s words to the Samaritan woman— “If only you recognized the Gift of God”—also apply to us? What a difference it would make if only we appreciated the Holy Spirit in our daily Christian lives! How much more alive our own faith in Jesus would become. Like the Samaritan woman, we would enthusiastically share the same “good news” about Jesus with those whose lives we touch.
The Disciples at Ephesus
A second New Testament example of not appreciating the Holy Spirit involves St. Paul on his third missionary journey. He had just arrived at Ephesus. “There Paul found some disciples to whom he put the question: ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They answered, ‘We have not so much as heard that there is a Holy Spirit’” (Acts 19:1-2).
In reality, they had received only the baptism of St. John the Baptist. This was not the Christian Sacrament of Baptism. Rather, it was a sign of accepting the Baptist’s message of moral conversion from a life of sin. It also indicated a readiness to accept the promised Messiah Whose mission among the people was about to begin. Apparently, this group of disciples had not heard St. John the Baptist say: “I am baptizing you in water, but there is One to come Who is mightier than I. I am not fit to loosen His sandal strap. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire” (Luke 3:16).
St. Paul then taught the group about Jesus and His teaching. Since they believed what he taught them, he baptized them in Jesus’ Name. When he then laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 19:4-6).
Perhaps the experience of these disciples reflects a similar situation in the lives of many Catholics today who, through no fault of their own, have received little or no teaching about the Holy Spirit. Maybe it was passed over as unimportant, or as too difficult to present. Or perhaps it was treated so superficially, it left almost no impression at all. As a result, many Catholics today might well echo the surprised statement of those disciples at Ephesus long ago: “We have not so much as heard that there is a Holy Spirit!”
This article is taken from a chapter in The Gift of God: the Holy Spirit by Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R. which is available from TAN Books.