God wouldn't send us a useless gift, would He?
What is the most unlikely gift you have received? I have a friend who received a set of salt and pepper shakers in the shape of a maid and a butler. When you used them, they played the classic Elvis Presley song, “Love Me Tender.”
I’m thinking of uncalled-for gifts because on Sunday we at least acknowledged, if not outright celebrated, the Solemnity of Pentecost. Can we really celebrate the giving of a gift that we do not quite understand? Could we really say, “Gosh! The Holy Spirit is just great! I couldn’t live without it! Sometimes I use the Holy Spirit as many as five times a day!” Why is the gift of the Holy Spirit worth celebrating?
We need the Holy Spirit because life is so hard; we need the Holy Spirit because life is so good. We need the Holy Spirit because we are miserable sinners; we need the Holy Spirit because we must be saints. We need the Holy Spirit because we are foolish; we need the Holy Spirit because we must be wise. We need the Holy Spirit because we live as orphans; we need the Holy Spirit because we are adopted heirs to a Kingdom. We need the Holy Spirit because we live in darkness; we need the Holy Spirit because we are called to be the light of the world.
We have a choice. We can respond to the Holy Spirit with a perfunctory “thank you” to God for an apparently useless “gift.” Or we can admit that we need the Holy Spirit because we are surrounded by human beings just like us, people who can appear to act almost like demons and nearly like angels. We need the Holy Spirit because we can drag each other into Hell or rally each other to join the long pilgrimage into Heaven. We can offer heartfelt praise for the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit—the breath, fire and peace of God that can carry us from this life to the next. We can be good stewards of the amazing grace of the Holy Spirit by giving as a gift to our neighbor what we have received as a gift from God.
What would our lives look like, as individuals and as a community, if we were living in the Spirit? And how shall we know? How shall we know whether we are living in the flesh or living in the Spirit? One sure sign that we are in the flesh and not in the Spirit is if there is a lack of Christian charity among us. Lacking Christian charity, living in the flesh, is a luxury that we can no longer afford. I say that because I believe that storms are coming—storms more devastating and longer lasting than anything in living memory.
To be ready for the coming storms, we must be in the Spirit, and by the Spirit alone can we be knitted together as members of the Body of Christ. We Catholics have the burden and the privilege of being called to a great mission. When the storms come, we must keep the fire burning. When the storms rage, we must ensure that the light of faith and the light of reason are not snuffed out. We need the Holy Spirit so that we can hand on the gifts of nature and grace to the next generation.We Catholics must learn to live together so well that even during the storms, we will know how to offer living water for Baptism and clean water for drinking, and offer both the Living Bread from Heaven and the daily bread made by our own hands, and provide hope and healing for those wounded in soul and in body.
With the Holy Spirit, we can live together so well that we can readily perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, so that no one among us will ever go unloved, untaught or unfed. Anointed by the Holy Spirit, we can learn to live together so well that we will become a community wherein body and soul may be safe.
How shall we prove that our Lord offered us no “useless gift” when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church? We can do so if we pray, prepare and provide. Let’s pray for a deeper release of the Holy Spirit within us. Let’s prepare to perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. And let’s provide for the needs, weaknesses and potential of our neighbors. If we do that, then we will know that the gift of the Holy Spirit was not given to us in vain.
When I write next, I will speak of a little-known Jesuit hero who deserves to be better known. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, SJ,is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has taught and lectured in North and Central America, Europe and Asia and is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics. He has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and religious formation and is now engaged in pastoral ministry in parishes.