Act When You Are Acted Upon

Novena to the Holy Spirit (Introduction+Nine Days)

Day Nine-Saturday of the 7th week of Easter

[Note: I've included an epilogue or personal testimony at the end of the Novena

Let me recall from Day One's opening scripture passage: The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech. He who searches hearts knows what the Spirit means, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints as God himself wills. [Romans 8:26-27]

I interpreted that passage this way: "The Holy Spirit knows us in a way that words can't express; knows us in the way of God; and the Father knowing us in this manner, acts according to His own Will."

Let me offer on the final day of the Novena, this passage: Similarly, no one knows what lies at the depths of God but the Spirit of God. This Spirit we have received is not the world's spirit but God's Spirit, helping us to recognize the gifts he has given us.[cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-12]

This brings us full circle. The Father knows us because the Holy Spirit penetrates our being and 'groans' (intercedes for us) to the Father on our behalf. The same Holy Spirit knows the depths of God and provides 'gifts' to his children, according to our Father's holy will. Our understanding of this connection between God and us via the Holy Spirit has the potential to alter our awareness of how God is acting in our life. In a sense, if we could 'eavesdrop on this divine conversation' of the Spirit pleading on our behalf as our advocate; and hear the Father's response with his good gifts; then we would come away with a heightened sense of what our prayer life should be. The 'wavelength' of our own personal prayer would begin to look identical to the Spirit's signal. Once we see that God is acting in ways we've missed (or even resisted), we can try to discern his actions with more clarity and sensitivity.

I trust that those who have made it to this final day are prepared to receive the gifts and even more desirous to use the gifts. To all those looking for inspiration and companionship on our little pilgrimage of prayer, I am confident that the Holy Spirit will not fail us. We may receive our gifts with a fanfare or we may receive them with quiet gentleness. We may only discover these gifts some time in the future as their effect begins to manifest noticeable changes in our lives. Don't be afraid to revisit this prayer anytime during the year. I myself pick up the Novena whenever I sense I need a lift; so come back anytime to re-read these simple reflections, if they help. Peace and all good.

Come Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of your faithful people. Enkindle in us the fire of your divine love.

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Epilogue (sort of) or a personal testimony:

My regular readers know by now that I very seldom speak of my personal experience. This blog has always been a place for me to record and journal spiritual reflections and it contains very little of a 'diary' like quality. But here I do want to share a personal testimony about my experience with the Holy Spirit.

I am a 'cradle' Catholic and I enjoyed the life of the Church as every young person should. My mom (a single parent) had me baptized as an infant and when I was ready for pre-school even dropped me off at Catholic 'nursery' school. Each morning a waiting nun showed her dedication by virtue of arriving early to accommodate mom's factory schedule. We attended Mass together regularly through my youth but as I became older some 'event' caused my mother to send me on alone . When the time came to make my Confirmation at around the age of thirteen, I attended all of the catechism classes as required and was fully prepared to be confirmed. We, 'the candidates', were measured for our robes and anxiously awaiting the ceremony.

A new pastor was transferred to the parish, who my mother knew well and had a 'difficult' time with because of a separate family issue. The fact is that my grandfather (her dad) had committed suicide and this priest (acting within the norms of the Church at that time – the late 1950's) refused to provide a funeral service. After some contention I believe he did receive 'some sort of service' by another priest, but was not buried in a Catholic cemetery. I believe that was the 'event' that withered her desire for regular Mass attendance, but she was insistent that I attend even through I had some lazy Sunday mornings. (In her later years she did attend mass regularly and even enjoyed daily mass on television when she became frail.)

At any rate, this same pastor was assigned to this parish and noted that I actually did not 'belong' to that specific parish and thus could not make my Confirmation there and then. He was correct; I did technically belong to a parish a few blocks away. Back in those days we were required to register to a parish based upon our street address; that determined where one 'belonged to'. But I also belonged to a Boy Scout troop associated with my 'alien' parish and thus began my confirmation studies with all my friends who were enrolled in the same school and activities as I was. The original pastor had no problem with this.

This 'grudge' between my mother and the pastor was given 'new food to chew' and he would only allow me to be confirmed at his parish if Mom could arrange for a 'letter from the Bishop or my rightful pastor'. She tried frantically, but as it was so short a time involved - it simply didn't come to pass. So the time for the Sacrament came and went, and I was not Confirmed. I scarcely remember my own reaction; I believe I was disappointed but not bitter. I certainly was not disposed to start classes again and so my meeting with the Holy Spirit was delayed. Unconcerned, I continued to attend church faithfully until sometime after I began to attend college.

College in 1969 was quite an interesting transition to independent living. I began on the right path by attending Mass regularly at the university chapel. So what was it that caused me to fall away for a dozen years or so? More than likely it was the period of 'great loosening of cultural moorings'; meaning an unpopular war, and a heightened resistance to authority, including the authority of the Church. It was a time for 'going with the flow' and it was a time for searching into new thoughts and Eastern Mysticism and 'expanding our minds' both natural and otherwise. There's no sense filling in the details…use your imagination. Some of this is cause and some is effect. I never felt alienated from God or angry, it was simply a sense that organized religion was too restrictive and controlling: and what about all the other people in the world who never heard this message of evangelization?

But by age thirty-two, I had eventually graduated college and was now in my first marriage with a son of around three years old, and more than a dozen years lapsed from the Faith. Entering stage right, my Mother came to visit our home for Easter weekend and simply asked to take my son along with her to Easter celebration (think 'gift of counsel' as in letting the Holy Spirit take over). For some amazing reason, I blurted out that I wanted to go also. To this day I can only thank the Holy Spirit for catching me in such an unguarded moment. And so we went and after my first reunion with the Mass I knew instantly that I was 'caught in the trap'.

I had the good sense to avoid Holy Communion and began to attend for a few weeks on my own and somewhere in the Easter season I decided to see the pastor and talk things out and go to confession. (I know this is getting a little long but stick it out).

While all of this was happening I had become friends with a new co-worker, who was a man of faith, but not overly pious. He helped me out with some 'Church' issues and gently insisted that confirmation was the next step. Right around this time we received some devastating news; he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was a bit older than me but still in otherwise good health at age 50.

We began to pray for healing and in doing so we reached out to people who were truly devout and walking in the ways of the Lord. We visited the home of one poor elderly widow, who I was told, had a 'bleeding stature of St. Theresa of Liseux'. I saw the small statue of pewter with dried blood but never saw a bleeding event. But the bleeding mystery became moot as the genuine Christian love and concern of the widow and her companions for desperate pilgrims spoke more powerfully than any statue could. These were the earthly communion of saints who filled this holy widow's home - who truly believed in the love of God - and they prayed for my friend – and they prayed for me.

Meanwhile, my new pastor and I connected and he discerned me well. He knew I had already attended my classes decades before; so we had a few hours of discussion about the Catholic faith and after some individual sessions with him as teacher, I was deemed prepared to make my confirmation along with the parish youth. My friend with the brain cancer agreed to be my sponsor.

As the time to be confirmed arrived, my friend was undergoing some serious medical treatments. The day arrived and we walked into the Church together. He had lost all his hair due to radiation and there were grid lines drawn on his head to mark where the technician should aim their treatments. He had never seen the inside of this church and when we sat down in our designated pew he was quite taken by the size and 'beauty' of the crucifix that was on display. He was absorbed in its presence and I believe that he came to know, then and there, that the physical healing he hoped for was not for him. I can specifically remember his raising his eyes in adoration and remarking how totally comforted he was by this fourteen foot image of Christ on the cross. This picture is that very crucifix.

Finally, it was our turn to approach the visiting Bishop and my friend placed his hand on my shoulder and presented me for the Sacrament. It was done. Fortunately for me the Holy Spirit allowed me the time to make it back to the pew: from that moment on I was 'slain in the spirit' although I didn't know what that meant at that time. It was 'the sweet anointing from above' and I will never forget the intense love of God washing over my entire being as I sat paralyzed for quite some time. When others rose I simply could not move.

That was twenty-three years ago. My friend died that year - several years younger than I am today.

What I take most from all of this is that the Holy Spirit does what he wills, when he knows we are ready. It's my belief that he kept his gift for me at age thirteen in reserve, and gave me an overly generous portion of Himself at my later age for some mysterious reason. Perhaps I wasn't suitably disposed at age thirteen or he had bigger and differing plans that defy the normal sequence of events. I simply don't fret about mistakes of the past or spiritual gifts I may have squandered. I'm confident all of that has been forgiven. What I am concerned with is my response today. It's quite true that one moment of grace and one drop of divine blood is all we need.

The other thing I've learned to appreciate is that when it comes to the Spirit, we must become very docile, and learn to quickly respond. We must act when we are acted upon. The book called Acts of the Apostles is sometimes referred to as 'the fifth gospel' or the 'Gospel of the Holy Spirit'. It really does focus on actions. It focuses on the response of all Christ's disciples to receiving the Holy Spirit and his guidance. And so must we. I invited those who's faith was lukewarm to participate with the hope of activating the graces that were genuinely imparted by your Bishop, perhaps many years ago. And for the unconfirmed; even unbaptized 'seeker', we have prayed for you to experience, at the very minimum, some rudimentary awakening that would help you in your spiritual journey. No matter who you are, the Spirit brought you here NOW (even those who read this months later) to receive some portion of his gifts if you will simply desire them and remain open.

This online Novena came about not because of my own desire, but because I felt a quiet and simple inspiration, which I acted upon. I have completed my task and leave the end result to God.