I began a four hundred and fifty-mile drive on Thursday morning from Dover, De to Lake Erie, PA with a van full of people. In the past, I drove straight to PA and then headed west. In my head, I thought I will change drivers as soon as we hit Delaware. It was a rather selfish thought. PA border is only about 50 minutes into the trip not counting our pickups of other passengers. We had 11 altogether but only one co-pilot. About ten minutes shy of PA mapquest takes me south into Maryland and around PA.
I had my co-pilot check the map three times. I could not believe this route was accurate – but it was the quickest way. I drove more than my fair share before we hit PA and than some. I told my co-pilot my evil plan and God’s fix. Does God ever play tricks on us? Do we recognize them as they happen?
Friday was uneventful without any sign of foul play comes to mind. On Saturday though, I decided to leave the group for a while and told them as I left I was going for a long walk. On the way to the dorm room where we had accommodations, I stopped off at a beautiful church on the grounds of Mercy Hurst College. I found myself alone in the church. I prayed for the deceased, for family, and for many in need. I took some time in silence and then leafing through the missal I fell on the stations of the cross.
This church had beautiful tile mosaic depictions of the 14 stations of the Cross that capture Jesus Christ journey to his death – “The Via Dolorosa” or the Way of Suffering. In a darkened church, I read and prayed at each of these stations unperturbed and walked around the interior of the church as I took in the details of each mosaic and each station of the cross. I sat down after that and the Church bells rang for the second time while I was there. It dawned on me that only an hour and a half ago or so I told a group of people I was going on a “long walk.” The “Long Walk” came to be, but not as I had imagined it. The “Way of Suffering” is quite something alone in a darkened church and led by contemplative prayer. Was this another play on my own words?
We can get so busy sometimes in our lives that we can miss small or even very big signs as we rush about in our worldly concerns. My wife returned to our room and said don’t forget your cross is over here on the desk. Just a few minutes earlier I saw the silver chain and cross on the desk and did not recognize it as my own. There was something to this moment, but it wasn’t revealed to me at that time.
Sunday arrived and mass was held at 11 a.m. in the same darkened chapel, but this time with lights on! You can look up the readings for the sixth Sunday of Easter for context (2019), but here is a small segment of the reading:
“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (Jn 14: 25-29)
The priest delivered the homily by walking down the aisle so he was practically horizontal to me as he seemed to direct his words to the believers that occupied the last two rows of the chapel. There seemed to be a gulf between the front rows and the rear that he would not deter him! Nonetheless, his voice and inflections were booming.
The personal revelation came to me. Others will call it coincidental or post-event reinterpretation favoring one’s special status or place. Believe me, I have no such status among men and if anything, just need to to be hit over the head a few times more than others to accept what is plain as day to everyone else.
Sundays Gospel pointed out the power of the Holy Spirit as well as how dumbstruck and fearful the apostles were with their newfound responsibilities to preach the word of God without Jesus Christ here in their midst. The early church struggled to form a semblance of narrative to describe the gift they have received. It was totally unexpected that the Messiah would leave them with an intangible mystery guide. “God’s love for perishing humanity initiated salvation history and his action of sending his only son.” They were it. They would have to face hostility and persecution. They would have to live and preach the word of God. They would have to pray, seek, and listen to the advocate. They would have to live by faith in the absence of Christ in the flesh. They surely did not understand it at the time. And even after Christ passing, the apostles and even the church today struggle to define the “advocate” without retreating to mystical nature of the Holy Trinity: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Only one has truly been visible to mankind. Yet, the Catholic church has detailed the gifts and gruit of the Holy Spirit in the Catechism:
1831 The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David.109 They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.
What does this have to do with me? I started my trip on Thursday not necessarily looking for signs of the Holy Spirit. I would like to believe that I was open and ready to be led should I be granted any consolations however undeserved.
Honestly, life has been wearing me thin and this break away with family and my daughters dance studio to a regional Dance event for aspiring dancers was a welcome break. My only real duties were driving and occasional chaperone errands – must of which were covered by Dance Moms.
From the get-go – a conversation started. My plan to only drive a short-time was ridiculed rather quickly and gave me a reminder and reverence for God’s plans. My selfish desire and humorous plotting were sabotaged without a word being said – and in my heart, I felt it was a cosmic joke upon my selfish thought. Was this the Holy Spirit? I cannot convince you even though it is not the first time I have had a spiritual experience while driving. Do not take shortcuts or take the easier road, bear what is yours to carry seemed to be my message for the trip.
Be careful what you say and be mindful things may not be as they seem. The long walk was indeed longer than I had ever planned despite being very short in actual distance. God’s idea of a long walk was very different than mine. Was this the Holy Spirit? I cannot convince you even though I assure you I had no intention of symbolically and prayerfully walking the “Way of Suffering.” Praying and symbolically walking the stations of the cross on Saturday ignited awareness of true suffering.
And now for the tricky revelation. The lost cross (misplaced on my desk) and its place in this story. Midway through the homily, the words that came out of my mouth the day before, “I did not recognize it as my own,” came to me from Saturday. The meaning that hit me was to own my suffering without complaint, to trust in God, to give up a false sense of entitlement, and to accept unfair hostilities and slander. On the latter note, it does not mean to let these things go unchallenged, but to not let them grab my ego, my pride, and my sense of justice.
Through pray and self-reflection a reasonable response mixed with patience, action, and faith is called for at this time. I found myself praying for my perceived oppressors. All seven of the gifts of the Holy Spirit can be found in this short trip to Erie Pa.
That little cross on the desk is my very own. My little sufferings and tribulations are my own. My advocate is there if only I have eyes to see and ears to hear. The hostilities I face unfairly, the judgments against me, and my perceptions of stress are out of whack with the reality of God’s love for me and you.
If we look for it, if we pray and find time to be silent with God, we can encounter the Trinity and perhaps even be guided by the Holy Spirit. If we experience this we have experienced God’s love. I have much to be grateful for in this world. I, however, must not become too attached to these gifts as they all are temporal and of this world.
The present moment is real and what we have to work with today. Yesterday and tomorrow are out of our reach. We can learn from the former and prepare for the latter – but not to seriously as to exaggerate our own omnipotence.
Nine hundred miles and twenty-five dance performances later I hope I am a little wiser and a little closer to God. Yet I know the gulf between God and myself is beyond my mastery, like the priest yelling to the back of the church, the gulf is real and only passable by God’s love and mercy. In the meantime, paying attention and looking for the Holy Spirit within us and around us, is the gift Jesus Christ left us:
“An encounter with divine love is an encounter with God’s own self, and the Advocate is this a personification of that divine love.” (May 03, 2019: Jesuit Review, M. Simone)
A drive, a long walk, and a Crucifix. Finding God in our daily lives is a personal calling. Without God, each of these events is just a meaningless circumstance, a figment of my fertile imagination or lack thereof!
I have read about the lives of many saints and am sometimes jealous of their consolations received and spiritual strength. Then I pause and think of their hardships and trials and take a pass! Sometimes the mundane is all we can manage!
I still cannot bring myself to ask for more suffering like Catherine of Sienna. I justify it in my head saying it is not good to test God to save me from more suffering by giving me the strength and courage to carry a bigger cross. And yet, if you can read this, you share with me our greatest challenge that lay ahead – our eventual mortality. I can only say, “God’s will, not mine, be done.”