In old English, and in some traditions today, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Holy Ghost. But it’s not exactly what we imagine when we think of ghosts today! Most of us have a pretty good idea of what ghosts are “supposed” to look like—and heaven forbid they should chase us!
But the Holy Spirit? That might be something else altogether.
The Holy Spirit is God working in us. When you feel afraid and are in prayer and experience a sudden wave of reassurance, that’s the Holy Spirit. When you walk out into the brightness of a summer morning and feel joy in God’s creation, that’s the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God… everywhere. In a way, you could say that it’s through the Holy Spirit that we feel God, feel his presence, feel his love.
Like many adolescents, I experienced a fair degree of self-absorbed angst and dramatic emotion as I tumbled through my teens. I had become soberly aware of the world around me and its cruelty. I went on a church-sponsored working trip to Haiti and spent two months among very poor people, and the injustice of their situation, when compared to mine, was appalling to me. When I returned home at the end of the summer, I declared to my mother that there was no God, that a loving God would never allow his people to live in misery, and if there was such a God I wanted nothing to do with him.
The positive result of my working trip to Haiti was that it made me more willing to actually work, and one weekend morning that fall, a particularly warm and beautiful day, I was clearing out leaves from a flower bed at our home, when something happened. I cannot describe today exactly what it was, only that I was suddenly, extraordinarily aware of the love of God surrounding and embracing me, and that at the same moment I was aware of myself falling in love with him.
To anyone observing me, nothing had happened; to me, it was everything. I started back to the daily Mass I had eschewed at the convent school I attended, and it’s safe to say that, with a couple of blips in the road here and there, I’ve never really fallen out of love with God since.
What happened that morning was the Holy Spirit, pursuing me—cornering me, you might say, in that walled garden—and not letting my small understanding of the world keep me from the love of my life. I had been, in effect, chased by a "ghost."
In The Prodigal You Love, Therese Aletheia Noble, FSP, details her own experience of leaving the Church and then being drawn back to it by the Holy Spirit. “God does not force anyone to be in relationship with him,” she writes, and it’s true: it has to be a choice. That is, perhaps, what sets our religion apart from others, that ability to choose. The Holy Spirit may pursue us, but it can only catch us if we let it.
Perhaps there’s someone in your life who has left the Church or turned away from God. There are many reasons to do so. But there are even more reasons for them to return, and there are many reasons for you to believe that they aren’t beyond the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit chased me, just as it chased Sister Theresa Aletheia, so too is the Holy Spirit willing to chase any soul that is in need.
Being chased by a "ghost." It was the best thing that could have happened to me, and I pray that it will happen to someone close to you, too.