Reflecting yesterday upon the feast of Pentecost and the workings of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded of a passage I’d read recently, from Fr. Jacques Philippe’s Searching for and Maintaining Peace:
We cannot experience this support of God unless we leave Him the necessary space in which He can express Himself….Many do not believe in Providence because they’ve never experienced it, but they’ve never experienced it because they’ve never jumped into the void and taken the leap of faith. They never give it the possibility to intervene. They calculate everything, anticipate everything, they seek to resolve everything by counting on themselves, instead of counting on God….If a priest drafts all his sermons and his talks, down to the least comma, in order to be sure that he does not find himself wanting before his audience, and never has the audacity to begin preaching with a prayer and confidence in God as his only preparation, how can he have this beautiful experience of the Holy Spirit, Who speaks through his mouth? Does the Gospel not say, …do not worry about how to speak or what you should say; for what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it will not be you who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you (Matthew 10:19)?
Let us be very clear. Obviously we do not want to say that it is a bad thing to be able to anticipate things, to develop a budget or prepare one’s homilies. Our natural abilities are also instruments in the hands of Providence! But everything depends on the spirit in which we do things. We must clearly understand that there is an enormous difference in attitude of heart between one, who in fear of finding himself wanting because he does not believe in the intervention of God on behalf of those who lean on Him, programs everything in advance to the smallest detail and does not undertake anything except in the exact measure of its actual possibilities, and one who certainly undertakes legitimate things, but who abandons himself with confidence in God to provide all that is asked of him and who thus surpasses his own possibilities. And that which God demands of us always goes beyond our natural human possibilities!
The Holy Spirit transforms our fear into confidence; He takes the paltry raw materials we provide and uses us as instruments of grace. But in order to experience this, we have to allow Him to enter our lives and carry us. We have to give up the reins of our lives to the One who can guide us best. We can continue to work and use our gifts, but with a degree of detachment and trust, offering them up to God to use them as He wishes. Unless we loosen our grip in trying to control the details of our lives, we will never be able to experience the transcendent peace that the Holy Spirit brings, and we will never be lifted upwards by that gentle, powerful wind, lifted to heights greater than we would have been capable of reaching on our own. If we don’t surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit and trust Him to carry us, we will remain forever cowering in the upper room, held captive by our anxieties, never having the courage to step out into the light of day.
Instead of forcing our own will, we can make our requests known to God and then surrender to wherever He takes us, trusting that He will guide us better than we can guide ourselves. Let us not stifle that still, small voice. When the apostles accepted the Holy Spirit, they were transformed from cowardly, blundering misfits, hiding away in the upper room, into fearless saints: preaching to the nations, speaking in tongues, performing miracles, and facing even martyrdom with unshakeable joy and confidence. The Holy Spirit can transform us just as he did the apostles. If only we let go of the fears and worries that bind us to this world and allow Him to catch us as we take the leap of faith, we will surely find that He has miracles in store for us, too.
1. Luis Tristán, Pentecostes / PD-US
2. Wolfgang Sauber, photograph of fresco in Karlskirche, Vienna, by Johann Michael Rottmayr / CC BY-SA 3.0