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Beyond Three Elk and A Blue Jay

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Show somebody a painting of a beautiful forest with three elk grazing in the middle and ask them what the picture is about, and the average person will answer, “Three elk grazing.”  Now, add a blue jay to the scene and the likely response becomes, “Three elk grazing under the watchful eye of a blue jay.”

You are unlikely to hear anyone say, “Why, that is a classic mix of maple, birch, and beech trees; and there’s a spectacular basswood and, whoa, an American elm that shows no sign of fungal infestation; and, oh yeah, three elk and a blue jay.”

Most of us suffer from “Plant Blindness.”  We barely even notice plants.  In a similar fashion, many of us are afflicted with “Spiritual Blindness”.  We barely even notice the Holy Spirit; whose gift we celebrate today on this Feast of Pentecost.    

These past 50 days of Easter began with an announcement of the Holy Spirit and they now end with an announcement of the Holy Spirit.  In between these announcements, we heard Jesus tell his disciples, “The Father and I are one.”  “My Father and I will come to you and make our dwelling in you.”  “My Father’s love will be in you and I will be in you.”    

The picture being painted here is one of unity: Jesus and the Father are “in” each other, and we are “in” him and he is “in” us.  Father, Son, and Us; all interwoven!  But, like the plants in the picture of the elk and the blue jay; there is more to this picture than what is initially seen. 

What we have here, but which is not very obvious at first, is a linkage of these interwoven persons.  What links them is an unbreakable bond, a bond of love.  This relationship, this bond, has a name.  This bond of love is the Holy Spirit.  We often barely even notice the Holy Spirit.  He is not obvious.

The Holy Spirit is a gift from the Father in answer to the prayer of the Son.  During his earthly ministry, Jesus guided, guarded, and taught His disciples.  After he ascended into Heaven, the Spirit of God came to the disciples and dwelt in them, taking the place of Jesus.   

The Holy Spirit does not work instead of us, or in spite of us, but in us and through us.  The Holy Spirit is sometimes referred to as the Comforter.  The Greek word translated “Comforter” is parakletos.  It means “called alongside to assist.”  Some translations call the Holy Spirit “the Encourager.”  This may capture a fuller sense of what is meant. 

The Holy Spirit is “with” and “in” us, an ever–present resource.  His ministry is to unfold God’s revelation to us and to show its relevance to our daily lives.  He is our Helper; Our Comforter; Our Advocate.      

But, the Holy Spirit does not teach us these things through osmosis.  Once, while in Deacon formation, Father Rodney Adams was instructing us in homily preparation.  Some had expressed their intent to rely on the movement of the Holy Spirit within them for their homily inspiration and preparation.  Father Rodney cautioned us, “Even the Holy Spirit avoids the lazy.”

I am reminded of the time my son Matt came home from college and was questioning me about my Catholic faith.  I am a cradle Catholic and have faithfully gone to mass each Sunday all my life.  I considered myself a pretty solid Catholic, but in hindsight, I was a bit lazy. 

Matt asked me questions about my faith that I could not answer.  I did not know the Church’s position on many issues, or if I knew the position, I did not know the principles upon which that truth  stood.  Most importantly, I could not even give a reasoned explanation for why I was Catholic. 

I was pretty much Catholic because my parents were Catholic.  Well, at some point in your life; that answer is just not good enough.

My son opened my eyes to the fact that it was not enough to just be something by default; you have some obligation at some point in your life to be something through choice.  And to make a choice you have to have information; you need to dialogue about issues and wrestle with them until the Holy Spirit leads you to truth.  

If you want to know the impact of God’s revealed truth on your personal life, you must put some effort into the task.  Our experience with God ought to grow deeper and deeper, and it will as we cooperate with the Spirit of Truth as he teaches us and guides us.  The operative word here is “cooperate”. 

We cooperate with him by actively taking advantage of the education and enrichment opportunities offered us through our own local Church, our Archdiocese, and the broader Christian community.  We cooperate by studying sacred scripture.  We cooperate through personal prayer and meditation. 

For me this has been a long, wonderful, and fruitful experience.  I did not know my faith had such richness and depth.  Once I started down this path, it became almost consuming.  I just could not get enough.  The more I read and studied, the more I wanted to read and study.  As my cooperation increased, my wisdom in faith increased.    

God will manifest his love to us in a deeper way each day if we actively cooperate with him in that effort.  It is only to those who are reaching out that God reaches down! 

Prayer, meditation, education, and participation in the life of the Church are how we reach out to God.  It is through these activities and exercises that we come to see the whole picture. 

It is when we look beyond the three elk and the blue jay that we become aware of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is through cooperation with the Spirit that we are led to wisdom.  Wisdom teaches us how to apply the principles of our faith to our daily lives.  Such is the path toward salvation.

There is a cure for Spiritual Blindness, but it involves active spiritual therapy on our part. 

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