by Fr. Jack McArdle
Jesus came to do what he had to do, and, when that was finished, he returned to the Father. When he returned to the Father's side, he took his body with him, before sending his Spirit to complete his work on earth. It is important to remember that, a Spirit on its own, cannot do anything. An evil spirit needs somebody's hands to plant the bomb, or somebody's tongue to tell the lie. It is the same with the Holy Spirit. Jesus sends the Spirit, but we must provide a body, through which that Spirit can work and act.
I provide the body, and God provides the Spirit. When I go to visit the sick in hospital, I do not go to heal anyone, because only God can heal. I go to provide the hands, which I lay on the head of the sick, and I totally depend on the Spirit to do whatever God wants to happen. It is not my responsibility whether the sick one is healed or not, nor is to my credit, if the person is healed. I provide the tongue to speak God's word, the ears and heart to listen to that word, the feet to bring me to where the Spirit wants me to go, and, if necessary, the hands to be used as channels of the healing power of the Spirit.
As I sit here at the computer I am conscious of providing the hands on the keyboard, and I trust the Spirit to give power and inspiration to what I write. My most important contribution is to provide the key of willingness, so that the Spirit can have free access to my heart, soul, mind, and body. The Spirit cannot, or will not enter if he is not invited. The handle on the door of my heart is on the inside, and not even God can enter unless I open that door.
Remember that these chapters are about insights that have helped me, and continue to inspire me. This particular one under review now has been among the most helpful of all. It has enabled me to go to give talks when I hadn't an idea between my ears! It has enabled me walk into homes where chaos reigned supreme, and to say 'yes' to situations and undertakings that were very obviously completely beyond any natural gifts or talents I may possess. It has taught me that, if I want to walk on water, I have to step out of the boat! Exercising this insight has brought about a very real growth in the depth and reality of my faith.
My favourite prayer, which has become my constant mantra, is "Spirit and Breath and Power of God." I just repeat this prayer, without asking for anything, and I have found that it keeps my heart tuned to the presence of the Spirit within. There is one word of caution that I must mention here. When I speak of walking into awkward or impossible situations, or taking on work that is beyond my natural talents, there must be one vital condition present: I was called on to enter the situation, or I was invited to take on the work. It would be foolhardy and dangerous for fools to walk in where angels fear to tread. I am thinking here of agreeing to give a Retreat to a community of enclosed monks, being only too well aware that I, of myself, had nothing to offer them. The secret was that the Abbot asked me! I have had to ring on door bells to tell parents of a son's suicide, because I had found the son. When God puts me into a situation, he provides all that I need to handle that situation.
I had a weekend Retreat recently, and the theme of the Retreat was "Just show up"! In other words, bring the body along, provide that key of willingness, and let the Spirit do everything else. I invite people to a genuine experience, and I am always encouraged by the witness of that experience. This is a transforming process. Once I hand over to the Spirit, I can expect good things to happen, and, as I continue with this mentality, my whole life becomes transformed. The only way I know to help an alcoholic is to persuade him to attend meetings. "Keep bringing the body, and the rest of you will follow. Keep going to meetings, and don't stop till the miracle happens." It is like pushing a car along a road, or learning how to use the ignition key! "The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory are yours".
If I provide any of the power, I will surely be tempted to steal some of the glory! To 'show up' has to be a deliberate choice and decision, and not just drifting into a situation, like going to Mass just because it happens to be a Sunday morning. This is where the key of willingness becomes all important. I am the only one who has control of that key, and not even God will try to manipulate me into using it. In a way, I suppose, it is just as important how you come to prayer, as what happens when you pray. To have the right disposition, to have the proper priority, to remember what really matters,…all of that is part of my prayer life.
I mentioned earlier about stepping out of the boat, if I want to walk on water. I was a swimming instructor at an earlier stage in my life. One of my memories is of a twelve-year lad, with a look of determination on his face, letting go of the bar, and swimming to the other side of the pool for the first time. His joy was unbounded. He couldn't wait to get home to tell his parents. If we had mobile phones in those days, he would be 'on' in seconds! I applauded him, which enhanced the thrill of his excitement. I didn't tell him that a friend of mine had two young children, and she had them swimming around in the deep end of a swimming when they were a few weeks old! A newborn baby does not need to be taught how to swim. Water has been its natural environment for some time now, and there is no fear involved in the process of introducing the baby to water from a very early age.
If, on the other hand, the baby is not exposed to this early experience, it may be twelve years later before he's prepared to take the risk. I can follow my homily notes with attention to detail, and I can cling to the prayers and directions of the official ritual for dear life; but the whole thing lacks spontaneity and personal conviction if I'm not prepared to lift my head off the page from time to time, and say what's in my heart. When I speak from the heart, I speak to the heart. If speaking the Lord's word is part of my Christian apostolate, then I have to come, more and more, to depend on the Spirit to give me the words, and to inspire those words. "When you speak on my behalf" says Jesus, "don't worry what you shall say, because the Spirit will give you words that no one can resist."
I could say in one sentence what I hope to say in this chapter! Christy Moore sings "Don't forget your shovel if you want to go to work". What I am saying is what Jesus told the apostles before he left them on the Mount of Olives: "Stay in Jerusalem, and don't leave till the Spirit comes". Is it possible that Catholics get off the train too early?! They set out with Jesus at Christmas, travel on to Lent, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Then they get off the train, waving banners, and proclaiming that "He has risen! Alleluia!" The problem is that the terminus is Pentecost, and they got off the train too soon! Apart from Jesus, nothing happened to anybody else on Easter morn. The apostles would have denied, sold, or deserted him all over again that very evening, if the pressure was on them. They were to do nothing until the Spirit came. It is only then, when they received the 'power from on high', that they could become Jesus' witnesses to the ends of the earth.
Notice the two parts of the promise. "You will receive power from on high, and you shall be my witnesses". With the privilege comes the responsibility to make use of that privilege. I have neither right nor authority of any kind to represent Jesus in any way until I have received that 'power from on high'. I can be a channel, but never a generator. Show up by all means, provide the voice, the ears, the heart, or the hands. Once you do that willingly, you have to get out of the way, and allow the Spirit take over, and effect whatever good the Lord has in mind. It is an extraordinary privilege to have a close-up view of the Spirit at work. "You will see signs and wonders….".
Showing up, or providing the body, is a very practical and real way of saying 'yes', which is a core prayer, when we deal with the Spirit. "Be it done onto me according to your word." Only God can do a God-thing, and what is done, and what I allow to happen, is the work of the Spirit in me. The only limits to what the Spirit can do in us, through us, or for us, are the limits we set. It must surely give us food for thought to think that any one of us can set limits to the work of the Spirit in our lives. That is very sad indeed, and, when we become aware of it, it certainly should make us sad.
I don't believe that the average person would want to do that, but is doing so unconsciously. Any sense of gratitude I have for all of God's goodness should open my heart more and more to his love and blessings. I can never be 'full' of the Spirit until he has removed more and more of the self, the ego, that takes up so much space within. When the Spirit is given free rein in my spirit, the space available to him is constantly expanding. I will stop here, because I want to develop this insight at greater length in the following chapter.
E-mail this article to a friend
Insights That Inspired Me copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.