On a Friday, not long ago, I had some errands to run in town. When I gotback to campus it was past four o’clock, and I had to decide whether ornot to return to the office. There was nothing in particular I needed to doin the office, and nine times out of ten I would have called it a week. Butthis time, for some reason, I decided to go back to the Garaventa Center.A few minutes after I sat down at my desk, the telephone rang. The callwas from a dear friend in the UK whose sister had died suddenly. Iwouldn’t have missed that phone call for the world. Half an hour later,when I had hung up the phone, I thought, “Now I know why I came back tothe office. The Holy Spirit guided me here.” I imagine some of you arethinking, “It’s lovely that you were there to receive your friend’s call, butyou have to admit that it might have been just a coincidence.” Sure, youmay be right. I’m perfectly free to think my returning to the office thatafternoon was merely a fortunate coincidence. But because, as aChristian, I live by the Spirit and try to be guided by the Spirit, I’m alsofree to think something more. I am free to think that my choice to returnto my desk that afternoon was guided by the very love that creates andsustains the universe.
Now, I know that in any particular instance this belief can beproblematic. Years ago, when I was a seminarian, I served as a summerhall manager at Notre Dame. All that summer the hall was used byoutside groups for a succession of conventions and retreats. One suchevent was a Charismatic Renewal conference. While we were checkingpeople in, one of the delegates came back to the front desk to reportthat he couldn’t get into his room. The key didn’t work. I went with himto his door and tried the key myself. Sure enough, no matter how Irattled the handle and twisted the key, the lock refused to work. While Iwas still struggling with the lock, the fellow said to me, “Don’t worryabout it son, clearly God doesn’t want me to stay in this room tonight.” Iadmit that in the midst of my frustrated efforts, the guy’s sublimeconfidence that the Holy Spirit was taking a hand in his room selectionwas annoying. I wanted to say, “Look, the locks in this place should havebeen replaced years ago. They’ve been giving us trouble all summer.”But in retrospect, I can see that it was good that his faith afforded him away of rising above the kind of petty inconvenience that might otherwisehave driven him to distraction.
On this Feast of Pentecost, one might speak at infinite length aboutthe many gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today, I’m thinking about just one. TheHebrew word for spirit is ruach, which literally means ‘wind’ or ‘breath.’Christians use the word to name the Holy Spirit. One of the ways to thinkabout this is that as we lean into our lives, the Holy Spirit gives us roomto breathe. The Holy Spirit saves us from the debilitating mental andspiritual claustrophobia that can result from experiencing life as onerandom, meaningless event after another. The Spirit makes it possible forus to understand the things that happen to us, and the choices we make,as part of God’s loving providential plan for us and the world. Our life isendowed with an infinite, expansive horizon. Except, perhaps, for thesaints among us, it may be impossible to identify with certainty particularactions of the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives, but the possibility thatthere is infinitely more going on at a given moment than we realize, isalways there. “If we live in the Spirit, Let us also follow the Spirit.” Then,we will live richly and move freely and have our being abundantly in him.Breathe deep!
Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”