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How can I explain the Holy Spirit to a child?



Caitlin Bootsma - published on 01/21/13

We find the Holy Spirit hard to understand as adults; how, then, can we explain this Person of the Trinity to children?

The Holy Spirit and the Trinity is hard enough for adults to understand, so how can we explain who the Holy Spirit is to children? The key points for children to understand are that the Holy Spirit is God, but also has a distinct personhood from the Father and the Son. This Person comes from the love that the Father and the Son have for one another. Throughout Scripture (and in the Church today), we can see the Holy Spirit at work. The following are some ways you might approach teaching about the Holy Spirit to your children.

We believe in one God, who is three divine Persons
It is difficult to understand how one God could be three divine persons. Of course, God is not a creature like us, and so we can never fully understand the fullness of who he is. However, he has revealed to us that though there is one God, he is God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit.

Have you ever seen a three-leaf clover? You might see them among the grass. St. Patrick used the example of the three-leaf clover to talk about the Trinity: like a clover that is one plant with three leaves, there is one God, but three Persons.

This chart is also helpful to learning more about the Trinity. You’ll see here that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all God; however, the Father is distinct from the Son, who is distinct from the Holy Spirit and so forth.

Out of the love of God the Father and God the Son comes the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is a very important person in the Trinity. At Mass each Sunday we recite the words of the Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

Do you know what “proceeds” means? In the Creed it means that from the love of the Father and the Son comes the Holy Spirit. He is the love that exists between the Father and the Son.

Think about your parents. Your mom loves your dad. Your dad loves your mom. You could say that they are “in love.” There is a love that exists between them, and that love brings about a lot of great things, including you!

It is in the same manner that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. And, like any love that exists between two people, the Holy Spirit is sent forth to make an impact on us here on earth.

The Holy Spirit has a special role in history because he is the one who is sent to be our guide.
Can you think of any instances in the Bible where we see the way in which the Holy Spirit fulfills his particular mission as the Person of the Trinity sent forth to help us?

In the Old Testament:

  • The Holy Spirit inspired the human writers of the Old Testament so that it would truly be the Word of God.
  • He gave words to the prophets so that they might preach to the people of Israel. As St. Peter tells us, “for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God” (2 Peter 1:21).
  • When Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, they were guided by the Holy Spirit. In Exodus, we read: “The LORD preceded them, in the daytime by means of a column of cloud to show them the way, and at night by means of a column of fire to give them light. Thus they could travel both day and night.”

In the New Testament:

  • Before Jesus returned to Heaven at his ascension, he told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would be with them (and with us!): “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always: the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.”
  • At Pentecost, which is the birthday of the Church, the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles in the form of a flame of fire and suddenly they were able to speak in languages that they had not known before.
  • St. Peter told everyone gathered on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit had come to the Church: “‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy’” (Acts 2:17-18).

At Confirmation, you’ll receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit; he’ll be with you to help you throughout your life!
Just as he has been with the Church in the Bible, the Holy Spirit is also with the Church today to guide and strengthen us through many gifts. The seven main gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit are understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence, wonder and awe, and wisdom. We are blessed to be able to pray to the Holy Spirit to ask him for these gifts as we try to live lives of holiness.

When you receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, you’ll be blessed by the Holy Spirit in a particular way. The Baltimore Catechism teaches us that “Confirmation is a Sacrament through which we receive the Holy Ghost (Holy Spirit) to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ” (Baltimore Catechism, 670). It goes on to say that “n Confirmation, the extending of the bishop’s hands over us signifies the descent of the Holy Ghost upon us and the special protection of God through the grace of Confirmation” (no. 678).

So you see, the Holy Spirit is sent to us by God the Father and God the Son to be with us as we strive to resist temptation and to practice virtue. We can rely on him to give us the spiritual gifts we need to persevere, and we can pray to him many times a day, simply saying, “Come, Holy Spirit!”

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