We are each made to receive the Holy Spirit and to find our joy in welcoming his life into ours. God gives his Spirit as a gift to transform human hearts and minds from within. By this transformation the Lord wants each of us to grow and flourish; the only thing we lose is our sin; everything else is good. So we need never be afraid to watch for the Holy Spirit around us nor allow him to work. As we let Him we will be discovering ourselves, our real beauty and dignity and the real dignity and beauty in others. This is our hope, so, how do we hold it, grow in it and live by it?
Watching for the fruits
We live it simply by treating the Holy Spirit as the real person that he is. Since he is real and at work in the world we can look out for him as a presence around us. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians, gave us a practical (and wonder-working) way of doing this. In that Letter he identified the fruits of the Spirit to look out for:
‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’ (Gal.5:22).
We will be filled with hope as we see the Spirit at work everywhere about us. And we will see him at work by watching for evidence of his influence in those around us. It can be quite a challenge to watch in this hopeful way: most of us find it easier to see sin in others and we are glad, like the Pharisee in his prayers, that we are not so rude or thoughtless. We note with some satisfaction, or relief, that we would not behave in such a way. The challenge is to look deliberately for signs, not of sin, but of the Spirit in other people’s lives.
Let us give a few examples of signs of the Spirit in a conversation. We could be listening to someone moaning or complaining (as so many people listen to us too) and then, in with the general complaints, there appears a simple phrase recognising goodness or kindness in someone else, or a phrase or gesture suggesting gentleness or patience. For example, when someone says, ‘I know she doesn’t mean it’ or, ‘to give him his due, I must say ...’, ‘I can see there was no malice in it’ or, ‘He has a good heart underneath,’ ‘She was trying her best,’ ‘Don’t worry, I don’t mind,’ or, ‘Come on, I’ll go with you.’. These may seem small but they are fruits of the Spirit, and this means that grace has just shone through into that moment and into the world.
We will also see, if we look, the tiniest acts: a teenager chooses to help, a child offers to wash up, someone holds open the door, someone says ‘thank you’ or, ‘let me show you’. We will get joy from looking for these things and we will see more and more. We will see that the Spirit is indeed everywhere at work.
Look and learn
St. Paul also urges us further, in his letter to the Philippians,
‘whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things ... and the God of peace will be with you.’ (Phil.4:8-9)
If we look out for these things we will see them, and if we see them we can learn more about what it is to be honourable, just and gracious ourselves. What is more, in the watching, in the waiting and in the listening, we are watching and waiting with the Holy Spirit himself. We know that, just as we are waiting, so he too is waiting; he is waiting for the moment when he can dive into a conversation and give it a moment’s grace. If we watch carefully, we will see this grace at work. We will become aware, too, of the same promptings in our own life, to be patient when we are tired, to be gentle when we are annoyed, to give a good word in the midst of frustration.
The gift of Hope consists in knowing deeply how sinful I am and knowing deeply how merciful God is. Even when we resist him the Holy Spirit keeps working away to bring about even a fleeting moment of openness, the slightest gap or chink that he may enter with his love, his warmth, his comfort, his clarity and his light.
Finally, where there is forgiveness, there is the Holy Spirit and there is hope. Forgiveness is a sign, possibly stronger than any other, of the presence of the loving mercy of our saving God, poured out for us. Forgiveness is a tremendous sign of God’s active, saving presence. We all recognize how the ability to forgive is often beyond our reach - not just forgiveness for big things, but even for little slights, for being passed over, for not being thanked or recognized or greeted.
To be a Christian is to be given Christ’s forgiveness. It is to be given the Father’s forgiveness for killing His Son. This, the greatest of all sin, the killing of the perfect one, the killing of the one who loves us, killing the only one who wants us with him for all eternity, is forgiven and in this forgiveness all our sins are forgiven Only the Holy Spirit can work that divine act, and only when we ask him.
Whenever we forgive or see forgiveness from another, there is an acceptance to discount the past, to agree to start again. It may be to accept that justice will not be done; that the necessary response is to go beyond justice to a new beginning. The Holy Spirit is the only one who creates and re-creates. New beginnings are from Him. He makes all things new. He turns sin to the good by beginning afresh. The Lord says, ‘Behold, I make all things new’. This is our hope. and in these ways we have the joy of seeing it and experiencing it, in us and around us.
This article is originally found on page 15 of the printed edition.