Not long ago, I encountered the following passage in a secular novel:
“Things should make sense. If they don’t, there’s no point to anything. It wouldn’t even be worth trying to figure things out any better. Why would our universe make sense with rules that make things like this ship work among other universes that are chaotic and useless?”
There’s a lot of insight in there. Without the fundamental premise that given enough effort and penetration, “things” will “make sense” to us – i.e., that the phenomena of reality will conform to laws that we can deduce and, in some cases, exploit for our betterment – human enterprise would be pointless. Yet it is a premise – a statement of faith in a property of reality that can never be definitively proved.
Without that faith, what could we possibly achieve? But without another kind of faith, what point would there be in achieving anything?
That other kind of faith is faith in God and His benevolence.
Today is Pentecost Sunday 2023, the date on which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Blessed Virgin and the eleven remaining Apostles. It’s often called the birthday of the Church, for it was only after the Paraclete illuminated the understandings of the Apostles that they became both insightful enough to understand Christ’s teachings and courageous enough to preach them to the multitudes.
The Church speaks of seven gifts of the Holy Spirit:
- Fear of the Lord.
These qualities must interlock with a Christian’s faith to enable him to preach it to others, whether by word or by deed. A Christian allegiance that lacks them will tend to be more cosmetic than real: professed in superficialities rather than lived day by day. Only when the Apostles had been granted them were they ready, willing, and able to undertake their Christ-given mission:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. [Matthew 28:19-20]
Consider: the resurrected Christ had been with the Apostles, and had appeared to perhaps five hundred others [Cf. First Epistle to the Corinthians 15:6]. Yet the Apostles’ faith that He was what He said He was, and that His preachments embodied God’s will for Man, was still unequal to the task He had set them. They needed the gifts of the Holy Spirit to strengthen their faith, harmonize it with what He had taught them, and to fortify them for the trials ahead. Compared to the impact of those gifts, the “gift of tongues,” which enabled them to speak to diverse crowds each of whose individual members would hear them in his own language, was a mere convenience.
There’s a “mystery figure” in the Pentecost miracle: Saint Paul, the foremost preacher and traveler of the early Church, whose writings make up a great part of the New Testament. He was not among the original Apostles in the “upper room” on the day of the Pentecost. Yet surely he too received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, probably as part of his “road to Damascus” enlightenment. What else could have assured him of the reality of Christ’s plaintive cry to him (“Saul, Saul! Why dost thou persecute me?”)? What else could have energized and sustained him throughout his travels?
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are anyone’s for the asking. They require only sincerity and humility enough to ask…and to receive. And they are indispensable to anyone who desires to preach Christ and His Gospels, even if only by honoring them with his own life.
For the great open secret of the gifts is this: They make our faith make sense. Indeed, without them, what would the point be of anything?
May God bless and keep you all.