Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the May 17, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)
Without a doubt, one of the outstanding characteristics of the teaching ministry of Jesus was his selection of ordinary images to portray the Kingdom of God. He seemed to know that people learn most readily when common events or things can be employed in the proclamation of the Gospel. (The professionals call this phenomenon “experiential catechetics.”)
Try this one: I wonder if in contemporary times Jesus would declare that our relationship with the Holy Spirit is much akin to our use of a book of matches to light a candle. Really! How closely this image fits came home to me recently as I watched a new altar server prepare to light the candles for Sunday Mass.
The look of mild astonishment on the server’s face when I mentioned that lighting candles was part of his ministry indicated that assuredly this individual was treading into new territory. The look was one of reluctance and insecurity. The server’s fumbling with the book of matches was more than confirming evidence that he was not used to this kind of experience. With increasing determination and force he tried and tried again to strike the match. Noting his desire to give up and hand the taper back to me, I encouraged him to relax and not try so hard. Cooperation is the name of the candle-lighting game.
Much to his surprise, the little lesson worked! The match burst forth with a splendor of success! Delighted but side-tracked by his new-found ability, the server stared in almost disbelief as the match itself flared, burned, and quickly smoldered to smoky silence. Encouraging another try, I had to remind the server that he had to apply his new-found talent to lighting the taper, which in turn would light the altar candles. A second try later, the server was out the door exercising his new ministry (although a rather quick lesson had to be given about tending the taper, lest the movement of walking stop short his enthusiasm).
Strange image for comparing our relationship with the Holy Spirit? I would argue not. Many, if not most, of us show mild astonishment when advised that the Holy Spirit has an active role to play in our lives of faith. Relegating the Spirit to an abstract notion, or tucking the Spirit into the neat doctrinal confines of the “Blessed Trinity,” we all too frequently tend to remain ignorant of the power of God’s presence.
Life in the Spirit can be new territory. Pursuing such a life of intimacy with God can produce its awkward and fumbling moments. Searching for satisfaction to the hunger in our hearts to know God, we might find ourselves actually trying too hard – as if we had to force the hand of God or manufacture the grace of conversion or commitment. We might try too hard to make the Kingdom come through determined prayer and anxious pleading. Seeing little or no results, we want to quit.
As with candle-lighting, cooperation is the name of the game. Recognizing that God’s love and grace are unconditional gifts, life in the Spirit calls at times for relaxation and expectant waiting – like the Apostles that first Pentecost who followed our Lord’s command to wait for power from on high to engulf them. Our wanting the Spirit to be a viable part of our lives does not make the Spirit come, but it does open our hearts to an awareness and readiness for the Spirit’s activity.
People are surprised when they realize how “easily” the Spirit comes once they quit trying so hard. Either to keep God at a safe distance or trying too hard to force grace. God seeks to be the intimate, loving, and ultimate source of our salvation. Only God – the nameless Protector of Israel and the “Father” of Jesus – is the one who saves and gives the Spirit.
Indeed, we are all told from childhood on to not play with matches, to not toy with fire, lest bad things happen. Many a cindered home is testimony of that. Yet I suspect that God would be more than a bit pleased if this Pentecost found us waiting to be set on fire from above.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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