Searching for the Holy Spirit: A wild goose chase

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I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him, nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.—Jesus Christ in the Gospel of St. John.

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The Celtics of Ireland and Scotland have an unusual symbol for the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of Christianity’s divine Blessed Trinity celebrated this past Pentecost Sunday: a wild goose. Perhaps the metaphor highlights the Spirit’s relentless, often annoying prodding of the soul, not unlike the irritating honks of undomesticated fowl.

Of course, carnal and violent urges can be just as unceasing and unnerving as noisy geese, so the symbol could work as well for inner promptings hardly associated with the Spirit of Divine Love between God the Father and God the Son. And there is another sad but true undertone of the honking goose as the Holy Ghost: searching for the Paraclete even in one’s own life and being can often seem like a wild goose chase.

Even the most devout believer has to admit that no one can know for sure that the thoughts, feelings and inspirations one has (or thinks one has) are, in fact, coming from heaven. For starters, God being God, He in any of His three Persons cannot be subject to human standards of authenticating religious experience. And the Catholic Church hierarchy is extremely careful in validating reported apparitions and visions, often merely affirming that the message said to have been received is in line with doctrine, but rarely confirming claims of supernatural encounters.

But one thing is undisputed in all Catholicism: the Holy Spirit is with the Church and the world here and now. Christian scripture and doctrine, including Jesus’s own words in the Gospel According to John, have long declared that the Paraclete or “Comforter” was sent to the world after Christ returned to His Father. And the Spirit’s fruits in the human person are clearly spelled out.

Most important of those fruits are the sevenfold gifts that sustain and lift in a fallen world a believer’s faith. In his homily for the first of nine daily Masses before the Our Lady of Pentecost Parish fiesta, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle expounded that the very faith we have comes from God. Thus, when the apostle Simon Peter told Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the Lord replied that it was not human faculties that brought Simon to that belief, “but my Father who is in heaven.”

But Tagle stressed that it is not enough to exclaim, “I believe in God.” The faithful must also affirm the faith by living their lives according to the tenets of that faith, trusting in a loving, almighty Creator, sharing His bounties, and showing concern for all His children and creatures. That is never easy in a world where distractions and demands of earthly existence constantly take one’s mind away from the heavenly.

Hence, the Spirit’s gifts are needed to sustain and enrich the believer’s faith with Wisdom centering his or her life in God, Understanding of the truths of faith, Counsel to know God’s will, Knowledge of what is godly and what is not, Piety in constant communication with God, Fortitude in persevering to do His will, and Holy Fear to see God’s presence and power in life and the world.

Lots of big words there, one may think, but how does that all play out in the everyday life of ordinary Christians, who have to make ends meet, deal with difficulty and iniquity in the world, and otherwise try to do good while the world seems uncaring, uncooperative, and even untouched by a God Who seems nowhere some or even most of the time.

In his Pentecost Sunday homily, Our Lady of Pentecost Parish priest Fr. Dennis Soriano spoke of every Christian telling the story of God in his or her life, showing in everyday events and developments how the divine is inspiring goodness, shaping holiness, and spreading love through one’s own path on earth. He pointed to a Korean sister who renewed her religious vows of chastity, poverty and obedience at the Mass.

But what about most of the congregation who, let’s face it, are simply too caught up in the world, unlike a nun who has given up everything for a life of prayer, contemplation and service? Can even the Holy Spirit ignite fires of holiness in the souls of people constantly blown by the cares of this world? Sadly, many people don’t think so, even wondering if they have ever seen or sensed even the ghost of the Holy Ghost.

In this writer’s verse comedy Holy Madness, adapted from Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel Saint Francis, the title character’s lifelong companion Brother Leo concludes that he simply is not blessed with the heavenly holiness he has tried for decades to emulate in the holy founder of their Franciscan order, echoing the despair of many a believer who never went much beyond infant baptism and Sunday Mass.

To Leo’s surprise, however, Francis called him the “Patron of the Common Christian.” For most people, the saint lamented, “the earthly sojourn is a lifetime of lost battles against Satan and his world, with God seemingly unperturbed above it all, sending no voices in the wind or saints in dreams. Like you [Leo] they feel forsaken and mistaken in their daunting quest for holy perfection.”

A saint gifted with immense grace, Francis said, cannot give courage to the common Christian: “Only someone like them—fallen, faithless, untouched by God’s inscrutable favor—can inspire them to keep rising at every debacle.”

The inspiration to constantly strive for goodness despite failure and exhaustion, believing that somehow God will bless one’s puny strivings—that, for most people, could well be the most precious and ever-present gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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