Look around you. Do you see Spirit-filled Christians? Do you see Catholics on fire for the Gospel? Men and women totally surrendered to God and living lives marked by the beatitudes: Blessed the poor in spirit, the meek, the pure of heart?
The event of Pentecost as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles gives us a clear indication of why we don’t see the Spirit transforming the earth.
The descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles was part of a long process of transformation for these twelve disciples of Jesus. The Master took these men from their professions as fishermen or tax collector, for example, and began a three-year process of helping them see they could do nothing of themselves. Nothing. Peter’s betrayal of Jesus within just hours of his boast that he would die for him is a clear example of this. Peter learned, he had to learn, as we all have to learn, the truth: apart from Jesus we are nothing. We can do nothing. Without the Spirit of Jesus, no one of us can say Jesus is Lord.
This cuts against the grain. Today we all want to prove who we are, strut our stuff, even in the spiritual life. We humans think we can do at least part of it on our own and God can help us out with the rest.
It takes a long time to learn the first lesson: that salvation is not possible for us to achieve. And the second lesson is just as important: what is impossible to us is possible for God! Pentecost teaches us both lessons. The frightened apostle who gave way under the accusing glance of a maid in the High Priest’s garden after Jesus’ arrest, now stood before a crowd of 5000 boldly proclaiming that Jesus had died and risen. The difference? The Spirit now filled his heart after he’d learned the all-important lesson that he, by himself, could do nothing. He needed the divine omnipotence to work within him so he could delight in the law of God and do what God wills. God gives us the power to accomplish what his will desires.
If you have ever felt you couldn’t be virtuous, holy, or good, you are on the right road! Let yourself be led. When you are utterly helpless, God will come to work in you all that he desires of you.
Another word for this is “poor in spirit.” This is the first beatitude: “What happiness comes to you when you feel your spiritual poverty!” (Mt 5:3 TPT) The poor in spirit have only one remedy: trust in God. This total reliance upon God is the doorway to the Kingdom. Blessed are they who have surrendered to God and trust completely in him.
Isaiah the prophet proclaims:
“The oppressed and needy
search for water,
and there is none,
their tongue is parched with thirst.
I, Yahweh, shall answer them,
I, the God of Israel,
shall not abandon them.
I shall open up rivers on barren heights
and water-holes down in the ravines;
I shall turn the desert into a lake”... (Is 41:17-18 JB)
Imagine the Sahara desert being turned into a lake! It can’t turn itself into a lake gradually. It can’t do anything to become a lake. In fact, a lake is the exact opposite of a desert! But God can completely uproot the desert and plant in its place a body of water. And he wants to do so, because he will not abandon you.
In Peter’s complete failure, the Lord placed holiness and courage and power. It was the Lord’s work brought about by the coming of the Spirit.
So where are you failing?
What are you worrying about regarding your journey with the Lord?
What do your inner critics accuse you of?
Where are you hopelessly lost?
What are the attitudes and behaviors you can’t improve?
What are the addictions you can’t overcome?
Where are the prayers that are filled with distraction?
Who will save you? God will, through Jesus Christ.
So pray, “I can do nothing. God must and will do all. In prayer, in virtue, in love, in work, I believe the Spirit will work in me at every moment. Oh my God, teach me this! Show me what a God you are. How you place your omnipotence at the disposal of every child of yours. I count on you. My God, you are working out my life for me. You are making me holy. You are renewing the face of the earth. You are sending down on me your Spirit. You are refashioning me. You do all things.”
At the Last Supper Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to his followers. When he wants to give you the Holy Spirit, he will first bring you to the end of self, as he did Peter, and then he will flood your desert with the water of life and the fountain of the Spirit. Every moment you will receive this gift. Every moment you must depend on the Spirit. Every moment you must surrender yourself to receive from above what you cannot do on your own.
So you are called to be this Spirit-filled Christian! You are called to be the living witness of the Spirit’s power in the Church and the world!
Here is a short and powerful prayer you can say daily to surrender yourself completely to the Spirit’s guidance:
The Prayer to the Holy Spirit by Cardinal Mercier:
I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to all the noises of the world in order to enter into yourself. Then, in the sanctuary of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit) speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:
O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your Will.
If you do this, your life will flow along happily, serenely, and full of consolation, even in the midst of trials. Grace will be proportioned to the trial, giving you the strength to carry it and you will arrive at the Gate of Paradise, laden with merit. This submission to the Holy Spirit is the secret of sanctity.