This weekend we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the final day of the Easter season when the Holy Spirit fell upon the Lord’s closest followers in that Upper Room. This feast follows Ascension Sunday (originally celebrated on the previous Thursday, exactly 40 days after Easter), when Jesus returned to heaven.
Although the story of the original Pentecost never ceases to thrill, this time my eye was drawn particularly to the second reading:
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.”
A short time ago I posted about these “workings” at CatholicMom.com, pointing out that each of us is equipped with special gifts, special burdens, and a task uniquely our own.
Ironically, those things can at times create “blinders” when God takes us along unexpected paths. Two days ago I received a lovely letter from a Protestant minister who had stumbled across an article I’d written a few years ago about Elisabeth Elliot — and this dear man thought I’d written especially for him to find, three years later. He writes about his own intrepid journey to the Church:
“I minister across denominational lines and I got frustrated with all the different flavors all claiming to be right. I slammed my fist down on my steering wheel about 5 years ago and said, “Lord there has to be one truth, they cant all be right so which is it?” Two weeks later I stumbled across The Journey Home program. That was the opening for me. Now 70 books later, a wonderful relationship with our priest here, and … I am at the door.”
With all my heart, I prayed that this godly man would find the strength to follow through on his convictions and become confirmed. Not that this would be the end of the story, of course. At Confirmation, we receive a portion of the Spirit … and yet, this Spirit does not prevent us from falling into ignorance, concupiscence, and sin. God in His wisdom gave us freedom to cooperate with that Spirit … or not. Our choices are real, our failures all too human.
And so, as a Catholic I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of Christ in leaving behind spiritual fathers (an ordained, systematically trained teaching office) to steer the “Barque of Peter” in the right direction. I mean, if the Spirit does not prevent me from engaging in physical error, how can I presume that (under my own steam) I can long remain free of intellectual error — putting not only my own soul, but that of those I love, in real jeopardy?
It is with real horror I think of the first thirty years of my life. I obtained a “Bible degree,” but never stopped to consider the historical roots of the faith, never thought to see for myself what those first Christians believed. As long as I could support my ideas in Scripture, I was not readily swayed from my strongly held convictions! How prideful, how wrong! How could I have believed that I was better able to hear the voice of the Spirit, than to be guided by the collective wisdom of two thousands years of apostolic teaching? What possessed me to denounce the “dead church of Rome” without ever reading a single volume of Church history or Patristic literature — or a single volume of systematic Catholic theology? Why was I so quick to listen only to those who had already “jumped ship”?
True, the Church today bears little resemblance to the first-century model — that tiny, hunted Jewish sect of the first three centuries, until the reign of Constantine. (Note that Jesus promised to “build” His Church — a verb suggesting growth and development.) Since that time, the Church has suffered attack and betrayal from within and without … and many have chosen to “jump ship,” foolishly thinking it safer to founder in the water than to bail and row harder for shore.
This was not what Christ intended. “There are many kinds of service, but the same Lord.” Each of us has a job to do. Not all of us are teachers, and few are called to be apostles. However, each of us is called to come and serve. And so, together we pray this ancient prayer of the Church:
Holy Spirit, font of light, focus of God’s glory bright,
Shed on us a shining ray.
Father of the fatherless, giver of gifts limitless,
Come and touch our hearts today.
Source of strength and sure relief, comforter in time of grief
Enter in and be our guest.
In our journey grant us aid, freshening breeze and cooling shade,
In our labors, inward rest.
Enter each aspiring heart, occupy its inmost part
with your dazzling purity.
All that gives to us our worth, all that benefits the earth
you bring to maturity.
With your soft, refreshing rains, break our draughts, remove our stains
Bind up all our injuries.
Shake with rushing wind our will, melt with fire our icy chill
Bring to light our perjuries.
As your promise we believe, make us ready to receive
Gifts from your unbounded store.
Grant enabling energy, courage in adversity
Joys that last forever more.