It is often said that history is written by the winners. For example, if our country’s Revolutionary War had been won by the British, our Founding Fathers would have been largely forgotten traitors and Benedict Arnold might be remembered today as a protector of the Empire. Perspectives are largely formed through the prisms of those who have benefitted from the experiences.
Let’s consider this, then, from a Catholic perspective. Who decides when something is the work of the Holy Spirit?
We hear this all the time when something good happens, right? When our position wins in a courtroom battle, when a storm misses our home, and when just the right leader has taken our parish or our Society’s Council to greater heights, we thank the Holy Spirit for being present and gracious in our lives. But hold on a minute. Does this mean that the Holy Spirit was actively working against that other position, those other homes that were damaged by the storm, and those other candidates who offered to help but who weren’t selected to lead?
Is the Holy Spirit really that personally involved, and indeed even that capricious? That doesn’t sound like part of the Holy Trinity to me.
We know from the Book of Isaiah that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and neither are our ways the Lord’s ways. Thus, we can’t begin to understand the presence and plans of the Holy Spirit, except perhaps to believe that the Holy Spirit is always with us, from our worst days and most unspeakable tragedies and pain to our most joyous days and celebrations. It’s all part of God’s plans for us that we don’t, and may never, understand.
We can be defeatist about all this and assume that because it won’t matter anyway, let’s just sit and be God’s lump of clay, simply exist with as little effort as possible, and wait until He calls us home. Or, since you are probably a Vincentian reading this column, you have instead assumed that God put you here for a purpose. You may not fully understand that purpose, but you assume it is for good! You further understand that the Holy Spirit helps you develop your potential for that good. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is just one of the tools given to you to build your spiritual formation, to serve God’s chosen people the Poor, and to help develop the good in others, too. Indeed, how could the Society have blossomed around the world to more than 150 countries and 800,000 members without the Holy Spirit’s guidance?
Who decides when the Holy Spirit is at work? At times, at least, we do. Not only when, but where- in the streets, in homes, in prisons, in nursing homes, in hospitals and shelters, wherever we do our works of mercy and hope. It is there extensively, and consistently – every day around the country and around the world. We are the chroniclers of today’s presence of the Holy Spirit through our lives and service.
Yours in Christ,