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Zac DavisApril 15, 2024
Photo from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

The Spirit said to Philip,
“Go and join up with that chariot.”
Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said,
“Do you understand what you are reading?”
He replied,
“How can I, unless someone instructs me?”
So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.
(Acts 8:29-31)

Find today’s readings here.

People I know often toss around the Holy Spirit a bit too freely. “That was the Holy Spirit,” after a particularly inspiring parish meeting. “That was the Holy Spirit” when sunshine appears for a family party instead of the forecasted rain. “That was the Holy Spirit,” after running into an old friend on the street.

We often use “the Holy Spirit” as a catchall for any serendipitous encounter. Or sometimes it is used to give ourselves an edge in an argument, theological or otherwise: “Is this what the Holy Spirit is asking us to do?” (In other words: my way of looking at things is the same as God’s. I’m not sure yours is.)

To really discern what is actually the will of the Holy Spirit is one of the most difficult parts of the spiritual life. St. Ignatius developed 14 rules for discernment that stress test whether the “spirit of God” or the “evil spirit” is at work. One of Ignatius’s great gambles in his teachings is the idea that God does speak to us in our inner lives, but discerning God’s voice requires practice and community. The rules for discernment are helpful frameworks for spiritual directors guiding someone asking about God’s work in their life. For example, when someone is living a thoroughly sinful life, the spirit of God will speak through small breakthroughs of their conscience (Rule 1). The inverse is also true: If someone is living in virtue, the evil spirit will bite with doubts and obstacles to encourage turning away (Rule 2). These are just two of the 14 rules, all of which are much easier to understand with a patient Jesuit priest nearby.

And yet, participating in the work of the Holy Spirit can also feel like the most natural thing in the world. When I was a broke college student studying in Beijing, my classmates and I splurged on some custom-made suits. When we put on our tailored suits, we all remarked on what it was like to wear clothes that were made for us, instead of trying stock-made suits from off the rack. (Dear reader: the suit in question has not fit for a long time, but the point still sticks.) I think this feeling, putting on a bespoke piece of clothing tailor-made for me, is what it feels like when I live in accordance with the prompting of the Spirit. Maybe that is what Philip felt approaching that chariot after the Spirit urged him.

In truth, we are too ready to give the Holy Spirit credit for the great cosmic workings of the world and too shy to give it credit for the small everyday moments that stitched together make up our lives. But to recognize the Spirit in our lives requires practice.

Why not begin today? If you have time for one prayer today, make it this bold and dangerous one: What is the Holy Spirit saying to me today?

More: Scripture

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