Saturday, December 13, 2008

Understanding faith in God via Catholic topics (4)

While thinking about how to structure the next segment of my topic regarding priests and the priesthood, I realize that everyone will better understand and benefit if I make an aside and introduce a topic that is foundational, which is to understand the Holy Spirit. This is because I realize that as impressed as readers are by my pointing out the apostolic succession of the laying on of hands and their ability to consecrate through the Holy Spirit, it is easy to misunderstand what exactly is meant by the Holy Spirit, the nature of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the problems many have with understanding not only Catholic doctrine, but their own Christian denomination’s doctrine, whatever that may be. Therefore, here are some easy to understand discussions of the Holy Spirit just to provide a basic and sound foundation.

The Spirit is mentioned everywhere in the Bible. Thus the idea of the Holy Spirit is not something that Christians imagined or made up in order to explain the unseen, but rather, God specifically states on some occasions that he is going to do this, or he is going to do that, while at other times God specifically refers to the Spirit. You need go no further than the very first three lines of the Bible to observe this distinction.

Genesis 1:1-3
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;
The earth was waste and void;
Darkness covered the abyss, and the spirit of God was stirring above the waters.
God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good.

Remember, the information in Genesis was provided by God to Moses. Thus Moses (and the scribes after him who copied and passed down what Moses received from God) was very careful to be as precise as humanly possible (and God would have guided them in that). Thus, the use of the word “spirit” in Genesis 1:2 is the deliberate phrasing of God, and not just an artistic or ignorant manner of human speech. So why would God express himself as God in certain circumstances in the Bible, yet as the Spirit at other times? Why would God “be” God sometimes, and “be” the Holy Spirit other times? And, for that matter, how can Christians believe that Jesus Christ is Son of God, and thus is part of the Almighty, yet pray to God and clearly state that God is the Father and is still in heaven while Jesus was on earth? Let us look at an analogy (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

This is an analogy that is absolutely theologically incorrect and inadequate, but it is absolutely valuable and valid for humans to better understand God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in proper context, so use this analogy with confidence. We all know, or at least can imagine, a fine, righteous and upstanding man, one who has a living father, who has a son of his own, and who has a job. This same man will have a certain relationship between himself and his son. Yet, when that man is with his own father, he is the same man but the relationship is different when one speaks to the father who raised you, than when you are with one’s own son. Then, imagine that this good man also has a job that requires him to be inspirational to his employees and to his colleagues, to customers, and indeed, all around him. For the analogy remember this could be any form of job; I am not speaking of a religious vocation kind of job. He might be a construction manager, a military man, in the government, a teacher, the director of a not for profit agency, or in charge of purchasing for a grocery store chain. Whatever this man’s job, he must inspire and exhort those around him to trust in him, to trust each other, and to do the very best that they can at all times.

You can see, then, that this is the same man, but one whom with goodness and precision unfailingly meets the needs of the situation. When he is the father he provides love, guidance and structure. When he is the son he transmits the values he obtained from his father, and treats his father in turn with love and respect, obeying the wishes of his father. When he is the inspirational leader with his words and example he transmits to the many shared goodness of objective, and thus he “gets things done” through many hands other than his own. Likewise, as a first step of understanding, you can think of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the same way. Obviously God is God, and only God. But God as all knowing and being of everything that ever was or ever could be, is filled with goodness and precision in how he uses his almighty powers, his will, in specific situations. He does this in order to accomplish two things:

1) Provide for a richness and diversity of dialogue with humans, so that there are many ways to experience God’s love, his touch and his dialogue in one’s life,
2) To make the influence of God easier to understand and to relate to by humans.

This is, obviously, one reason that Jesus Christ was born of a woman, born as a human, and not, let’s say, a big talking multi-colored rock. It would be more difficult for humans to love and have confidence in God-to say nothing of understanding him-if God had sent a multiple light pulsing hunk of unidentifiable rock with supernatural powers that voiced its love for humans, but did not walk with them, teach them, go fishing with them, argue with the scribes and Pharisees with them, be hungry with them, comfort them when they have sinned, and ultimately, proved with his own body that there is life after death when God resurrected him. How could one better understand God than through Jesus? Through Jesus, God is not only providing salvation and helping humans to better understand, love and serve God, but God is also helping humans to better understand the reality and nature of life, both earthly and eternal, and also to better understand their own human nature. Thus, Jesus Christ is also a role model, which is why he is often called “The New Adam,” as Jesus demonstrated how humans should behave, rather than how they do and did.

In the same way, God is the Holy Spirit and works through the Holy Spirit in order to individualize his internal dialogue with each and every person on earth (believer or not). Again, the Holy Spirit is a companion to all, no matter what their state in life, rather than, to use the example above, a mighty rock dropped in the midst that provides “answers” and demonstrates power. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, moving like the air, or like water, among all humans all the time, working on each heart and soul in a totally individual way, one human being at a time. I’ve just posted the series of posts on the topic of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. Well, you can also think of the Holy Spirit as the first gift of God to humans: the gift of God himself in the perpetual presence of his inspiration among humans and indeed within each human, no matter what is their station in life.

So this should help you understand that God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the constancy of God himself but comprises the way that God himself has chosen to interact with and love humans for their own ease of understanding and their own betterment.

Second, this should help you to understand that the Holy Spirit is not at all the same as “magic,” or “spirituality.” Humans cannot control the Holy Spirit or use the “power” of the Holy Spirit to perform arcane or extrasensory actions. Further, one cannot “summon” or “accumulate” the Holy Spirit, the way that the false prophets, the New Agers and the magicians, feel that they can “manipulate” natural and spiritual “forces.” How to make this even clearer to you? First of all, think of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. None of them grant power and control over either natural forces or human behavior or “spirituality.” All of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are attributes received through grace that elevate the goodness of the human who receives them and enhances their dialogue with God, not their dialogue or control of fellow human beings, or any part of God’s creation. The second way to make the difference clearer is to think of the analogy of the good boss: he transmits the role model and the inspiration through his own words and deeds, not by giving the employees a larger “tool” or tangible object. Likewise the Holy Spirit’s gifts are all about dialogue with God; they are not about nor can they be used for manipulating physical or spiritual phenomena.

You can better understand this by studying the greatest example of the Holy Spirit’s interaction with humans, which is Pentecost. Read this:

Acts 2:1-13
And when the days of Pentecost were drawing to a close, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a violent wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as of fire, which settled upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign tongues, even as the Holy Spirit prompted them to speak.
Now there were staying at Jerusalem devout Jews from every nation under heaven. And when this sound was heard, the multitude gathered and were bewildered in mind, because each heard them speaking in his own language. But they were all amazed and marveled, saying, “Behold, are not all these that are speaking Galileans? And how have we heard each is own language in which he was born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and visitors from Rome. Jews also and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we have heard them speaking in our own languages of the wonderful works of God.”
And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others said in mockery, “They are full of new wine.”

Now, the first thing to notice is the sound coming from heaven, like a violent wind that filled the entire house. God does not need to have touches of “drama,” so why is the Holy Spirit expressed first as this great wind? This is so humans would be able to observe and understand that they are receiving a gift. God made it clear as a matter of both faith and reason that he is giving them a gift, and that their sudden abilities would not be perceived as being the result of one’s own talents, or other “explanations.” So the characteristic wind of the Holy Spirit is the knock on the door so that people can perceive they are about to receive a gift from God.

Second, the Holy Spirit appears as a flickering flame (that is what the parted tongues means, to show that the flame is alive), one flame for each of the faithful who were gathered there. Again, why is this? So that it is not misunderstood as “magic”; only each of the faithful received their own parted flame. So it is not like the room became “enchanted” or that this “power” descended upon everyone in the vicinity. If, for example, a scribe who persecuted Jesus Christ happened to be walking by that house, it’s not like he would suddenly be walloped by the Holy Spirit and “converted” or “enlightened.” Each gift of the Holy Spirit is targeted to the recipients who were waiting for what Jesus Christ had promised to send them from God. So this is to help you better understand that this was not some group “enlightenment”; it was highly targeted and individual.

Further proof that it was individual is that each person now heard the other speak “the wonderful works of God” (in other words, they spontaneously started to preach) in their native languages. Here is how to better understand what happened. Think of a big urban area such as Los Angeles, New York or London, where there are many immigrants who have many different native languages, yet they all speak English in order to get along in everyday life. These disciples were like that, born of many different places, yet understanding Aramaic and Hebrew in order to have daily converse in Jerusalem. Suddenly, instead of hearing each other speak in Aramaic or Hebrew, or even Greek, they hear each other speaking in their own native language. Each person is not speaking in his or her own language; they are hearing the other person speak to them in their own native language! They were not babbling in unknown tongues, far from it, and they did not receive “instant multi-lingual ability.” Here is what happened. Suppose you were the only Roman who was born speaking Latin in the room. You would have then heard the other disciples speak to you in your native Latin! In turn, they would have heard you speak to them in whatever was their own native language.

Many people have misunderstood this passage thinking that it means that people were either babbling in mysterious arcane language or suddenly gained ability to speak in multiple languages. It is neither and instead, a very precise visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit occurred. People listened to each other and heard the other person speak to them in their own “homeland” language.

We know that people were not actually speaking aloud with new language abilities because observers who were not disciples thought that the claims that people were hearing each other speak in their own native languages as being the result of drunkenness. If people were actually, for example, all suddenly proficient in Latin, to stick with our example, bystanders would have noticed that they were speaking in Latin. Instead, it’s like the Roman turned to an unbeliever and said, “That guy just preached to me in my home language of Latin!” and the bystander says, “I didn’t hear anything and he didn’t say anything other than his usual language; you must have imagined hearing him speak Latin to you because you are drunk.”

It is St. Peter, in his discourse, who understands what happened and explained it to those gathered. He correctly understood the language phenomenon as a SIGN of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, not an actual change in language. So like the wind and the individual flames, the one time experience of hearing each other speak in your own native tongue was a visible wrapper on the gift, so that the disciples understood that they have received an otherwise invisible gift. St. Peter (and I consider this discourse to be an example of the Pope explaining and interpreting what God has wrought) immediately cites scripture from the prophet Joel where St. Peter recognizes that as Joel explained that God will send signs of his works, now have the disciples received signs of the gift of the Holy Spirit, gifts to each one of them individually which must be unwrapped and revealed over time. You can read St. Peter’s discourse in Acts 2:14-36, and what he was quoting from Joel in Joel 2:28.

Now, read this carefully so you can now understand how the Holy Spirit is, and is not, “transmitted.” Here is what happened when those who had not believed, and had not therefore received the Holy Spirit, reacted after hearing St. Peter’s explanation.

Acts 2:37-41
Now on hearing this they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
But Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise and to your children and to all who are far off, even to all whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
And with very many other words he bore witness, and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation.”
Now they who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Be careful not to jump to the conclusion that those who converted and were baptized now received the Holy Spirit exactly as had the Apostles and disciples, for they had not. If the Holy Spirit was going to do so, the Holy Spirit would have appeared “again” to announce first with wind, and then with three thousand individual parted tongues of fire that each of the newly baptized had received the exact same gift of Holy Spirit as the Apostles and disciples (and the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was there too). But that is not what happened. You see, those who believed and were the companions of Jesus through his life, to his crucifixion and resurrection, received the Holy Spirit as it came only to them “one time only.” That can never be imitated. Why is that? The invisible gift of the Holy Spirit received by the disciples was the authority to give birth to the Church. Now their period of waiting was over, and they had received the authority, those who were the companions of Jesus, who were in the room waiting for the consoler that Jesus had promised. The gift of the Holy Spirit was authority, each Apostle and disciple expressing it as he or she undertook their individual vocation and calling.

This, then, demonstrates to you that the first act of authority was undertaken first by St. Peter, who interpreted what this sign from God meant, and second to baptize “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” This is the moment that St. Peter was able to promise and assure that baptism is now a sacrament that is invoked in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit gave the Apostles and disciples not a bunch of new languages and miracle working ability but authority.

Acts 2:42-3
And they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion of the breaking of the bread and in the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; many wonders also and signs were done by means of the apostles in Jerusalem, and great fear came upon them all.

The Apostles now, through the virtue of the Holy Spirit, invest authority in that which they were already doing, which is baptism, the breaking of the bread (the Eucharist) and development of a liturgy (in the prayers, certain prayers said in common). Notice the emphasis on the great fear that came upon the soul; this is the first gift of the Holy Spirit, “Fear of the Lord.” It is one thing to see Jesus transfigured, or the Holy Spirit descend upon him when he was baptized by John the Baptist, or even to see with one’s own eyes Jesus ascend into heaven, because that’s all happening to Jesus, in whom you believe. It is quite another thing when one receives a direct infusion of the Holy Spirit as happened to the Apostles and disciples at Pentecost. Now that the received authority and the Holy Spirit directly, they suddenly felt the real Fear of the Lord, as the reality of his greatness and presence is felt by one’s self, not just by observing it in the Lord Jesus Christ. So far from ego gratifying magic or “increased spirituality,” the first and only infusion of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost brought great authority, and with it, understanding and great Fear of God. It was signs of their authority, particularly St. Peter and later St. Paul, who received the Holy Spirit directly from the resurrected Christ, that they could work wonders and signs (miracles) and also reward for their humble acceptance of Fear of the Lord.

So when the Holy Spirit is transmitted by means such as baptism, or the laying on of hands in the sacraments of Confirmation, or for the priesthood in Holy Orders, the Holy Spirit is transmitted in different ways appropriate to what dialogue is taking place with God at that time. This is demonstrated as I pointed out, the first three thousand who were baptized received the gift of the Holy Spirit, but not in the exact form that the one and only time that the Apostles and disciples received it. Thus the “authority” form of the gift of the Holy Spirit is transmitted according to the calling of the person receiving.

Acts 3:1-11
Now Peter and John were going up into the temple at the ninth hour of prayer. And a certain man who had been lame from his mother’s womb, was being carried by, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful, that he might ask alms of those going into the temple. And he, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for an alms.

But Peter, gazing upon him with John, said, “Look at us.” And he looked at them earnestly, hoping to receive something from them. But Peter said, “Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, that I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk.”
And taking him by the right hand, he raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles became strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and went with them into the temple, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. And they recognized him as the man who used to sit for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Now as he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran to them in the portico called Solomon’s, greatly wondering.

Study and understand, therefore, how the gift of the Holy Spirit manifested in St. Peter. Peter and the other Apostles were able to perform miracles, such as cast out demons, when Jesus was alive, using his authority, even if Jesus was not right there next to them. In fact, you can read how chagrined they are when one of their attempts to expel a demon failed. But now Jesus was not there with them, having resurrected and ascended into heaven. With Pentecost the Apostles, especially St. Peter, received authority to perform mighty miracles, using the name of Jesus Christ. You can now understand and distinguish between how St. Peter, for example, in turn gives the gift of the Holy Spirit, and how he does not. St. Peter transmits authority, to perform baptism for the remission of sins, to conduct a liturgy that includes the Holy Eucharist and the authority of a call to the priesthood… but St. Peter cannot transmit the miracle performing gift of the Holy Spirit. St. Peter performs miracles through the authority given to him and the others who were there at Pentecost, but the gifts of the Holy Spirit are authority and fear, not arcane knowledge or “power” that can be taught or “passed on.”

Acts 4:5-14
Now it came to pass on the morrow that their rulers and elders and Scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem with Annas, the high priest, and Caiphas and John and Alexander and as many as belonged to the high-priestly family. And setting them in their midst, they began to inquire, “By what authority or in what name have you done this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are on trial today about a good work done to a cripple, as to how this man has been cured, be it known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God has raised from the dead, even in this name does he stand here before you, sound.

This is the authority by which Catholic doctrine states that Catholic priests represent the actual presence of Jesus Christ in the fullness of his authority. St. Peter states that Jesus, who was crucified by the very people in the room, does “stand here before you, sound.” St. Peter, speaking in his full authority, is stating to them that when they speak to him, they are speaking to Jesus Christ’s authority, for St. Peter only acts on the behest of the living and present Jesus Christ. This is the Biblical justification of the Catholic doctrine I cited in the previous post, sections 1548 and 1549. I repeat here 1548.

1548 In the ecclesial service of the ordained minister, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis.

Back to the cited scripture:

This is “The stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the corner stone. Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we may be saved.”
Now seeing the boldness of Peter and John, and finding that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they began to marvel, and to recognize them as having been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been cured standing with them, they could say nothing in reply.

Many people think that the signs of the Holy Spirit are the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that is wrong. Signs are not the gifts; they are the “attention getters” to bolster faith. Speaking in tongues is not the gift of the Holy Spirit; it is a sign. The gift of the Holy Spirit at its most fundamental root and core is authority. Only the Apostles and disciples, and the Blessed Virgin Mary received the new authority by which to invoke the name of Jesus Christ and to transmit authority in turn. Remember, while the Apostles and disciples performed miracles in the name of Jesus when Jesus was still with them, they waited in the room for the authority before commencing this new stage, the birth of the Church. It is only after receiving the authority of the Holy Spirit that they stopped their period of waiting, of dormancy, and obtained the authority to stand in front of the questioners and state that Jesus Christ is there, sound, with them. And with the authority that they, particularly St. Peter and later St. Paul, received from the Holy Spirit, what was their first gift of the Holy Spirit? They received Fear of the Lord.
And of course, what was the first thing that the questioners had asked? Not “How did you do that miracle cure?” but “By whose authority?”

Everyone can call upon the name of Jesus Christ, but not everyone is given the authority of his name to work signs and miracles. That is what must be very plainly and humbly understood. No one can be “just like the Apostles.” Only the Apostles, the disciples and the Blessed Virgin Mary received the first, the initial conferring of the authority of the Holy Spirit. What St. Peter initiated, by this authority and by the direct words of Jesus when he was with him, was the means by which the sacramental gifts of the Holy Spirit are conferred, not the original authority itself by which he and his companions planted the Church.

The Holy Spirit-God’s gift
733 “God is Love” and love is his first gift, containing all others. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
734 Because we are dead or at least wounded through sin, the first effect of the gift of love is the forgiveness of our sins. The communion of the Holy Spirit in the Church restores to the baptized the divine likeness lost through sin.
735 He, then, gives us the “pledge” or “first fruits” of our inheritance: the very life of the Holy Trinity, which is to love as “God [has] loved us.” This love (the “charity” of 1 Cor 13) is the source of the new life in Christ, made possible because we have received “power” from the Holy Spirit.
736 By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit. He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear “the fruit of the Spirit:…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” “We live by the Spirit”; the more we renounce ourselves, the more we “walk by the Spirit.”
Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, led back to the Kingdom of heaven, and adopted as children, given confidence to call God “Father” and to share in Christ’s grace, called children of light and given a share in eternal glory.

So you see that the Catechism of the Catholic Church does indeed refer to the Holy Spirit as giving “power,” putting that word in quotations to indicate that there is no better word to provide, but that power is a word that connotes to humans a force that is different than the actual power of the Holy Spirit, which is love and the ability to bind humans closer to God in affection and understanding. So just to make sure that you know the difference, let’s look at some specific examples of transmitting the Holy Spirit.

Priests transmit and confer the Holy Spirit when they perform a blessing. Let’s look at this example because it is an area that is rife with misunderstanding. Let us say that someone purchases a rosary and asks the priest to bless it. What is happening? First of all, it is not “magic” making the inanimate object of the rosary an idol or having numinous power within it. A blessing is an opportunity to enhance one’s receipt of the gift of the Holy Spirit of Piety. It is because you believe that you request the priest to bless. When the priest blesses your rosary you both receive infusion of the gift of Piety. Now, if it was “magic” you would think that having a hundred rosaries blessed, or a thousand, gives you a hundred or one thousand “doses” of “Holy Spirit.” That is not the case, obviously. That is because the gift of the Holy Spirit resides in your heart and soul, and not in the rosary object. A person who gets one rosary blessed and uses it through their whole life has the same “amount” of Piety as someone who gets ten rosaries and has each of them blessed, because it is the opening of your heart to God in Piety that is the gift and yields fruit (the fruits of the Holy Spirit are listed above in 736).

Notice that I mention that the priest also receives gift of the Holy Spirit when he blesses the rosary for you. This is because with every action that he takes in ministering to the flock, the Holy Spirit rewards him too with the gift of Piety. Now, how can you “cultivate” “more” “gifting from the Holy Spirit” if you so desired it? An example would be to purchase or create quantities of rosaries, take them to be blessed, and then distribute them to people in need of them. You are given the gift of Piety when you profess your belief in God by, for example, having a rosary blessed for yourself. You are cultivating the gift of Knowledge when you exercise charity, such as going out of your way at your own time and expense to provide blessed rosaries to others, because you are serving God. Remember that the gift of Knowledge from the Holy Spirit is to both worship and serve God. The fruits of, for example, this providing of blessed rosaries for the needy, or for those in the armed services, would be peace, kindness and goodness (and patience!) You are being charitable and assisting those in need in their faith, and those are considerable gifts from the Holy Spirit.

We often see priests, deacons, bishops, cardinals and the Pope blessing babies. Watch the next time that the Pope blesses a baby in the crowd. Yes, he is both transmitting the Holy Spirit and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit himself. A baby being blessed is not a magic charm of sorts to guarantee some sort of fortunate life, but it is something better, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When the Pope blesses a baby, for example, he is bolstering the faith of that baby, even though the baby of course is not yet aware of anything beyond the concerns of a baby. The Pope when he blesses is invoking from the Holy Spirit a gift of Piety to those around the baby, those who brought the baby to him. It is because they believe that they bring the baby to him, hope for a blessing and have great joy when they receive one. Likewise, the soul of the baby, no matter how young, feels the touch of the love of God when the baby receives a blessing from a servant of God. That touch can be receptive to greater faith and love as the baby grows. This is how the Holy Spirit is transmitted.

Then there is the means that we started out with discussing, which is the laying on of hands in the apostolic succession. Again, it is not magic that is transmitted, but the authority of God through Jesus Christ. When one is baptized the Holy Spirit is invoked and the gift is conferred that one has access to the forgiveness of sins and also one becomes part of the common priesthood, the baptismal priesthood. One receives the authority, through apostolic succession, to be of the common priesthood of God. When one receives Holy Orders one receives the authority, through apostolic succession, to be part of the ministerial priesthood. If one wants to really somewhat analyze the gifts of the Holy Spirit that is received at Holy Orders, they are Fear of the Lord, Piety and Knowledge, often with remarkable early infusions of Fortitude and Counsel. It is not “magic” but rather the power and authority by which St. Peter, standing in front of the very people who crucified Jesus, says to them, “in this name does he stand here before you, sound.”

When Holy Orders are conferred, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the deacon, priest or bishop is indeed following in the footsteps of St. Peter, able to state that Jesus Christ, too, stands there, sound. This does not mean that the priest, for example, has powers of miracles, or is even necessarily of even part of the purity and virtue of Jesus Christ. As we have seen in the horrible and sad scandals, very flawed and even criminal people have received Holy Orders. You must remember, though, that while human beings fail, the Holy Spirit never fails, and while human beings may be dirtied by sin or disgrace, this does not change one iota of the truth of God, or the gift of the Holy Spirit.

1550 This presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the latter were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister’s sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always sign of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church.

1551 This priesthood is ministerial. “That office…, which the Lord committed to the pastors of his people, is in the strict sense of the term a service.” It is entirely related to Christ and to men. It depends entirely on Christ and on his unique priesthood; it has been instituted for the good of men and the communion of the Church. The sacrament of Holy Orders communicates a “sacred power” which is none other than that of Christ. The exercise of this authority must therefore be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least and servant of all. “The Lord said clearly that concern for his flock was proof of love for him.”

What the Catechism of the Catholic Church is stating is that the “sacred power” of the priest does not come from the priest, who is by definition a flawed vessel, but directly from Christ. Thus a priest who falls into dire sin, as we have seen in the sex abuse tragedy, harms the “apostolic fruitfulness of the Church,” in that they harm and wound the innocent and their faith, but his sinfulness does not mean that Christ was not present in the fullness of the sacramental responsibilities of the priest. “The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way” means that the Holy Spirit only guarantees the real presence of Christ in the sacraments as administered by even a sinful priest, but the Holy Spirit cannot be understood as being some sort of guarantor of human, even priestly, behavior. If that were true, then all of human history would be different, because God would have then decided to force good behavior on all humans, and then they would be no longer his children, or even humans, but slaves, and God just is not like that.

So the transmission and invoking of the Holy Spirit is never stained and is never anything but the pure infusion of grace from God. After all, remember that the Holy Spirit moves constantly working among all humans, believers or not, good or evil, rich or poor, consecrated or laity. St. Peter denied Jesus Christ three times yet two months later he was standing in front of those who had crucified Jesus, speaking with the fullness of the authority of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ himself. Humans fail but the Holy Spirit never fails. It is a lot to think about, isn’t it?

I hope that you have found this helpful.