February 6, 2009

Spring Marriage Supplement

‘Leave room for the Holy Spirit’ in daily life

By Fr. Robert Hausladen (Special to The Criterion)

“Be sure to leave room for the Holy Spirit,” a familiar dictum growing up, those words of wisdom still inspire me today.

I have to stop and ask myself, “How am I leaving room for the Holy Spirit?”

I am especially mindful as I realize that the Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift, his legacy, and the extent to which there is no room for the Spirit in my life, there also is no room for Christ.

In reflection and prayer, I have become aware of three particular ways that we are called to “leave room”—in our day, in our minds and in our hearts.

In our day

The first way seems so simple, so fundamental, and indeed it is. And yet, so often we struggle with what is most basic to our relationship with God.

We need time for God. We need to leave room, space in our day, for prayer. We need time—time to quiet ourselves, time to reflect and refocus, time to speak and time to listen.

Yes, it is hard to carve out space in our days, especially as so many things seem so pressing. Yet, we must never forget the Holy Spirit is a spirit of prayer.

In our minds

The Holy Spirit is also a spirit of wisdom. We read the following in the Gospel of John: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth’ ” (Jn 16:12-13a).

This promise is fulfilled in and through the Church as celebrated at Pentecost. Thus, in order to be open to the Holy Spirit, we must also be receptive to the truth as it is relayed in Church teachings.

Openness to the Spirit through Church teachings does not, however, simply mean categorically accepting whatever the Church seems to espouse. To do so would be a disservice to ourselves, to the Church and to the Holy Spirit.

While the fullness of the Spirit, along with its wisdom and truth, resides in the Church, that same Spirit resides in each of us through the gift of baptism and the sacraments.

We do honor to the Spirit in ourselves and in the Church only by engaging the Church in her teachings as we allow them to instruct and guide us. We must first clearly know what the Church teaches. Often, this requires questioning and sometimes even challenging Church teachings.

A wonderful example of people engaging the Church in her teachings is chronicled in Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles. The people of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia had received contradictory messages from Paul and more recent visitors claiming to represent the Church.

It is because the people questioned and challenged the Church in her teachings that the Apostles and elders came together to discern and clarify the truth. Thus, the people and the Church were enabled to grow as the wisdom and truth of the Holy Spirit was further revealed “in agreement with the whole church” (Acts 15:22).

We must leave room for the Holy Spirit by learning Church teachings, even when it means questioning and challenging them. To blindly accept or dismiss the wisdom of the Church is to close oneself off to the Holy Spirit—for the Holy Spirit is a spirit of truth.

In our hearts

The Holy Spirit is and must be what we long for and desire. By nature, we are incomplete.

St. Augustine speaks of this want for completion and wholeness as a form of restlessness, and eventually he realized that, “My heart is restless, Lord, until it rests in you.”

Christ speaks often of this restlessness and longing as he assures us, “Be not afraid,” and he speaks time and again of his “peace.”

In John’s Gospel, Jesus offers the parting message, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (Jn 14:27).

Yet, it is puzzling when Christ speaks of this peacefulness in reference to the Holy Spirit. After all, the Holy Spirit seems to be anything but peaceful. There is good reason that the Holy Spirit is symbolized not as a gentle breeze and a warming ray of sunlight, but as a gusting wind and a consuming fire. The Holy Spirit turns our lives and our very world upside down.

When Christ speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit in terms of “peace,” there is an urge to respond, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”

Christ’s “peace” is indeed “not as the world gives.” It offers none of the security we have come to associate with “peace.”

Perhaps the greatest example of Christ’s peace as experienced through the Holy Spirit is the Apostle Paul.

Inspired, filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul would spend the rest of his life constantly striving. He would travel throughout the known world, he would encounter stranger after stranger, and he would be embroiled in controversy after controversy, often with members of his own Church.

He would be hated and despised, beaten, arrested, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead more than once, and ultimately imprisoned and martyred.

Paul hardly lived what one would consider a life of peace. And yet, to truly understand, we must examine not merely the consequences, but rather what enabled a man like Paul to endure. The willingness and ability to suffer as well as the accomplishments of men and women of faith are vivid testimonies to a power, strength and peace that only the Holy Spirit can give.

“Leaving room for the Holy Spirit” means surrendering control and allowing one’s world to be turned upside down.

Perhaps this happens most frequently through the gift of family. Few things shake up one’s life more than having a spouse and children. Each life, each addition to one’s own life, requires further surrender.

While a spouse and children bring great joy, they also bring great uncertainty and the potential for suffering. The sacrifice and uncertainty that love and family require cannot be met without the assurance of the true peace of Christ, which is the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, openness to love and family is openness to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a spirit of peace.

Be sure to leave room for the Holy Spirit: pray, learn and love.

(Father Robert Hausladen is the associate pastor of St. Pius X Parish and chaplain of Bishop Chatard High School, both in Indianapolis. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2001.)

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