Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Are Saints a Catholic Substitute for the Holy Spirit?

In the comments on the last post, Kevin asked a question about possible competition of mission between the Holy Spirit and Mary and the saints. This is a great question, one complicated by fideistic attitudes among Catholics. 

1. Catholics and Protestants have different understandings of the work of the Holy Spirit. Historically, the Catholic understanding has been more implicit than explicit. And today the explicit understanding of the Spirit for many Catholics may be derived from Protestant ideas. Instead, I find Fr. Luigi Giussani's description of the Holy Spirit's work to shed light on the traditional Catholic understanding: "The Spirit is what makes us perceive God in the light of the senses, it enables us to experience Him. The Spirit is the principle whereby God, who is invisible, becomes perceivable" (Book of Hours, Wednesday).

2. For Catholics, what are the great examples of the work of the Holy Spirit?
  • The Annunciation to Mary;
  • The Transubstantiation of the Eucharist (Eu-Charis);
  • Charisms, or gifts of the Spirit to the Church through the saints (on earth or in heaven). "A charism is an ultimate terminal of the Incarnation, that is, it is a particular way in which the Fact of Jesus Christ Man and God reaches me, and through me can reach others”  (Giussani).
3. Therefore, the agency of Mary, the saints, or the lay Christian depends upon the free cooperation of the person with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit through Mary never expires, for she is 'the fixed term of the eternal counsel' (Dante). Mary is the anchor who guarantees Jesus's historical and cultural particularity. That is, her charism is to witness and remember the event of the Incarnation and to remind us that Jesus did not leave us orphans.

4. This answer is complicated by the prevalence of fideism among Catholics, who – like everybody else – tend to think of salvation as escape from the body and circumstances instead of discovering the vanishing point of destiny in the everyday.
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