By Rick Berube
CSS Associate Chaplain
Earlier this month we celebrated the Pentecost, which marks the establishment of Christ’s Church. Pentecost invites us to activate our distinctive spiritual gifts (that of knowledge, understanding and wisdom, counsel and fortitude, and piety and wonder) towards building this community of Faith and sharing Christ’s love with others.
These gifts, however, are not always front and centre in our experience.
I think many of us have known times in our lives when our strength is simply exhausted, and we feel that little is left in us to give. We run out of patience and options. Any sense of joy is dulled, and we can’t seem to find relief. Our ability to love seems to dissolve, and our Faith itself feels drained and remote. In these times of gloom (dark nights of the soul), we tend to withdraw from others and hide from their need; any sense of the “gifts” mentioned above is hijacked by our own hopelessness.
Paradoxical as it seems, it is sometimes through such moments of despondency that Grace is made most manifest -- at least in my own experience. It is through Grace that the gifts of the Spirit in us are revived.
Grace works in mysterious ways, and we may not always be aware of its presence within and around us. Often it is in retrospect and as a delayed response to its gentle nudging that we awaken to it.
It may have been a little like that for Jesus’ disciples. Still fearful and hiding in a locked room fifty days after Christ’s rising, they did not come to a true understanding of Christ’s divinity until the Holy Spirit was bestowed on them.
Having followed and lived with Jesus for three years, and having witnessed his miracles, heard his message, and experienced his healing, the disciples (the chosen ones) only really discovered at Pentecost that Christ was God who had lived in their midst. They had experienced the fullness and perfection of his humanity, yet only now -- through the bestowing of the “tongues of fire” (the Holy Spirit) -- could they begin to understand the fullness of his divinity.
If it was so for the disciples, it seems a little more normal and acceptable for us who have to go through so much experience, searching, and angst before coming to the discovery and new understanding of this mysterious Spirit presence in our lives.
Having entered our human experience through the birth of Christ, God’s continued presence among us is revealed through the Spirit that lives within us. When we discern this Spirit acting in us, everything around us can become filled with wonder, transforming the direction and meaning of our lives. As this happens, a sense of purpose can be sparked that draws us beyond ourselves and into a more giving and satisfying life. Even in the brief interludes during which they manifest, these awakenings can arouse in us a taste for new possibilities.
Pentecost tells us that as Christians, living a good life is not enough because we are called to action.
I have been a little stumped when asked what my personal conversion story was. Some people seem to have dramatic stories to tell: a momentous occasion in their lives when this acceptance, this transformation, took place. I, on the other hand, have never been thunderstruck. In truth, I was never really aware of a defining moment in my life when a clear and definite “Spirit call” left me tremulous and completely captured.
I may have felt a little cheated that way, deprived as I was of any such dramatic event in my own rather ordinary life. Grace -- the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit -- has been subtle, barely perceptible, and often well camouflaged for me. I have not always perceived it, or even felt it, so I no longer wait for the clap of thunder or the dramatic “tongues of fire” to come onto me from above. I know that the arousal will only come from within.
As with our gifts, this Grace will manifest itself in peculiar and unique ways in each of us. To know them, we need to be open and attentive, making ourselves available to the actions of the Holy Spirit.