by Fr. Benedict Solomon, O.Praem.
We heard John the Baptist, the precursor of the Lord, announce: “One mightier than I is coming after me…I have baptized you with water; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
What is the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives during this Advent Season? How can we be immersed in this Spirit more deeply?
The answer isn’t necessarily apparent. It is certainly not what we might suppose at the outset. The Holy Spirit is God’s divine Change Agent. This is important for us to acknowledge up front.
However great our efforts, we cannot change ourselves. When we realize this fact, we will save ourselves a great deal of discouragement and fruitless struggle. We do not have to become perfect Christians by our own power; we do have to learn how to let God make us into individuals who can gather around the Christmas crib with joy and not with regret.
This does not mean that we don’t have to make any effort; but if our efforts are to be fruitful, they must be directed to the right end. We should let the Holy Spirit act in us without our putting up any resistance. This opens us as fully as possible to the grace which makes us holy.
This opening of self demands a great deal of humility. It means renouncing our arrogance, born of pride, by which we want to manage by ourselves, by which we are interested in others only insofar as they enhance our own importance. Likewise, it means renouncing pleasure and comfort as the highest values in our lives. For pride and pleasure close us in upon ourselves and make everything in the world seem dull and flat. Ironically, even ourselves.
For God, each person is absolutely unique. Holiness is the blossoming forth of an absolutely unique individual whom God alone knows and whom He alone brings to a fragrant fullness. Holiness is only revealed to us by degrees, as we journey on, and it is often something very different from what we imagine. So much so, that the greatest obstacle on the path to holiness may be to cling too closely to the image we have of our own perfect selves.
What God wants is always different and often disconcerting. Ultimately, it is also infinitely more beautiful. This uniqueness has an important consequence. This Advent we need to understand what God is asking of us in particular, which He may not be asking of anyone else. How can we discover what it is?
There is one way that is so fundamental that it merits an explanation: the wellsprings of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the inner promptings, the movements of the Holy Spirit in the depths of our hearts by which God makes known to us what He is asking of us, and at the same time offers us the strength we need to accomplish it.
It can happen that we make superhuman efforts to improve on one point, while God is really asking us for something else. For example, we may be making an effort to correct a character defect, while God is asking us to accept it with humility and gentleness toward ourselves! The Holy Spirit is invaluable in enabling us to direct our efforts correctly. Without understanding these inspirations, there is a serious danger that we may either let ourselves off too easily, or demand more of ourselves than God asks of us, which is just as bad — and more common than one might think. God calls us to perfection, but He is not a perfectionist.
All this explains why the Church, during the time of Advent, focuses our attention on how uniquely the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of St. John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Truly, it was the one Spirit working in both individuals and which produced such very different gifts.
John had the charism of a prophet. He put into words God’s perspective of the issues of the day and their moral consequences. He called the religious leaders of Jerusalem a “brood of vipers.” He told the political leader of Israel that it was “unlawful to take his brother’s wife, Herodias.” John put his neck out there and had it cut off.
Mary had the charism of contemplation. The evangelist Luke regularly tells us that she pondered on God’s word “in her heart.” It was this woman with her sensitive heart who during a wedding at Cana went up to her Son and commented simply, “They have no wine”; and to the waiters, “Do whatever He tells you.” Jesus performed His first miracle.
What can we do to increase the powerful baptism of the Holy Spirit in our lives this Advent? Recognize that our own powers are limited, but God’s power and love are not. God is willing, ready, and able to immerse us in the riches of His Holy Spirit Who becomes our unfailing guide as we develop our unique gifts.
All we have to do is peacefully admit the fact of our weakness, acknowledge it — particularly in the sacrament of Confession, and place all our trust in God alone. Basically, it’s that simple. But like all simple things, it takes time for us to understand and, above all, to practice.
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