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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | The Holy Spirit is like an internal compass that orients us to God’s grace

When we navigate by the invisible but real grace of the Holy Spirit, we become most truly ourselves in Christ

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

“We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

This is what the disciples in Ephesus told St. Paul, when he asked them whether they had received the Holy Spirit. They believed in Jesus, but they only knew the baptism of John. Something important was missing in their lives!

I sometimes wonder if that describes a lot of us — not in terms of what we believe, but in terms of how we act. Do we conduct our daily lives as though “we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit”?

All week long, as we prepare for Pentecost, we hear the “farewell discourse” of Jesus. During His earthly life, the disciples navigated their daily lives by the external, physical presence of Jesus. At the Ascension, He will stop being present to them that way. When He sends the Holy Spirit, they’ll have to learn to navigate their daily lives by the internal, invisible presence of the Spirit.

That’s true for us as well. And it’s worth pondering how that internal navigation works.

Most of us have become so used to navigating by the GPS on our phones and in our cars that we’ve forgotten what it means to navigate by a compass — to have an instrument that, through an invisible but real force, can point us to true north. Navigating by a compass is like what happens when we navigate our daily lives by the invisible but real grace of the Holy Spirit.

This is where our knowledge of the gifts and fruits of the Spirit becomes really important. The gifts and fruits are not just an abstract list to memorize — a hoop to jump through on the way to Confirmation. We memorize them because they’re meant to be a diagnostic and navigational tool, an internal compass that orients our daily lives according to God’s invisible grace.

Think of the works of the flesh that are listed by St. Paul in Galatians 5:19-21: “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.” Just on a human level, those are a good navigational and diagnostic tool. If our life is characterized by these, we’re off course.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit, which he lists next (Galatians 5:22-23), are also a good diagnostic and navigational tool: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” When we learn to orient our lives by these fruits, we’re stepping beyond simple human wisdom. We’re beginning to navigate by the invisible and interior grace of the Holy Spirit. We can — and we need to — do that more deliberately.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem says that the Holy Spirit’s work in each person is like the work of water in different plants: it helps each to become itself more fully and beautifully. When we learn to navigate our daily lives by the invisible but real grace of the Holy Spirit, we become most truly ourselves in Christ, fulfill God’s designs for our lives, and enrich the lives of others. If, instead, we conduct our daily lives as though “we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” we’re left to navigate by our own powers — which always has, and always will, make a mess of things.

Come, Holy Spirit!

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