As we prepare for Pentecost, let’s talk about our receptivity to the Holy Spirit.
In his “Treatise on the Holy Spirit,” St. Basil (330-379 A.D.) wrote that the Holy Spirit “gives Himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith.”
In his “Treatise on the Trinity,” St. Hilary (310-367 A.D.) wrote the gift of the Holy Spirit “is everywhere available, but it is given to each man in proportion to his readiness to receive it.”
These doctors of the Church raise two questions to help us think about our receptivity to the Holy Spirit. What’s our capacity to receive and what’s our readiness to receive?
Our capacity varies. Our natural gifts aren’t the same. Some people are taller. Some are more athletic. Some are smarter, more sensitive to the feelings of others, and so on. None of our natural abilities makes us more or less human, deserving of respect or less a child of God.
The same is true of our receptivity to the Holy Spirit. We are all able to receive the Holy Spirit in some way. But the gifts of the Spirit can be given in greater or lesser measure, just as natural gifts are. And God’s supernatural gifts are not given according to natural measures.Just because a person is smart, tall or athletic does not mean they have a greater share of the Holy Spirit! Very simply, Mother Teresa was not the holiest person because she was the greatest athlete or the smartest theologian.
Whatever measure God gives us, we are called to develop His gifts to the fullest extent. If God gives us the capacity of a coffee cup, we are called to fill it. If God gives us the capacity of a gallon jug or a swimming pool, we are called to fill it. Every vessel is called to be 100% filled with God’s love and grace. That doesn’t mean every vessel will hold the same capacity.
And whatever capacity we have, Jesus loves us. So, with respect to our receptivity to the Holy Spirit, comparing ourselves to others is a distraction. We are called to develop the gifts we’ve been given. Comparing them with the gifts of others doesn’t help us do that.
Readiness is also part of our receptivity to the Spirit. Part of the equation is the capacity that God gives us; that’s out of our control. But part of the equation is our readiness to receive, and that’s within our control!
Someone with great natural talents can be lazy and not develop his or her gifts. Another person with modest abilities can work really hard to develop them. Likewise, we can prepare ourselves to work with the gifts the Spirit gives us or not. It’s worth thinking this week about how we can do our part.
When athletes prepare for a game they make deliberate preparations: stretching, warming up and listening to music to get focused, for example. There are other things they avoid, such as eating fatty foods. An athlete, or student, or musician, or hostess who doesn’t do anything to prepare doesn’t perform as well — not because they lack the capacity, but because they lack the readiness.
The same is true in the spiritual realm.
So, as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost, what are the things we’re doing and the things we’re avoiding in order to sharpen our receptivity to the gifts the Holy Spirit wants to give us? What God wants to give is up to Him. Whether we’re ready to receive is up to us.