Is the Spirit Dwelling Within You?
Fr. Phil Paxton, CP
One summer, after I attended a Passionist meeting in Chicago, I decided to check out a class that was being held at Catholic Theological Union during its Summer Institute. The title of the class was "Conducting a Cultural Audit." The students in the class were mostly members of religious orders. A cultural audit is a process in which a religious order would examine its own "corporate" culture, so to speak, and see how that affected its ability to welcome people from various cultures into its community. The process also enables a religious community to take a hard look at how the mainstream culture could be a having such an influence on it that the community isn’t providing much of a counter-cultural witness.
As I took the course, one of the teachers lent me a video to watch. It was a video of a talk given by an African-American member of the Dominicans, a religious order which had decided to begin a new province with the express intention of welcoming people of different cultures. The talk was requested by the Croziers, another religious order who were contemplating a similar move.
There were a couple of things that have stayed with me from that talk. One of the points that the Dominican made was that a religious community had to decide that it really wanted to reach out to people of different cultures. Another, I think, important point, was that if the decision was to reach out to those groups of people, and if someone who was of a different culture entered into formation with a community, that the person had to be made to feel at home. If he was always treated as a guest or visitor, he would eventually leave.
I bring all this up because of a verse in our second reading for Pentecost Sunday from Romans (8:8-17): "If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you." As we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost, and we remember that the Holy Spirit was given to us at Baptism, and that the gift was confirmed in Confirmation, we may need to ask ourselves, "Is the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, is He (some would say She) at home in us, or just a guest?"
As hospitable as people may be to others, there is a difference between being at home and being a guest. When we are at home, we are an integral part of what goes on in the family. When we are a guest, we can be treated very well, but we don’t really participate in what happens on a day-to-day basis. When visitors come, there is some time when they are expected to leave. Members of a family may grow up and leave the house, but if the relationships are good, they never leave the family.
So, if the Spirit is truly dwelling within us, and is treated not just as a guest, then there are implications for how we live our lives. If the Spirit is at home in us, then it influences the choices we make. We then live our lives guided by the Spirit. We listen to those promptings (some of which are not that subtle) that we get. There may be times when we feel impelled to serve in some way we never thought before. We may hear a call to a vocation. It’s not hard, when we hear the vocation story of a religious sister or brother, to see the working of the Holy Spirit in how that person came to religious life. Can we see the same Spirit working in how some of us came to be married, or in how others of us are living a single life?
When the Spirit is at home in us, we see events and people with the eyes of faith, and we are willing to follow God’s will. We become willing to take leaps of faith, whether they are great or small, trusting in the love God has for us. Perhaps a good indication of whether the Spirit is at home in us or not might be our willingness to make others feel "at home" with us. This happened, in a way, with the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). When they came out of the room filled with the Holy Spirit, and began proclaiming the Good News to the crowd that had gathered outside, it didn’t matter where the people in the crowd had come from, they were able to hear the Good News in a way they could understand. They were made to feel at home with the Gospel! If we can look with love on those who are different, or those who are in need, and act accordingly, that might be a sign of the Spirit working more and more within us.
May we open our hearts and lives to the Spirit, so that he may truly "dwell" within us!
I welcome any comments or questions. Thank you for your time.