Last month I suggested that perhaps Jesus was ‘hiding in plain sight’ as He walked with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Could the same be said of His Holy Spirit?
In today’s gospel passage Jesus speaks in His “Final Discourse” to His apostles of His return to His Father. While they are obviously unhappy with this news, Jesus explains that it is necessary so that He can send His Spirit among them. This Spirit will help them to discern the truth of Jesus’ identity as Son of God; the truth of His victory over evil in His Resurrection and return to the Father; and the condemnation of the ‘prince of this world’, i.e. Satan. All of which took place with the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost. And all of which can seem at best a little “distant” from our own personal and collective experiences of God and His Spirit.
During my time here at Loyola I have heard any number of times that many people often don’t quite know what to make of the Holy Spirit. Who or what exactly IS this Spirit? How can I experience this Spirit? Isn’t It something ‘out there’ somewhere?
Jesus himself brings the Spirit “down to earth” when (Jn 3:8) He compares the Spirit to the wind:
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
True, the wind cannot be seen but it definitely can be felt, as can its effects. The relief of a cool breeze on a hot summer day is one example; the effect of a strong storm is another.
During this same period of time I have also experienced, thanks to St. Ignatius and his Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, the constant presence and activity of the Spirit in my own life and, more to the point, in the lives of the people I’ve been blessed to accompany here.
St. Ignatius discovered the presence and activity of the Spirit in the depth and intimacy of his own heart while recovering from a leg wound suffered in battle. During his convalescence he had only two books to read: the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints. (unfortunate for Ignatius? very fortunate for us) When not reading, he would pass the time daydreaming about either future romantic conquests (a man of his chivalric times) or about imitating Christ and His Saints. He began to notice afterward feelings of dryness after the first subject of his daydreams and feelings of joy and enthusiasm after the second. In the depth of his own heart was conceived what would, after many years of reflection and experience, become his Rules for the Discernment of Spirits. Ignatius has already “done the heavy lifting, the work”. It’s for us to take advantage.
Strong signs of the presence and activity of the Spirit are described by St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians (5: 22-23): love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Whenever we see these ‘fruits’ or ‘gifts’ of the Spirit “in the flesh” (as it were), in other people or events, we can be confident that the Holy Spirit is staring us in the face, “hiding in plain sight”. The antitheses of these gifts (inequality, sexual immorality, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, factions and envy, and the like), obviously, indicate the presence of the Evil Spirit within ourselves and/or others.
There is more to Ignatian discernment of spirits than the above, as one might suspect. But enough here, hopefully, to indicate where and how the Holy Spirit is to be found, discerned, and lived out.
(And an early “Happy Pentecost”!)