God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the Trinity, with which all Catholics are familiar, even if the concept of the Holy Trinity isn’t always easy to understand in human terms.
“Yet, children have an amazing receptivity to the mystical,” says Katie Dawson, Director of Parish Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange. “They know there’s more to life than the physical reality they live with.”
Perhaps the most mysterious person of the Holy Trinity is the Holy Spirit. Defined as the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and is the Lord and Giver of Life. “He is in us, around us and helps us grow in virtue,” Dawson says.
After he was resurrected, Jesus spent numerous days and nights with his disciples. He promised to send them the “comforter” or Holy Spirit when he returned to his Father in heaven. His promise was delivered when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles on Pentecost in quite a dramatic way.
Amid a rushing, mighty wind, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. (Acts 2:2-4) The Holy Spirit transformed the fearful apostles into courageous and eloquent witnesses, preparing them to travel the world sharing the good news of Christ.
In the Church, we celebrate Pentecost every year, and should teach children about the holiday, Dawson says. What happened at Pentecost radically demonstrates that with God, all things are possible. Ordinary apostles became warriors for Christ. Jesus knew that his disciples would be persecuted for spreading the Word of God, but the Holy Spirit sustained them, giving them strength and the right words to use on their journeys. (Matthew 10:16-22)
The Holy Spirit can give us courage in our own day-to-day encounters. When our children share a difficult playground experience, or share a tale of bullying, we can encourage them to pray and ask for God’s help.
The Holy Spirit has sometimes been described as the still, small voice within us that tells us right from wrong, that tells us the truth. “We have to be attentive and be receptive to the Holy Spirit to recognize his leading in our lives,” Dawson says. “We have to train our children to be receptive to him. God is paying attention, he cares.”
When we pray and open up our lives to God, the Holy Spirit “enables us to love more, to be capable of kindness and forgiveness,” Dawson adds. These are virtues difficult to attain with our own human power.
Parents who pray set a positive lifelong example for their children. Families who pray together are immeasurably strengthened and each member draws closer to the Lord, says Dawson. “I need to pray because I need God’s direction, because that’s where there’s life,” she says. Without God, there is no life. And the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God.
In “Christ Among Us,” author Anthony Wilhelm says, “The whole spiritual life is rooted in the Holy Spirit, who dwells in the believer and who directs and guides each person who is attentive to that presence within.”
A version of this article originally ran in April 2014.