Anna Abbott is a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has written for Catholic World Report and Canticle. She had a weekly column on religion for four years at the Napa Valley Register, the Weekly Calistogan, the St. Helena Star and the American Canyon Eagle. She is aunt and godmother to two boys, as well as a newborn girl. She currently resides in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
“Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest, and in our souls take up Thy rest” is the joyous hymn on the feast of Pentecost just celebrated. The Holy Spirit is the most enigmatic Person of the Trinity, but Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ, sheds light on His life in his recent book, The Holy Spirit: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics (Our Sunday Visitor, 2016). As he explains the Catholic understanding of the Spirit through Scripture, he shows how the Spirit is part of our lives as well. The book offers an instructional program, with seven sessions that can be done individually or as a group. He ends each session with discussion questions and suggestions to apply the Spirit to daily life. The Holy Spirit is a retreat with the intent to let us grow in knowledge of the Spirit, so that we may adore and glorify Him.
The study’s theme is that the Spirit can be found throughout the Bible, not only in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit is an excellent accompaniment and can also help one gain a greater appreciation of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Fr. Pacwa’s passion for his subject makes the book personable, as if one were having an individual retreat with him.
The Holy Spirit tends to be viewed as a force lacking a coherent personality: wind, fire, or a dove. These various emblems seem to make the Spirit merely symbolic, but Fr. Pacwa’s study not only affirms the Spirit’s specific Personhood — it is a program created to cultivate a personal relationship with Him.
The first session shows the Spirit’s creative role in Genesis. Fr. Pacwa contrasts the Spirit hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2) with the violent Babylonian creation myths. He also uses a hymn in the Book of Judith and the Book of Wisdom to show the Holy Spirit’s creative work. Fr. Pacwa delves deeper into the titles “The Lord, the Giver of Life” spoken at Mass in the Nicene Creed.
The second and third sessions discuss how the Spirit bestows authority and power, and then uses the prophets as particular exemplars. Fr. Pacwa not only discusses Biblical figures like Samson, Balaam, Elisha, Isaiah and Sirach, but also gives historical context. The guide has helpful sidebars about the chaotic political world of the Judges as well as surprising historical proof for the prophet Balaam in a stela on the Jordan River.
The fourth session covers how the Holy Spirit gives wisdom and guidance, which stem from the truth. It’s more wide-ranging, covering the Wisdom books along with the stories of the prophet Daniel, King David, and the virtuous Susanna. It forms a transitional session to the New Testament. Fr. Pacwa shows how the Spirit infuses these books as the Spirit of Truth.
The final three sessions cover the Spirit’s role in the New Testament, especially His activity in the lives of Jesus and St. Paul. Fr. Pacwa shows the parallel narratives of the Annunciations to Our Lady and St. Joseph, illustrating the Spirit’s role in Jesus’ virginal conception. While the Archangel Gabriel explains the Spirit’s overshadowing to Mary, Joseph receives his revelation through an angelic dream. Fr. Pacwa also explains the Trinitarian significance of Jesus’ Baptism; he also unpacks why the Spirit drove Him into the desert for His temptations. He carefully parses these verse by verse, for a deeper reading.
Fr. Pacwa closes his book discussing the Spirit’s transformational effect on St. Paul’s life. He traces St. Paul from his beginnings as Saul, a proud Pharisee prior to his conversion. Through his missionary travels, St. Paul comes to a greater understanding of the Spirit. His temporary physical blindness enlightened him to his own spiritual obliviousness. St. Paul wrote eloquently of the Spirit’s empowerment in his life, most notably describing how He arms the believer (Ephesians 6:14-17). The Spirit illuminates him, making him a man on fire with love for Christ and His Church. By concluding with Paul, Fr. Pacwa gives the proof of the power and compassion of the Spirit of Truth to transform our lives.
Fr. Pacwa encourages readers to pray to the Spirit, to seek a close relationship with Him. The book is not merely an intellectual exercise. It’s about coming to know the Holy Spirit, more than knowing facts about Him. Fr. Pacwa’s scholarly touches — such as his careful historical examination of the eras of the Books of Chronicles and Kings — give the book a particularly Jesuit tone. Jesuits are respected as educators, and Fr. Pacwa embodies this aspect of his order’s calling. It’s engrossing, especially with the new insights one gains on Scripture. In a time of superhero movies, Fr. Pacwa shows the real superpowers of the Spirit. The Spirit’s empowerment outshines Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth or Superman’s ability to go faster than a speeding bullet.
The Book of Acts is sometimes called “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit” since it discusses His work within the Church after Pentecost. Fr. Pacwa’s book shows how the Spirit has acted throughout Church history, beyond the flames of the Upper Room. The Holy Spirit enabled Our Lady to conceive Jesus in her womb, the Word becoming flesh, and by calling upon the Holy Spirit in our lives, we can find new life in Christ. While it is easier to explain the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, The Holy Spirit shows how the Sacrament of Confirmation strengthens and enlightens. In a relativistic society, this book is aflame with the Spirit of Truth’s power in our lives.