In days past, Catholic schools instructed children on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In those days, education rested upon two realities. The first, concerned the identity of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Most Holy Trinity. The second, the spiritual gifts and graces which the Holy Spirit is urging upon us.
The passing of the years confirm the notion of the Holy Spirit’s ‘urging’ can so easily pass us by. In a world increasingly driven by gratification and self-interest, the need for His prompting has not been greater. It will be said: “there is nothing new under the sun.” But, this should not be taken as suggesting that concupiscence has not, in each era, generated new outlets and forms of expression for our predisposition to choose self over God. Witness, in our own times, how electronic communications and the world-wide web, have – on one view at least- created our very own tower of Babel; a sustained form of distraction from the Divine. Yet, despite all of this, the urging of the Holy Spirit remains: constant and persistent. Gently-prompting us with a whisper which pierces the cacophony of chaos and disorder; bringing harmony and peace. In short: inviting us to the stillness of solitude with God.
Such stillness is to be jealously guarded. Its currency is not the ideology or philosophy of optimism. It rests upon trust founded upon faith. In the words of the great hymn, it is through the promise of the Holy Spirit- the finger of God’s right hand- that we acquire wisdom and discernment:
“His promise teaching little ones to speak and understand”.
This understanding must provide the focus of our thoughts, and illuminate our direction of travel. It is this same wisdom which confirms our being. Returning to the hymn: "with a strength which n’er decays." But what has this to do with the first Sunday of Lent in the year 2020?
The answer is quite simple. The first stage in our Lenten reflection must be the acknowledgement of our own fragility and sin. It is only if we have the capacity to recognise our sin that we may progress to authentic repentance. As we know, repentance is not the same as regret. We may all have regrets. The regret of being late. The regret of not having applied ourselves. The regret of not having offered hospitality. Whilst indicative of our character, such regrets do not come close to the repentance which must inform our relationship with God. Further, the distinction between regret and repentance lies not in the depth of remorse. Rather, it is the fact that remorse is itself the product of an awakening. In this awakening we are confronted with the reality of our God-given dignity and the manner in which we have cheapened and squandered that same dignity; thereby dislocating our hearts and minds from Him in whose image we were made.
Repentance is thus a coming to our senses. The Holy Spirit is urging us to embrace this reality and recognize that we are duty bound to reclaim our true character. To do this requires a particular form of courage and tenacity. In the words of the psalm:
“Teach me again the joy of your love; with a spirit of fervour sustain me…”
In terms of relationship, the Holy Spirit encourages us to look again to the source of our redemption and make Him our own. But the encouragement of the Holy Spirit is as subtle as it is effective. The Holy Spirit first persuades us of our need for repentance. This is no mere intellectual exercise. It must have its foundations in the activities of the heart:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah…”
It is through this awakening that he leads us to transfer our gaze away from ourselves to Christ the Saviour. It is a process of conversio morum.
However, conversion is one thing; endurance is another. It is notable that terms such as ‘fervour’ and ‘zeal’ have fallen from modern usage and, when deployed, invariably convey a negative connotation. In contemporary parlance, one hears of those who are ‘committed’, single-minded, or, obsessed. None capture the intensity of feeling which ought to mark our desire for God. For some, these sentiments will prompt resistance; the very thought of zeal itself being perceived as irrational or intrusive. For others, the mention of zeal is a tad too charismatic or evangelical. However, in our present times, we must first evangelise ourselves. We must be convinced of the Truth we have received. This demands inner resolution and stamina; not good works. We are, after all, first and foremost called ‘to be’ not ‘to act’. But being itself requires courage and fortitude. These too are gifts of the Holy Spirit. That is, gifts which the Holy Spirit is not only urging upon us, but has promised to provide.
The month of March is dedicated to St Joseph; Husband to Our Blessed Mother and earthly Father to our Saviour. In our search for witness of the qualities of inner resolve and stamina, we need look no further. When asleep, the word of God was revealed to him. He digested and acted upon that Word in silence. Through his inner resolve, he nurtured and protected the Holy Family. In short, he listened and, through listening, made the urging of the Holy Spirit his own.
Perhaps during Lent we might call upon the assistance of St Joseph, Zealous Defender of Christ and Mirror of Patience. In doing so, we may not only be awakened to the urging of the Holy Spirit but also have a share in his patience and courage so that we too may pray:
“Teach me again to do your will, for you alone are my God…”
Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom – Pray for us.