We are in a sacramental desert, but we can still perceive the Holy Spirit

Photo by Ivars Krutainis on Unsplash

Have you ever seen a ghost? The more useful question might be, what does one look like? Before you turn to photos with hard-to-explain, bleary images, remember that the words “ghost” and “spirit” both refer to non-physical realities. Neither is made up of what our philosophical tradition would call “matter.” So, strictly speaking, there is nothing of a ghost or spirit to see. A less misleading word would be “intelligence.” An intelligence might manipulate matter to manifest itself, just as we do, but a pure intelligence is immaterial. There is—literally—nothing to see.

Therefore, we do not see the Holy Spirit. We never will, any more than we will ever see God the Father. Even in the eternal life to come, when our sensual bodies will have been raised up and glorified, only the transfigured humanity of Christ will be sensually present to us, albeit in a manner far beyond our ability to imagine. Our human intelligence will have fallen into a bottomless sea of divine intelligence.


We cannot see the Holy Spirit. But we can watch for intelligible patterns in our own experiences, respond to what we prayerfully perceive and pursue what bears fruit.

Even now, intelligence is not something that we see. We cannot look at a mind. We can only see the effects of intelligence. We must say that intelligence is something perceived, not seen.

We also cannot see the Holy Spirit. We cannot see a reality that suffuses all of creation, an intelligence beyond our intellects. But we can watch for intelligible patterns in our own experiences, respond to what we prayerfully perceive and pursue what bears fruit. To do this, however, we need time to reflect. We need silence. We cannot perceive life’s patterns if we never pause.

Perhaps this time of virus requires more pondering. Sadly, Christians have been deprived of the Eucharist in every place, in every century, by circumstances beyond their control. They responded with increased catechesis and churches of the hearth.

The Spirit is faithful to the sacraments, but they do not limit the Spirit.

Should we be asking how to safely repackage the Eucharist, as though it were a commodity? Should we really be wondering how many people we can get into a building to watch the priest confect the sacrament before he sends them on their way to make room for other customers? As their successors, our bishops cannot claim greater authority over the Eucharist than the apostles did. It was our Lord Jesus Christ who commanded that his disciples be gathered for a sacred meal to be celebrated in his memory.

How odd that some speak of their right to their eucharistic Lord being denied. Who protests outside nursing facilities because their loved ones have been locked away? If we are willing to do what we must to keep them safe, why are we contemplating express Eucharists, knowing that this will tempt our oldest, most faithful parishioners to chose scruples over safety?

Our Lord’s promise was not “I will safeguard your access to the sacraments.” His vow was this:

I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you (Jn 14:16-18).

The church is the body of Christ. It is the great work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is faithful to the sacraments, but they do not limit the Spirit. Is God leading us into a desert, a sacramental wilderness because here he intends to speak to our hearts? We must pause, pray and perceive.

Readings: Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17 1 Peter 3: 15-18 John 14: 15-21

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