by Karen L Howard, Ph.D.
One of my favorite passages about the Holy Spirit is from William of Tierry, a 12th century theologian and mystic, in his Mirror of Faith. He describes what happens when we seek the Holy Spirit to understand faith, esp. when we encounter mysteries. He writes:
Hasten therefore to receive the Holy Spirit. He is with you when you call upon him; you can call upon him only because he is already present. But when he comes in answer to your prayer, he comes with an abundance of divine blessings; he is the river whose streams give way to the city of God.
William of Thierry tells us to call upon the Holy Spirit directly. How many of us do that other than around Pentecost or during Confirmation catechesis? He cautions us that when we do so, the Spirit comes with an abundance, a lavishness! Years ago, when our parish choir was working on introducing parishioners to Taizé music and meditation, we all started praying directly to the Holy Spirit, for Taizé is a celebration of the Holy Spirit, ecumenism and unity. Again and again, we were amazed at how many things just kept falling into place. In a study afterwards of people’s experiences of Taizé, many parishioners and attendees remarked that they were now praying directly to the Holy Spirit even though they may not have done that before the Taizé service.
Raniero Catalamesa, OFM, the papal preacher for the last forty years, wrote a marvelous little book, Contemplating the Trinity. He gives us an inside look as to how the Trinity loves each other and how we are invited into that dynamic if we open ourselves up to the Spirit. He writes:
Many people after receiving the Holy Spirit in a new way and experiencing the “new Pentecost,” have been led by him to discover trinitarian prayer. At times, Jesus speaks to them of the Father, like a brother who exhorts another brother to present himself without fear to the Father of them both, almost pushing him forward gently by the shoulders. At times, it is the Father who seems eager to reveal an infinite number of things about the Son to them and to communicate his enthusiasm, his pride, and his joy in him. At times it is the Holy Spirit who teaches them to address the Father as Abba and to address the Son, Jesus, as “Lord”. There is a sense of new horizons opening up, one after another, that takes one’s breath away and leaves one speechless. The Spirit who “searches everything” allows us a glimpse into “the depths of God” (1 Cor. 2:10) . . . .
For the last few Sundays, we have heard about seeds and planting and soil preparation and weeds. During the 15th Sunday of Ordinary time, we heard of the seed falling on various types of ground and whether or not it took root. We also hear that the WORD of God is really the seed and we are to do our best to cooperate with grace to prepare our own soil so that WORD sinks in and takes root. Have you ever wondered how exactly does that happen? How does that WORD take root? How does the WORD get planted into our soil in the first place? We certainly can set aside time to read the Scriptures and practice lectio divina or other such practices of meditation, but we are also called to be that WORD for others. That is really what evangelizing means: to “take the word of God with you as you go” as one popular hymn commands. Often, and I think more often than we realize, the words we say have an impact on others, and convey that Holy Spirit though we many never know how or when. I recently had one such incident come to light.
I will change the names, but a few years ago our parish began a prayer shawl ministry. I met one woman there who had a familiar name that rang a bell, let’s say, Janet Hapka, I once knew a priest with the same name, Fr. Tom Hapka. I asked her “Did you ever know Fr. Tom Hapka? (He had passed away some 40 years ago or more.) She replied, yes, she did, that he was her husband’s brother. We began relating a few stories of what a wonderful man he was even though God took him only five years after his ordination due to an allergic reaction to an anesthesia during a routine surgery. This past week, in the midst of all these readings about seeds and planting, this same woman came up to me after Mass and asked if I had a few minutes. Her husband had passed away about a year ago and she was going through some of his papers. She found a set of Fr. Tom’s papers mixed in with her husband’s. She began reading them and discovered that he had had a very hard time with his faith at one point and he wrote: “I will always be grateful to Karen Howard though she will probably never know how much she has helped me.” She had told him to start praying for himself, and when he started doing so, his life began to turn around. At best estimate, that was some 45 years ago at a small parish picnic that we both attended. The relating of that story sort of made my day and my husband’s day, for he was a friend of his as well. We sometimes never know that the words we speak to others may just be the WORD some need to hear at that moment. That was an instance I think of how the Spirit speaks through us. When we were preparing for those Taizé services, we kept praying to the Spirit and begged him to just help us “get out of the way” and let his WORD prevail. I think it is still a helpful lesson, for the Spirit is all around us and while we may not know where the Spirit blows, if we open up ourselves to be his voice, grace can take over and plant those seeds on fertile soil. Happy planting! Happy gardening!