The Holy Spirit works quietly
We all like spectacular fireworks. They are exciting, impressive, exhilarating. The Church’s first Pentecost had some spectacular fireworks. The Apostles and other Christians were gathered “all together in one place”. Where that was precisely, we do not know. It was probably somewhere inside or near the Temple in Jerusalem as right after the fireworks, crowds started to gather. It may have been the same large room where our Lord and the Apostles had eaten the last Supper. Nothing is certain.
So, they were all in one place, then a thunderous noise like a strong wind, like a tornado, came from the sky. And then flames appeared. Flames of fire just appeared out of nowhere—spontaneously—hovering in the air. These flames divided up and started floating through the air until they came to rest on each of the people gathered there.
The fireworks didn’t stop there. All of a sudden, the Christians present started speaking in languages that they did not know. A crowd had gathered by now, an international crowd, with visitors from all over the world who were in Jerusalem for the festival. Each one heard the Christians explaining the Gospel in their own language.
This was a dramatic, spectacular display.
We would be wrong to conclude from this spectacular display that this is the Holy Spirit’s normal way of acting in our life. In fact, it is just the opposite. God’s action in our life most often is gentle, hardly perceptible at first. How does our Lord send the Spirit to the Apostles after his Resurrection? He breathes on them—quietly and subtly. How does St Paul describe the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church? Like the soul of a body—powerful, essential, but invisible, subtle.
The Holy Spirit works quietly.
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The example of Mary
Consider the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Bible tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary was right there in the Upper Room, waiting with the Apostles for the coming of the Holy Spirit. She was the mother who had given birth to the head of the Church, our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, in Bethlehem. And now she is the mother who is helping to give birth to the rest of the body of the Church at Pentecost.
What was she doing? Praying with them certainly. But she was probably also serving them, being a mother tom them in the midst of their confusion and nervousness. They probably asking her about her son, Jesus, and listening—maybe for the very first time—to the story of His birth and childhood. Maybe this was when they first heard about the Annunciation, the day that the Archangel Gabriel came to her and explained that “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you and you will conceive”. She probably told them about the many conversations she had in her heart with the Holy Spirit after that day, the ones St Luke referred to in in his Gospel when he wrote: “And Mary kept all these things, contemplating them in her heart.”
This is the key. To contemplate is to go over an idea in the silence of your mind and converse about it with God. That is what Our Blessed Lady Mary was always doing. Becoming the spouse of the Holy Spirit did not bring fireworks and fancy balls into her life, it brought meaning, mission, wisdom, and courage—and just as seeds take root and grow in the unseen darkness of the soil, these virtues take root and grow in the quiet centre of the soul.
Quiet, gentle, unseen, yet powerful, transforming, and everlasting—that’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
St Teresa of Calcutta put it beautifully when she said:
“God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
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Obeying the quiet voice
There is only one condition attached to the gift of the Holy Spirit. To experience God’s transforming presence in our lives, we have to obey His will out of love. “If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word,” as Our Lord Jesus says in the Gospel.
All of us here today want to obey God’s will in our lives—some want to do so passionately, others with reluctance, but we all want to—otherwise we would not be here. But how do we know what God’s will is?
The Holy Spirit quietly reveals God’s will to us in two ways.
First, He inspires and guides the teaching of the Church.
We have the commandments of the Bible; the instructions of the Catechism; the examples of the saints; the regular updates from the writings of our spiritual leaders. The Holy Spirit wants us to know how a Christian ought to live, He gives us the Church to keep us posted. In this way the Church is like the conductor of a symphony: we have to keep our eyes on its leader if we want to play our part well.
But the Church can only give commandments and guidelines that apply to everyone. That tells God’s will 85% of the time. 15% of the time we are faced with opportunities and challenges unique to the circumstances of our life. That is when the Holy Spirit guides us more personally, through inspirations, through His seven Gifts; the Gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord.
In both ways, He is hard at work, quietly but surely, building up our happiness and the happiness of all around us.
Today, let us renew our commitment to follow and obey—not to experience spiritual fireworks, but in order to feed the fire of God’s love in our hearts, the fire whose light and heat we all need so much.
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