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In the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy discovers, after a long and harrowing journey, that she has had the power to go home all the time. She didn’t need to risk her life to find the Wizard. She didn’t need to travel the Yellow Brick Road or face the Wicked Witch of the West. Everything she needed was in her ruby slippers. She just had to click her heels three times, and she would be right back in Kansas.
There is a parallel here with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. The Spirit already lives in us. He is already with us, ready to help us find our way home to heaven. So let’s focus on how we can experience the Spirit’s presence more fully.
Changed by the Spirit. The apostles saw countless amazing miracles during their time traveling with Jesus. Storms were calmed, people rose from the dead, and thousands were fed on just a few loaves of bread. All that time, they learned about God’s love, about turning the other cheek, and about God’s unlimited mercy. They even went out, two by two, and performed some amazing miracles of their own. Clearly, their lives were changed in dramatic ways.
But when Jesus was arrested, these same apostles scattered. Peter denied that he knew Jesus. Judas betrayed him. Everyone thought it was the end of the story, and they gave in to fear and temptation. But really, it was only the beginning.
When they saw the risen Jesus on Easter Sunday, the apostles were changed, and their faith was rejuvenated. Finally, on Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit was released into their lives and they were all “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). Everything they had seen and experienced moved them to go out and build the Church. All of this is chronicled in the Acts of the Apostles.
The Next Chapter. Have you ever read chapter 29 of the Book of Acts? Of course you haven’t—there is no chapter 29. At least not in the Bible. Acts 29 is the story of all that has happened from the time of Paul’s imprisonment to today. This two-thousand-year-long chapter includes the stories of pioneers like St. Anthony the Hermit and St. Francis of Assisi. It includes the stories of martyrs like Perpetua and Felicity. It includes the stories of joyful, dedicated servants like Vincent de Paul and Mother Teresa. And believe it or not, it includes you.
You play a vital role in Acts 29. The Holy Spirit lives in you. He is constantly at work forming and shaping you so that you can make a difference in your corner of the Church and the world. You have divine grace to help you hear from the Holy Spirit and follow his leadings.
It’s easy to look at the heroes of Scripture and the Church and see them as something special—and they are special. But they got that way by listening to the Spirit, just as any of us can. Don’t think, “I’m just an ordinary person.” Don’t put limits on what the Spirit can accomplish in and through you. The Holy Spirit is constantly knocking on the door of your heart. He wants to tell you that you can do great things for Jesus. He wants to convince you that God treasures you and loves to use you as his instrument.
A Convicting, Convincing Voice. Our lives are filled with so many voices. We hear from family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. We hear from radio, television, newspapers, and the Internet. The same is true spiritually: we hear whispers from the devil as he tries to deceive us and lead us into sin, and we hear promptings from the Spirit, who wants to help us become more holy. So how can we sort through all of this to focus on the Spirit’s words?
John’s Gospel gives us some suggestions. In his account of the Last Supper, John tells us that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples. This Spirit, he said, “will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness,” and he will convince us of the truth by declaring it to our hearts (John 16:8, 14).
Convicted by the Spirit. In regards to convicting us of our sins, the Spirit wants to speak to our conscience. We have all stretched the truth. We have all manipulated someone. We have all lied, become angry, and wished revenge on our enemies. The Spirit wants to help us see where we have gone wrong. But he does it in a way that inspires us to repent, not in a way that burdens us with unnecessary guilt or shame. We can tell that the Spirit is speaking to us because even as we see our sins more clearly, we are still filled with hope and trust in Jesus’ mercy for us.
But there’s more to this conviction than the Spirit pointing out our misdeeds. He wants to show us the roots of our sins so that we can be changed, not just pardoned. At first, we may go to Confession and admit to having told some lies, used bad language, or become angry. But over time, the Spirit will begin to show us how consumed with ourselves we are. He will show us how our anger, our lying, and our other sins come from the deeper sin of selfishness. And, mercifully, he shows us how to deal with this so that the superficial sins can diminish.
Convinced by the Spirit. When it comes to convincing us, the Spirit likes to take the truths of our faith and bring them to life in us. He gives us signs of Jesus’ love for us. He warms our hearts during Mass, opens our eyes to the Scriptures, and inspires us to live for Jesus.
In all of this, the Spirit’s goal is to take us deeper into the heart of Jesus. He shows us that Jesus really is God, that he really did leave his throne to save us from sin, and that he really did rise from the dead. He shows us that Jesus did all of this because he really does love us with unlimited love.
Take a moment right now to imagine the Spirit speaking to you in the quiet of your heart. Hear him say to you, “Jesus loves you. He shed his blood for you. He wants to come into your heart and fill you with his living water. Let him take away your guilt and shame and tell you that he will never leave you.” These are the kinds of impressions that the Spirit wants to make on your heart.
Practice Listening. Scripture tells us that many people heard Jesus, but they didn’t understand his words. Their own ways and beliefs were too rigid, and they weren’t open to his Spirit’s work of convicting and convincing them. This doesn’t have to be our fate. If we take four simple steps each day—believe, repent, focus, and act—we will begin to sense the Spirit’s presence. We’ll begin to see the impact his words can have on our lives.
1. Believe that the Holy Spirit lives in you and wants to help you. Jesus promised to send the Spirit to help us to pray and to know Jesus. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and comforts us when we are suffering. Never think that you are alone. The Holy Spirit wants to help you become like Jesus—kind, loving, and compassionate to everyone.
2. Repent each day from all those small sins. Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation whenever possible. Sin blocks us from hearing the Spirit and cuts us off from the flow of his grace. When we repent, we are saying, “Lord, wash me clean so that I can hear your Spirit more clearly.” Repentance takes the heavy burden of guilt away. Knowing we are forgiven helps us to be more forgiving as well.
3. Focus. Every time you pray and every time you are at Mass, try to quiet your heart. Put aside all your concerns for a few minutes so that you can be with Jesus. Then ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you. See what comes into your mind. If it is encouraging and upbuilding, it’s probably from the Spirit. Do not leave Mass without taking with you at least one thought that you think is from the Spirit.
4. Try to act on what you sensed the Spirit saying to you. If it had to do with forgiveness, go and forgive that someone. If it was about confidence, tell yourself, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” If it focused on patience with your family, make it a point to express your love to your spouse and children. No matter what you sensed from the Spirit, try to put it into action.
Come, Holy Spirit! Every day, the Holy Spirit is extending to us an invitation. Let’s say yes to him. Let’s say, “Here I am, Holy Spirit! Come and fill me with your love, your wisdom, and your strength.”