by Dr. Tamra Fromm

The Celtic Christians referred to the Holy Spirit as “An Geadh-Glas,” (pronounced ‘on-god-gloss’) which translates into something like “wild goose.” When my husband and I visited the northern Scottish island of Iona several years ago, we were surprised to see the image of a wild goose everywhere.

The wild goose is obviously not the traditional image that many American Catholics think of when the Holy Spirit is mentioned. Almost every depiction of the Holy Spirit that I’ve ever seen is a dove. 

Not without reason or backup on this one. All four gospels mention the Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove at his baptism in the River Jordan (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32). But consider that the phrase used in each of these verses is “like a dove.” So the text doesn’t explicitly say the Spirit was a dove.

Since the Bible often uses imagery and metaphors to communicate a larger truth, let’s consider what this image of a dove might be trying to convey.

We have mourning doves in our backyard. When they fly down to our feeder, they don’t scream like the blue jays or push the other birds away like a cardinal. They don’t scatter the seeds and make a mess like the sparrows. 

They’re gentle, docile, peaceful. So perhaps God the Father wanted to show that Jesus was not anointed to be a political figure or a revolutionary. Rather, the Messiah’s reign was about peace. 

So switching gears…yesterday as I was working in my home office, I suddenly heard a loud, raucous honking. I looked out the window and noticed a whole flock of what I imagined were Canadian geese. 

I immediately thought of why the Holy Spirit as a “wild goose” is important for what we need in evangelization.

Wild geese are courageous, unpredictable, and adaptable to many habitats. As the Apostle John says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8).

Wild geese tend to fly in an arrow formation. with each bird in line flying a little bit higher than the goose in front of it. Canadian geese communicate with each other constantly while flying. They shift positions during their flight in order to take turns breaking the wind and reducing fatigue. 

In terms of evangelization, we need these characteristics to be effective witnesses. We need the boldness of the Holy Spirit to not be afraid to go to new places. To adjust our language to the audience. To stay in contact with the community. To work in a team and strive for unity in our mission.

As we approach Pentecost, try not to get stuck on the dove but reflect on the wild goose and what God might trying to tell you. Finally, Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, President of Franciscan University of Steubenville, offers a number of free videos on how to encounter the Holy Spirit as the wild goose. I would encourage you to check out his website.