What if it were possible to get an image of your life from the future – perhaps a year or two into the future? “Wow, that’s a beautiful tropical beach I’m standing on – where is that? How do end up going there?” Perhaps you say to yourself. But wait a minute – “Who is that baby I’m holding?” Or, what if you get a different kind of image: “Why am I lying in a hospital bed? What’s going to happen to me?”
We often wonder what the future holds. That is a very common human desire. The future is uncertain, and uncertainty often brings fear. If I know what’s coming, then I can prepare for it, we might think. But there’s a very good reason why we do not know the future, why God does not want us to know the future: because we are not mentally or emotionally ready to deal with it; we cannot bear it just yet. We have to let time naturally unfold in order to be able to better handle events as they come. The various experiences of life can help us to grow as human beings and can prepare us for the inevitable unexpected events that come along, better than just getting the information now would. What if, for example, you somehow received a message saying that one day you were going to get into a bad car accident – but didn’t know when or where or how. You would feel utterly helpless, just waiting for the tragedy to strike. Yes, there’s a very good reason why God does not want us to know the future.
This is somewhat similar to what Jesus is referring to in our Gospel reading today when he says to his disciples, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” Jesus would not share with them everything they needed to know because he knew that their minds were still fragile and limited: he knew that they would not be able to understand what he had to tell them.
It is the same for us. Sometimes it can seem so hard to have faith. It can often seem that things don’t make sense, even the things our faith teaches us. The direction of our lives or what we are supposed to do with our lives can seem so mysterious and unclear. God’s presence in our lives can sometimes be so hard to see. Sometimes it can feel like He is completely absent. Why doesn’t God just give us the little extra nudge or the little bit of proof we need? Why can’t God just let me have all the information at once? Why doesn’t He just plainly tell me what He wants me to do? Why can’t He just give me a little sign that He hasn’t abandoned me?
God always knows what He is doing. And there is a reason for everything he does or does not do. He knows what we can and cannot manage; He knows how much we can handle. And so He will give to us little by little what we need in that moment. And so it is with our faith. But God has given us an Advocate – a helper – who can prepare our hearts to receive what God has to tell us, and who can reveal it to us.
That Advocate of course is the Holy Spirit, the often-forgotten third person of the Holy Spirit, whose descent upon Jesus’ disciples we celebrate today. We can see the immediate action of the Holy Spirit in them: they went from being gathered together in a room, afraid that they would be persecuted as Jesus was, to going boldly out into the streets of Jerusalem to begin proclaiming what they had witnessed with their own eyes: what Jesus had accomplished in his short life on earth, and his death and resurrection from the dead.
It was through the power of the Holy Spirit which descended upon the disciples that they were given the courage and the wisdom they needed to begin to fulfill God’s will for them. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he instructed his disciples to go to all the nations, proclaiming the good news of salvation which he had won for all mankind. Jesus was asking them to carry on the work which he had begun. But they were unable to do this without the power of the Holy Spirit which he promised to send. We have seen how they were gathered together in hiding out of fear – basically doing the opposite of what Jesus had asked them to do. But with the Holy Spirit, they were instantly transformed, and cast aside their fears. Not only were they given the words they needed to proclaim the Gospel, they also were understood by Jews from around the Roman Empire who spoke many different languages and were gathered in Jerusalem.
We all need the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit to know God’s will for our lives, to have the strength and the courage to fulfill His will, to continue the work that Jesus had begun in the world, and even to understand what our faith is all about. Without the Holy Spirit, we are relying solely on our power, which can only get us so far. Our own power might last us for awhile, but sooner or later we will come to a grinding halt. Our human weakness and limitations will catch up to us. We need the Holy Spirit.
So how do receive the Holy Spirit? What can we do to receive the Holy Spirit? First of all, everyone who has been baptized has already received the Holy Spirit. God is already dwelling in you. But God has given us free will, and He doesn’t force himself on us. So He doesn’t just take over and start controlling us like marionettes. We have to dispose ourselves to let the Holy Spirit come more and more into our hearts so that we can let the Lord act in and through us. So how do we do that? It all comes down to the one word which I think I repeat over and over again in my homilies – the one thing we cannot do without and which is entirely up to us – prayer. We absolutely have to pray. Every one of us – from the pope on down to the little child squirming in his seat at Mass – we all need to pray. It is only through prayer that we can open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit so that he can begin to act in us.
We need some dedicated, sustained, consistent prayer time with the Lord each day. But I don’t have time, you might say. For anyone who is a caregiver of some sort, looking after someone who is dependent on you for their care, it’s true, it can be difficult to find that time. There will be interruptions. You will have to be more intentional about looking for that prayer time, and being prepared to let it be interrupted, but then to make every effort to return to it. To everyone else who has more control over their time, it is a matter of planning one’s day to include time for prayer, just as we include time for eating, sleeping, working, studying, checking social media, watching TV, working on the house, or whatever. Prayer has to be a part of each day.
And how do we know that the Holy Spirit is active and working in us? We know because there will be fruits which will be very obvious to us. Our second reading lists them for us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are the signs. This is what the Lord brings. If you do not see these in your life, ask the Lord for them. And if you do see them in your life, ask the Lord to increase them in you. As the Holy Spirit becomes more and more active within us, the more God will reveal to us, and the more prepared we will be for the twists and turns of life.
Fr. Bill Vander Werff