The Coming of The Holy Spirit


The Pentecost event brings us to the third stage of the journey to God in this world.


The Coming of The Holy Spirit

  • Christ comes to bring us more abundant life
  • God in his love for us shares His divine life with us as fully as possible
  • Sanctifying grace enables us to respond to God
  • Christ as an inner presence

There is much discussion today about the proper understanding of the coming of the Holy Spirit. I have met charismatic Catholics who, I have no doubt, have reached the third stage in the journey to God

The inner life of a human being, however, is complicated. The stirrings of religious hunger within take on an infinite variety of forms. It is all too easy to attribute to the Holy Spirit inner movements that should be attributed solely to the human spirit. We can best learn from the first Pentecost how the Holy Spirit comes into our lives.

We have seen that the disciples had come through Jesus' eyes to see that nature reflected the Father's presence. After some time, they also had begun to recognize dimly that Jesus was more than merely human. From the Gospel accounts, though, it is clear that they still had a long road of spiritual growth ahead. They had to be purified further before they would arrive at the stage in which they experienced the mature presence of Christ within them. It was only after a profound, extremely painful purification that they finally reached the third stage.

The change involved a purgation of all false illusions about themselves, a death to self in order to come alive to Christ. They had to experience who and what they truly were without Christ alive in them. They had to experience, as often happens, that the "old man" in them had killed that living presence of Christ. It was only after this purification had taken place, and they had been emptied of self, that the mature Christ was born in them with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

We find in the person of Saint Peter the clearest example of the dynamics of the transition from the second to the third stage of the journey. Peter's experience illustrates the transition from consciousness of Christ as the mirror of the divine outside, to consciousness of the mature Christ reflecting God's presence within.

Peter heard with amazement at the Last Supper Our Lord's words "Truly, truly I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times." [1] Peter's surprise came not because he learned that he would deny Jesus. In his judgment of himself, such behavior was simply impossible for him. It came rather from the thought that Jesus did not really know him, that Jesus could think him capable of such an action. Peter was deeply hurt. He the loyal, courageous, outspoken Peter a betrayer? Impossible! So Peter uttered those confident words, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away." [2]

Jesus loved Peter in a special way, and was preparing him for an extraordinary role in the future mission of his Church. And so he turned to Peter and said, "This very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times." [3] Peter, once again, flatly denied the possibility. "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you." [4]

Imagine what would happen if one were to take Peter aside at that moment and ask him how he could be so certain of his loyalty? He could legitimately point out that during the previous three years he was the most outspoken in his defense of Jesus. He could point out that he had, many times, put his life on the line in his unconditional identification with Jesus.

Imagine if one were to pursue the issue further by challenging Peter. Surely there were times when you wavered, when you experienced doubts about Jesus' mission, when you experienced fear coming from your association with him? Peter, honest person that he was, would probably have acknowledged that there were such moments. But he would have claimed that those moments were aberrations. That the real Peter was the part of him that was loyal, believing, courageous, self-sacrificing and true.

Peter would have been partially correct. These qualities were indeed in him. He had been loyal, brave, and trustworthy. But he failed to recognize that the source of these sterling qualities in him came from Christ alive in him. He was experiencing in that part of himself the living Christ within. He had identified the real Peter with that same Christ in him. So, he was surprised and hurt at the words of Jesus.

Later in the evening, when Jesus is seized in the garden, who springs to his defense? It is, of course, the loyal, courageous Peter. He takes his sword in hand and cuts off the ear of one of the servants taking hold of Jesus. He probably looked at Our Lord with hurt in his eyes, saying, "See. How could you have doubted me?"

A short time later, we find Jesus in the courtyard, being brutalized by the Roman soldiers. The other disciples had abandoned Jesus in fear. Again, we find Peter present, loyal to the end. As he watches the cruel treatment of Jesus unfold, he still nurtures his disappointment at Jesus' lack of appreciation of him.

Only now Peter is seeing an entirely different Jesus, a Jesus whom he had never seen before. No longer is this the Jesus who walked on water and controlled the winds and rains. No longer the Jesus who magisterially preached to the thousands and dominated the minds of his enemies. No longer was it the Jesus who exercised incredible, miraculous powers to the astonishment of all.

Now, on the contrary, Peter is seeing a Jesus who has been overcome by these same enemies. Peter is seeing a bound, beaten, helpless, impotent, ineffective Jesus. For the first time, Peter experiences the stirrings of doubt and fear.

Later that evening in the courtyard, where the torturing of Jesus continued, Peter is singled out by a maidservant as one of Jesus' followers. Fear then overwhelms the vestiges of faith and courage in Peter. He flatly denies having anything to do with him. A second person makes the same accusation, with the same denial coming from Peter. Early in the morning, for the third time he is accused of being a companion of Jesus. Now in a terrified state, Peter with an oath calls upon God to witness the truth of his statement that he knows nothing whatsoever about that man.

This third denial takes place at the first light of dawn, as the cock crows in the distance. Jesus looks at Peter, and Peter looks into Jesus' eyes. Peter then flees from the courtyard, weeping bitter tears.

Were they tears that flowed from his love of Jesus? No! If they had come from such love, he would have returned to the courtyard and acknowledged to all that he was indeed the companion of Jesus. Rather, they were tears that flowed from a totally new vision that Peter had of himself, the real Peter, the true Peter, the Peter he was when Christ was no longer alive in him. He found within himself the Peter whose fear and self-love had killed the most precious part of himself as effectively as the soldiers killed the Christ outside of him.

The Journey to God

by Father Antoninus Wall, O.P.

For three days Peter, stripped of illusion, communed with this new revelation of himself. The bitter tears continued to flow as he experienced the real Peter within, this stranger, this frightened, disloyal, self-centered, paralyzed, arrogant, foolish person whom he had never met before.

The resurrected, fully reconstituted Christ appeared to Peter after those three days. Peter then experienced, welling up within him, a surge of joy, love, renewed faith, awe, enthusiasm, and hope that transformed him. This time Peter was a purified person, humbled, free of any inflated self-illusions.

This new Peter, unlike the old, knew that what he was experiencing within was not himself but Christ. This newly enlightened Peter could finally say with Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." [5] It was thus that Peter entered the third stage of his journey to God. For the first time he could see clearly Christ within, the mirror of the divine.

During the forty days following the resurrection, Christ appeared many times to his disciples. One of these joy-filled appearances took place along the shore of the sea of Galilee.

The Apostles were out on the sea fishing when they saw a solitary figure standing on the shore. John, the beloved disciple, recognized that it was the Christ. The disciples began to row ashore rapidly. Peter could not wait for the boat to land. He jumped into the water and rushed to the side of Jesus.

When the others arrived with nets bursting with fish, they found that Jesus had a fire lit on which there was a skillet with fish in it. In an extraordinary scene, they found the resurrected Jesus preparing a meal for them so that he might do what he enjoyed doing most, breaking bread in fellowship with those whom he loved.

It was in the context of this unusual meal that Christ turned to Peter and said to him, "Do you love me more than these?" Peter responded, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." [6] These words seem similar to those spoken by Peter at the Last Supper when he professed his love for Christ. Yet they are entirely different words coming from a profoundly changed Peter. They now mean, "You know I love you because you, yourself, put this love back in me after I had killed it by my denial of you." Then Our Lord said to him, "Feed my lambs." [7]

A second and third time Christ places the same question to Peter, receiving a similar response from him. Peter's second response is followed by the command, "Tend my sheep," and the third by the command, "Feed my sheep." [8]

Peter, having been emptied of his illusions about himself, is now filled with Christ and is prepared to bring Christ to others. If Christ had sent Peter out before he had reached this third stage of his journey to God, Peter would have gone out with the enthusiasm typical of his personality. But he would have gone out bringing to others the illusions of Peter rather than the reality of Christ. The lambs and sheep of Christ would have gone hungry.

We have in Peter, then, a clear illustration of how one passes from the first and second stage of the journey to God, to the third stage in which one experiences the mirror of Christ within. The coming of the Holy Spirit takes place normally only after a period of substantial growth of Christ within, a growth that can take place only after an equally substantive purgation of the many obstacles that hinder such growth.

The profound emptying of the flawed ego in us prepares for the birth of the mature Christ within. Jesus said "you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in travail she has sorrow...but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish." [9] The entrance into the third stage is a "birthing," with all the labor pains that normally accompany such an experience.

Jesus' statement that he must withdraw from his followers raises many questions. How could the presence of the human nature of Jesus existing outside them become a barrier, an obstacle to the coming of the Holy Spirit? The answer lies in the dynamics of love.

Saint Thomas points out that humans tend to live in the senses. We are not angels, but embodied spirits. Part of the divine plan is that our first contact with reality takes place through the senses. What we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell in the world outside us are the most evident and definite. We tend to be fascinated by the outer world. The world of inner consciousness is not the primary focus of our attention. Happiness is pursued primarily in that world of outer reality and not in the world within.

Divine providence adapts to this human condition. God's approach to us initially is through the senses. So, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." [10] We can see this Word with our eyes, hear him with our ears, and touch him with our hands. He is alive to us in that outer world in which we find ourselves most at home.

Through the external presence and actions of Jesus outside, God begins to effect changes in our inner life. In the beginning, the external, sensible, visible reflections of God are indispensable to our spiritual development.

At a certain stage of development in the spiritual journey, the growth of Christ within reaches a state of maturity. With spiritual maturation, our spiritual development can survive without the external support system that brought it into being in the first place. When this stage has been reached, the continued presence of the external support system can become an obstacle to our growing awareness of the new life within us.

We are naturally drawn by our senses to the world outside. So our fascination with the Christ outside can keep us from discovering the Christ within. In this way the Christ we experience outside can become an obstacle to this next stage of the journey.

The change in emphasis from the outer world to the inner world is always painfu. Christ in the external world has brought us much consolation and life. Spiritual authors speak of the dark night of the senses when we lose sensible and emotional contact with the Christ outside.

Spiritual authors also speak of the dark night of the soul. This occurs when the inner support assisting us to experience the Christ within is withdrawn, forcing us to find his presence within in deeper and more subtle ways. That pain, if patiently endured in union with the suffering of Christ, further intensifies the growth of the Christ within us. It becomes part of the condition of that growth.

Jesus said that it is only when the birthing is over and the woman sees the baby, that the travail of the birth is forgotten. [11] The awesome result of the birthing brings the mother the joyful experience of the new life.

Jesus' withdrawal of his external presence from his followers was a prelude to his coming to full life within them at the first Pentecost. This withdrawal confirms a universal law of spiritual growth. Saint Thomas teaches that the perfection of love is not found in the external presence of the beloved, sweet as that may be. [12] No, the perfection of love is only achieved when the beloved comes to full life within the lover.

As long as we possess loved ones outside us, our love for them tends to remain imperfect. Their external presence excludes their intense presence in our heads, hearts, emotions, memories, and imagination. Only when the beloved is no longer present to us outside can he or she come to fullness of presence within us.

As a priest I am sometimes asked, when do I see the most intense love in others? The answer is clear. Love is in its most intense, deepest, and least selfish form at funeral Masses. Without the external, living presence of the deceased in the coffin, the mourners experience for the first time how radically impoverished their life has become. They become aware for the first time of what that person's presence has meant to them.

When God asks us to surrender to him the life of one we love, he is not quashing in us our love for that person. After all, this is a love he created in us in the first place. On the contrary, he is bringing that love to an entirely new level of intensity and unselfishness. It is God's way of bringing our love for that person to the relative level of perfection we imperfect lovers are capable of. He is bringing those we love alive in us in ways that they were never alive before, in ways that they never would come alive within us as long as we have their external presence.

This law is true of our relations with Christ. A classic narrative of how many undergo their journey to God through Christ goes like this. They start life growing up in a loving Catholic family. They respond to devout parents and family members. They live in a warm, loving Catholic community, with priests and religious and apostolic lay persons who radiate Christ's presence to them. They can see Christ, hear him, and touch him in their family and community.

In the family, they find it is easy to believe in Christ and his message. They find it easy to live in harmony with the moral demands of Christ's message. Indeed, their faith seems to be strong. But it is a faith like Peter's, which is ten percent within and ninety percent sustained by their experience of Christ's external presence in others outside them.

Then they leave the loving family and go off to the secular world of business or the university. Their new outer reality provides a very different experience of life. They find little of Christ in their surroundings.

They find a world much in opposition to what He stands for.

Suddenly they find that they no longer believe. They no longer care. Their religious values have no relevance to what this new world has brought alive in them. Like the prodigal son, they begin to live out the seductive promises of the secular world and to eat its forbidden fruit. [13]

Years later they find the happiness they bartered for has not been provided by their new world. They feel stirrings of hunger for the peace of soul they once knew. Like the prodigal son eating the food of the animals in his charge, they remember "even the servants in their father's house live better than they do." The stage has been set for their return to their true home.

Christ comes alive in them once more. He brings them back to that journey to the Father and the Father's house. Separation from Christ, experiencing life without him, often prepares one for his rebirth within.

Saint Thomas distinguishes the carnal man from the spiritual man. [14] The carnal man relates primarily to the outer world that he sees, feels, and hears. For him it is the only reality. The majority of us probably belong to this category. Then, there is the spiritual man. For him it is his inner world that has primacy.

Saint Thomas sees divine providence dealing gently with both kinds. He finds a beautiful example in the different ways in which God led the shepherds, the wise men, and Simeon to the discovery of Christ. [15]

Saint Thomas argues that the shepherds and Magi were carnal men for whom reality was primarily the world of the senses. Therefore, it was fitting that God would lead them to the discovery of Christ through external, sensible signs. Since the shepherds were Semites, and God traditionally spoke to Semites through angelic messengers, he chose the external apparition of angels to bring them the good news and to lead them to Christ. On the other hand, Saint Thomas points out, the wise men were gentiles and, typically of gentiles, were sincerely searching for ultimate answers in the stars. God, therefore, led them by the external guidance of a star to Christ.

Unlike the shepherds and the Magi, Simeon was a man of the spirit. He lived his life of constant prayer in the temple. Simeon located reality primarily in the world within. There his contact with God took place daily. Simeon, as a man of the spirit, did not need an external sign to recognize the presence of Christ. Saint Luke tells us that when he saw the young Jewish woman, infant in arms, enter the temple, he knew immediately. Moved by the Spirit, he recognized the promised Messiah. [16]

Persons who are truly spiritual depend less on external signs. Those who have reached the third stage of the journey to God are more open to the movements of the spirit within. These inner movements of the spirit are not independent of, nor in opposition to, the external mirrors of nature and Christ in his Mystical Body. Rather, they are complementary to the external mirrors. All three work together to move persons forward on the journey to union with God.

Who are the persons in our midst who have reached this third stage of the journey? Who are they who are moved primarily by Christ within? We know who they are – although we may not think of them in the terms I have been using. What are some of the characteristics by which we can identify such persons? Among their characteristics I would include the following:

  • they seek more to give than to receive;

  • they are interested in what they can do for the Church rather than what the Church can do for them;

  • they are never lonely because they are never alone;

  • they manifest a deep faith in the Church as a profound, living mystery;

  • they participate in everyone's joy and sorrow;

  • they are quick to acknowledge their many human weaknesses and may even laugh at them;

  • they are forgiving and do not hold grudges;

  • they spend substantive time in prayer; as Christ is the center of their life within, the Eucharist is the center of their outer world;

  • they have little fear of the future and see in death the welcome embrace of God's love;

  • they are always encouraging others to become more involved in the life of the Church;

  • they seem to have little "ego" and show no need or desire for praise, power, honor, and other forms of recognition;

  • they see all persons as children of God made in His image and likeness;

  • they are free of biases of any kind, racism, pride of caste, elitism;

  • they are acutely sensitive to the failings of members of Christ's Mystical Body, they suffer on account of these failings, but they do not criticize the Church;

  • they are eager to proclaim the good news of Christ and strive to give witness to it whenever possible;

  • they do not conceal their faith, but publicly rejoice in it;

  • they show special devotion to Mary and accept her invitation to share in her son's sufferings as a privilege.

In a word, they are the true charismatics. Like Mother Teresa they mirror Christ in their words and actions. Their lives remind us daily that Christ is still alive and with us in this world.

When Peter and the disciples reached the third stage of the journey to God, they became conscious of the mirror of Christ within. They still had not reached the face-to-face encounter with God. Their experience of his presence continued to take place by way of "reflections" of that presence.

What had to happen to them to remove the final barrier that kept them from that immediate encounter? Saint Paul tells us that the face to face encounter will not happen to anyone while he still exists in this world. We must, therefore, pass from this world into the next to attain that loving union with God. Death is the door to such a union.


[1]  John 13:38.

[2]  Matt. 26:33.

[3]  Matt. 26:34.

[4] Matt. 26:35.

[5] Gal. 2:20.

[6] John 21:15.

[7] Ibid.

[8] John 21:15-17.

[9] John 16: 20-21.

[10] John 1:14.

[11] Cf. John 16:21.

[12] Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles Book 1, Chap. 91.

[13] For the parable of the prodigal son, cf. Luke 15:11-20.

[14] St. Thomas refers in many places to the idea that carnal men must become spiritual men to approach God, e.g., in Catena Aurea, Vol. 2, S13: "Jesus is to be understood as about to change His Disciples from being carnal or animal-minded into spiritual men. A carnal-minded man, whatever he shall hear concerning the nature of God, will understand it in a bodily sense; as he cannot understand it as being other than body . . . he thinks of them (the things he hears) in the manner of those who are wont to hear proverbs: as not understanding them."

[15] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, Third Part, Q36.

[16] Cf. Luke 2:25-35.

The Journey to God

Chapter 1 - The Journey
Chapter 2 - The Presence
Chapter 3 - The Awakening
Chapter 4 - The Way of Love
Chapter 5 - The Three Stages of Awakening
Chapter 6 - The Mirror of Nature
Chapter 7 - The Mirror of Christ Outside
Chapter 8 - The Catholic Way
Chapter 9 - The Mirror of Christ Within
Chapter 10 - The Coming of the Holy Spirit
Chapter 11 - The Door
Chapter 12 - The End of the Journey
Chapter 13 - The Face to Face Encounter




Father Antoninus Wall, O.P. "The Coming of The Holy Spirit." Chapter 10 in The Journey to God (Antioch, CA: Solas Press, 1999): 87-102.

Reprinted by permission of Father Antoninus Wall and Solas Press.


Father Antoninus Wall, O.P., a native of San Francisco, is the son of Irish-born parents, and the brother of the late Fr. Kevin Wall, O.P. Fr. Wall attended St. Ignatius prep in the Bay City and St. Mary's College of California. Entering the Dominican Order, he pursued his sacred studies at St. Albert's College in Oakland and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. He was ordained in Rome in 1950.

Fr. Wall has had a career rich in pastoral and academic experiences. He has served as associate pastor in Seattle and as Professor of Theology at Immaculate Heart and Dominican College. He negotiated the entry of the Dominicans into the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and served two terms there as President of the Dominican School. He currently resides at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland, California. Father Wall is the author of The Journey to God. Father Wall may be reached by phone at 510-596-1800 or by email at

Copyright © 2010 Solas Press

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