Holy Spirt Window in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican

"The Coach for Our Lives: Role of the Holy Spirit in the New Millennium"

Brian Cavanaugh, TOR
© March 2007, revised April 2021


Have you ever asked yourself, “What is the role of the Holy Spirit? What is the Holy Spirit’s function in my life? And, how do I respond to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration?”


These were questions I reflected upon for some time. The symbol of the Holy Spirit as a dove just left me searching for an image I could grasp, something I could relate to and comprehend. Yes, I could recite the Church’s teachings on the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Trinity, but something was not connecting in my understanding. Talking with others it seemed that the role and function of the Holy Spirit is often not comprehended, especially as to how the Holy Spirit affects my life and how I am to respond.


Saint John Paul II, in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Third Millennium, wrote the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (November 10, 1994). He asked that the three years prior to the millennium be devoted, one year each, to reflections on each person of the Trinity: 

Year Two: the Holy Spirit [1]


44. 1998, the second year of the preparatory phase, will be dedicated in a particular way to the Holy Spirit and to his sanctifying presence within the Community of Christ’s disciples.…


The Spirit, in fact, makes present in the Church of every time and place the unique Revelation brought by Christ to humanity, making it alive and active in the soul of each individual: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26).


45. The primary tasks of the preparation for the Jubilee thus include a renewed appreciation of the presence and activity of the Spirit, who acts within the Church both in the Sacraments, especially in Confirmation, and in the variety of charisms, roles and ministries which he inspires for the good of the Church…


These papal exhortations stirred something within me, and my reflections began to coalesce into an image of the Holy Spirit that I could grasp. In this article I will share with you how I journeyed to this personal understanding. A word of note: following are my own personal reflections on the function and role of the Holy Spirit. They are not intended to be theological statements; any errors in thought or conclusion are my own.


Three Sources:


My reflections are based on three sources: a bible word-study, Dr. Larry Crabb’s book Encouragement: The Key to Caring, and Saint John Paul II’s Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem: The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World.


With my computer bible program, I clicked on what I refer to as my power verse — that is, a bible verse that decisively focuses your attention — from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter five, verse 11 (RSV). It begins, Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. I noticed on the screen with the Greek text that the Greek word for encourage was parakaleo. And that sure had a familiar sound to it as in John 14:16, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you always…” Other translations use the terms Advocate/Counselor/Comforter, as well.


I, then, began to search the Greek text for other verses with the same root and came across parakleto and paraklesis. When I clicked on the screen these Greek words produced the English terms: encourage, urge, exhort, implore, counsel, comfort, console and advocate.


Fourteen years after I did this initial word search, and quite serendipitously, I came across a reference to a sermon by the Jesuit priest poet Gerard Manley Hopkins that was delivered on April 25, 1882 in Liverpool addressing, what a Paraclete means.[2]

Hopkins posits, "For God the Holy Ghost is the Paraclete, but what is a Paraclete? Often it is translated comforter, but a Paraclete does more than comfort. The word is Greek; there is no one English word for it and no one Latin word, comforter, is not enough. A Paraclete is one who comforts, who cheers, who encourages, who persuades, who exhorts, who stirs up, who urges forward, who calls on;…what clapping of hands is to a speaker, what a trumpet is to the soldier, that a Paraclete is to the soul: one who calls us on. A Paraclete is one who calls us on to good."

Envision a third base coach in the game of baseball. How eagerly he will call out to the base runner Come on, come on! "A Paraclete is just that, something that cheers the spirit of man, with signals and with cries, all zealous that he should do something and full of assurance that if he will he can, calling him on, springing to meet him half way, crying to his ears or to his heart: This way to do God’s will, this way to save your soul, come on, come on!"

Coach for Our Lives:


In this article I want to propose the image of the Holy Spirit as the Coach for Our Lives. Think about it. What is the role of a coach? Isn’t a coach the one who urges, implores, encourages, exhorts, as well as, counsels, comforts and consolesone who calls us on. Also, a coach is an advocate, that is, one who supports or urges by argument; one who recommends publicly…a person who pleads for, or in behalf of; an intercessor.[3] That’s like the coach pleading to the referee on behalf of a player.


This image is portrayed so clearly during the NCAA “March Madness.” Coaches anxiously pace the sidelines shouting instructions, encouraging players, sometimes comforting a player, other times consoling a player, and even interceding on a player’s behalf with a referee. Through it all, however, the coach cannot play the game for the players. He can only get them ready for the game; they have to go out and play it themselves.


The Holy Spirit as Coach becomes, then, a good role model to lead our lives. And a good way to affect other people’s lives, as well by encouraging, urging, exhorting, comforting, consoling, comforting, and being an advocate for, or interceding on behalf of.


William Barclay in his classic book New Testament Words writes “that the function of Holy Spirit was to fill a man with that Spirit of power and courage which would make him able triumphantly to cope with life.”[4] Again, the Holy Spirit is the “…one who puts courage into the faint-hearted,…one who makes an ordinary man cope gallantly with a perilous and dangerous situation.”[5]


The root word for this power is the Greek du-namis,[6] from which we derive the English term dynamite — an explosive force. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is not passive, but an active force, of explosive power to encourage, to empower.


The Three Cs:


The Holy Spirit as Coach for Our Lives follows the three Cs of sports, life and faith. The Holy Spirit Convicts us when we’ve gone astray…Corrects us in what we are doing wrong…and Challenges us to change our ways. Again, that is Convicts — Corrects — Challenges. We read in the Gospel of John 16:8 (NAB) “And when he (Advocate) comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation…”


It was Branch Rickey, former General Manager for the New York Yankees, who once said, “The role of the coach is to get ability and capacity to meet” (emphasis added). What a thought. The role of the Holy Spirit as the Coach for Our Lives is to get our ability and our capacity to meet.


We read in the Gospel of John 10:10 (NAB) “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” What a terrific thought. We are called to abundant life living, which means not to settle for little, less or least in life. The Holy Spirit as coach exhorts each of us, “Give me your best! Your best!”


Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Our chief want in life is somebody who can make us do what we can.” And Tom Landry, former coach of the Dallas Cowboys said, “A coach is someone who makes players do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.” Read that again. Someone who makes players do what they don’t want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve.


Such is the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives: someone who can make us do what we can. Someone to get our ability and our capacity to meet. Someone who can make us do what we don’t want to do, to achieve what we want to achieve. The Holy Spirit as the Coach for Our Lives fills us with the power and courage that makes an ordinary man or woman cope gallantly with life.


A Good Ole Texan:


This reminds me of a story told by Zig Ziglar:[7]


There was this very rich, good ole Texan who threw a Texas-sized bash for his daughter. Now he was a very rich Texan with tens of thousands of acres of land, thousands of cattle, hundreds of producing oil wells, a large twenty-nine room mansion with a swimming pool, and a beautiful young daughter.


For this party he invited all the eligible young men of the county to meet his daughter. After the party had been going on for some time, he called everyone out to the pool for an announcement. He lined all the young men at one end of the Olympic-sized pool, which he had filled with snakes and alligators, and said, “The first one of you who jumps into the pool and swims to the other end, I will give him the choice of one million dollars, a thousand acres of choice land, or the hand of my daughter in marriage.”


No sooner were the words out of the Texan’s mouth when there was a splash at the far end and a streak through the water. A young man emerged, setting what must have equaled an Olympic record.


The Texan approached the young man and asked if he wanted the million dollars? The man said, “No, sir.” Then he was asked if he wanted the thousand acres. Again the young man said, “No, sir.”


“Well then, son,” said the Texan, “you must want the hand of my lovely daughter in marriage?”


“Thank you, but no, sir,” replied the young man.


“Well then, just what is it that you do want?”


“What I want, sir, is to know the name of the dude who pushed me in the pool!”


It is a humorous tale, but in life, consider how the Holy Spirit calls us on…urges us, exhorts us, nudges us, and sometimes just pushes us into the pool of life…making us do what we can, filling us with power and courage, making us do what we don’t want to do in order to achieve what it is we want to achieve — our eternal salvation!


Concept of Encouragement:


Let’s look at this concept of encouragement a bit more. The full text of my power verse is

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.…Be at peace among yourselves.…See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:11, 13, 15-18 RSV).

Imagine what might happen if more people allowed the fullness of the Holy Spirit to guide their daily lives? Imagine as parents, pastors, teachers, coaches, administrators, and as bosses and employees, imagine what would your home/parish/school/office be like if this power verse from First  Thessalonians was your guiding principle? And if you can begin to imagine it, you can begin to achieve it. Just imagine!


Dr. Larry Crabb wrote an insightful book Encouragement: The Key to Caring that enhances this reflection on the Holy Spirit as the Coach for Our Lives. The book’s theme is …encouragement through the careful selection of words that are intended to influence another person meaningfully toward increased godliness.[8]


Dr. Crabb examines a key text from the Letter to the Hebrews 3:12-14 (NIV), where we read “See to it…that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”


Literally this means, “to stir up, to provoke, to incite people in a given direction”[9] toward a greater share in Christ. And this “…includes idea of…joining someone else on a journey and speaking words that encourage each other to keep pressing on despite obstacles and fatigue.”[10]


In the Books of Acts 4:36 (NIV) we are introduced to “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement)…” Can you imagine that, Barnabas was his nickname! Joseph’s actions so filled his life that he was given Barnabas as his name. He was known by his actions. Barnabas encouraged Paul on the missionary journey to the Gentiles, as well, he favorably interceded for Paul to the disciples in Jerusalem when there was controversy about him. Stop a moment and consider. What would be the nickname that reflects your life, right now? By your actions, how would you be known?


Stir Into Flame the Gift of God:


St. Paul in his Second Letter to Timothy (1:6-7 NAB) exhorts each one of us, “For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God…For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self‑control.” A spirit that empowers us to triumphantly cope with life.


Let’s now ask a question. “So, how do Christians encourage one another?”[11] Or, “How about Christian men?” Is encouragement a manly thing to do?” Absolutely, though such encouragement requires a conscious commitment amid the routine of daily life to promote other people’s welfare, be it in family, friends, co-workers, teachers, students or parents.…a conscious commitment.


Dr. Crabb again writes, “…I am insisting that every encouraging sentence reflect an awareness that people are needy and fearful. Encouragers must constantly remind themselves that people with whom they rub shoulders are facing problems in life which, but for the grace of God, are ultimately overwhelming. It is this conscious awareness that can give encouraging power to even the most trivial conversation.”[12] That’s a paragraph that needs to be re-read again with a thought to hang on to.


Again, Dr. Crabb writes, Encouragement is not a technique to be mastered; it is a sensitivity to people and a confidence in God that must be nourished and demonstrated.[13]


So, how do Christians encourage one another? Mainly, it’s to have “a conscious commitment amid the routine of daily life to promote other people’s welfare…” That’s not too difficult once we get out of that little world called “me.”


Practical Suggestions:


Here are a few simple ideas to stimulate your creative juices: send a postcard, write a short note to recognize and show appreciation for someone else. It might be your neighbor who planted lovely flowers that make the whole neighborhood look better. It might be another neighbor whose Christmas decorations brighten up the block. It might be a coworker who ran his/her first marathon, was elected to the school board, or completed a special program. Get creative! Catch people doing good with as much energy as is used in “fault-finding,” and tell as many people, too.


St. Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Every person is an icon of God.” That is a profound perception to see each person as an icon of God. Do you see God’s image in each person you meet? How about in yourself? To be able to encourage one another we must, first, be able to treat each person with dignity and respect. And that includes, first of all, the person with whom you brush your teeth — yourself!


Let me emphasize here that the Holy Spirit is the “final and indispensable agent of change,”[14] first in ourselves, and then in others. We need to ask for this Spirit and allow the Spirit to work in us. The Holy Spirit works from within to re-create and renew, to encourage, to exhort, to urge, to implore, to comfort, to counsel and to console. But, first, we have to open the rusty, hardened and encrusted door of our heart to allow the fire of Divine Love to be stirred into flame.


Rev. Kenneth Hildebrand said, “Strong lives are motivated by dynamic {explosive} purposes; lesser ones exist on wishes and inclinations. The most glowing successes are but reflections of an inner fire.”


Or, as the late Jim Rohn, one of my favorite philosophers of life, would say, “If you have a want in life, you will find a way, however most people, it would seem, just have a wish.” These are two thoughts worth remembering.


Chuck Keller in his poem “Windows To The Soul (A Sonnet)” writes, “They say the eyes are windows to the soul. Depth of experience, inner beauty, honesty, qualities we all extol can be found there.…”[15] To which we might ask, “What do people see reflected when they look into your eyes? Is there the reflection of the Divine Fire within you brightly shining? Or a “Vacant” sign, no one home? Hear again St. Paul’s exhortation: stir into flame the gift of God…


The Lord, the Giver of Life:


For our final reflection I want to look at “What is the function of the Holy Spirit?”


The third source for these reflections comes from Saint Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical: “Dominum et Vivificantem: The Holy Spirit in Life of Church and World.” The title is expressed in the opening sentence, “The Church professes her faith in the Holy Spirit as the Lord, the giver of life.”[16]


At first glance, I noticed that Vivificantem bears some resemblance to “vivify,” so, as I usually do, I went to the dictionary. The American Heritage College Dictionary defines “vivify” as “to give or bring life to; animate, to make more lively, intense, or striking; enliven.”[17] And then I went to my favorite thesaurus, Rodale’s Synonym Finder, that describes “vivify” as “animate, quicken, vitalize, energize, galvanize, invigorate, enliven, liven up, inspirit, stimulate, arouse, fire, brighten, encourage, sharpen, accentuate.”[18]


All these phrases describe the functions of the Holy Spirit as the Coach for Our Lives and reveals a fuller understanding. The Holy Spirit not only exhorts us to renewal, but is the enlivening and animating force from within, that is the giver of life. This provides a greater understanding of the Holy Spirit as a coach; not as separate, an outsider, but one who knows us intimately from the depths of our souls, with all our fears and hopes, with all our doubts and dreams, and with all our possibilities for a new and more abundant life.


Through the Sacrament of Confirmation, Catholics  receive the promise of the fullness of the Holy Spirit within us as the animator, energizer, encourager, the Paraclete — the giver of new life. That is, however, only when we open up the rusty, hardened doors of our hearts to allow the Spirit to enter in.


I’m reminded of a conversation at our friary table with a monk from Spencer Abbey who was passing through and stayed with us a couple of days. He had the good fortune to visit with the late St. Teresa of Calcutta on one of his journeys. As he was preparing to return to the U.S.A., he asked St. Teresa  if there was a special intention she had that the monks could pray for. After a brief pause, St. Teresa said, “Pray that I don’t get in the way. Pray that I don’t get in the way of the Spirit of God.”


Now that’s a good intention for each of us to take to prayer — that we don’t get in the way of the Spirit of God.  Likewise, we might take some time to reflect on what areas of our own lives that might be getting in the way of God’s Spirit. So this is a 2-way prayer — that I don’t get in way of the Holy Spirit through my ego, pride, position or power, and that I don’t put things in way of the Holy Spirit through my fears, busyness, anger, or a hardened heart.


Power of the Saw:


As these reflections come together, I hope you are better able to understand how I envision the role and function of the Holy Spirit in our lives and how we can respond to this coaching. In conclusion, I want to leave you with this thought:


Once a do-it-yourselfer went into a hardware store and  asked about buying a new saw for cutting firewood. The salesman took a chain saw from the shelf and told him it was the newest model, with the latest technology, guaranteed to cut ten cords of wood a day. The customer thought that sounded great, so he bought it on the spot.


The next day the customer returned, looking somewhat exhausted. “Something must be wrong with this saw,” he moaned. “I worked as hard as I could and only managed to cut five cords of firewood. I used to cut seven with my old saw.”


Confused, the salesman said, “Here, let me try it out back on some wood we keep there.” They went to the woodpile, the salesman pulled the starter cord, and as the motor went Vrrooomm…, the customer jumped back shouting, “What’s that noise?”


Now, the customer trying to saw wood without the power of the saw to help him is very much like the believer who attempts to live the Christian life without the daily empowerment of the Holy Spirit.[19]


Let us be reminded to live our lives as sons and daughters of God, led by the power and courage of the Holy Spirit, the Coach for Our Lives. Rise up, O people of God! “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today…” (Heb. 3:13).


[1] Pope John Paul II, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, Apostolic Letter, November 10, 1994, The Vatican, The Holy Father - Pope John Paul II - Apostolic Letters, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_10111994_tertio-Millennio-adveniente_en.html (accessed March 15, 2007).

[2] Hopkins, Gerard Manley. SERMON: The Paraclete, (Liverpool, 1882). Accessed April, 23, 2021. https://thevalueofsparrows.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/sermon-the-paraclete-by-gerard-manley-hopkins/

[3] "Advocate," Random House Webster’s Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus, College Edition, ver. 1.0, 1992.

[4] Barclay, William. New Testament Words. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964, p. 216.

[5] Barclay, p. 221.

[6] Barclay, p. 216.

[7] Cavanaugh, Brian. "Now That’s Motivation," The Sower’s Seeds: Revised and Expanded — 120 Stories Inspiring Stories for Preaching, Teaching and Public Speaking. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2004, p. 50.

[8] Crabb, Dr. Larry and Dr. Dan Allender, Encouragement: The Key to Caring. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984, p. 20.

[9] Crabb, p. 20.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Crabb, pp. 47-48.

[12] Crabb, p. 79.

[13] Crabb, p.80.

[14] Crabb, p. 83.

[15] Keller, Chuck, "Windows To The Soul (A Sonnet)," November 28, 2006, AuthorsDen.com, http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewpoetry.asp?AuthorID=44089&id=174836

[16] Pope John Paul II, Encyclical: Dominum et Vivificantem: The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 1986, p. 7.

[17] "Vivify," The American Heritage Dictionary: 2nd College edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982.

[18] "Vivify," J.I. Rodale, The Synonym Finder. NY: Warner Books–The Rodale Press, 1978.

[19] Cavanaugh, Brian. "Power of the Saw," Sower’s Seeds of Encouragement: 100 Stories of Hope, Humor & Healing. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1998, p. 40.