Listening to the Holy Spirit in 2021

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By Peter Ryan

There are some passages in Scripture that we come across and scratch our heads, thinking, “Now how can I possibly follow that?” Or, in many cases it may be, “Well I know how I can do this, but that part is impossible.” Others still simply seem outdated based on what we think we are capable of. But, this reflects a much harsher reality: what we think God is capable of. Acts 2:4 is one of these passages that we may oftentimes dismiss as at least partially impossible.

Acts 2:4 reads, “All were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to express themselves in foreign tongues, and make bold proclamations as the Spirit prompted them.” Let’s picture for a second what this actually looked like. Our characters present here are the remaining apostles and the Holy Spirit. Just prior to this, they were locked in the upper room, terrified of persecution. The Holy Spirit gives them instruction to evangelize, they accept this challenge, and do it. This has a couple of implications. First, the Holy Spirit gives us our instructions from day to day. This is equally as possible today as it was then. Second, since this was the birthday of the Church, and it had to work or else Christ’s Church might never come forth, the Holy Spirit did not influence the wills of the disciples to follow His word, but rather made it incredibly obvious what it was that He wants, arming the disciples with the virtues required to carry out His request. Third, even though the apostles are afraid, the Holy Spirit helps them to want to carry out His will. This is very important. This implies that when faced with any seemingly impossible task, the Holy Spirit will always give us the desire to do what He asks, if we say yes to Him.

In my own personal opinion, the single most powerful prayer we have in our faith is the word “Amen.” It is a fiat, a simple “yes” that means “I want what you want, Lord.” Furthermore, it can also mean “I want to want what you want Lord.” When we ask God to want what He wants, He makes it not only possible, but easy for us to follow through. Though the task may be difficult, the choice becomes an easier one. The word “Amen” also acts as a summary of our entire faith. It is a response to God’s call to us to turn to Him, to come back home to heaven. How wonderful this is, that the God of the universe would choose us in this way! Therefore, whenever we pray the word “Amen,” we can consider this passage and say in our hearts, “God, help me to want as You want.”

The next thing that happens in this passage is they “express themselves in foreign tongues.” What does this mean to us? In context, we know that those who hear them understand each apostle in his or her own language. This is a miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit, however it is not an impossible command for us to fulfill.

How many languages do you speak? First of all, what is a language? A language is a means by which we communicate thoughts or ideas to one another. In our present day, the Holy Spirit may or may not give others the ability to understand us in our native spoken languages, but there are many unspoken languages that we know as well. While praying with this verse the other day, I asked God how I was supposed to do this, and He said to me, “What do you mean? Are you not already turning my entire life into a progressive rock epic?”

I am a Catholic songwriter and producer, and my goal is to write music for the Lord influenced by the progressive rock and metal genres that I, and many others love so much. My goal is to reach people who otherwise would not hear the wonderful message of love that our Lord has for us. Praise and worship music has its place and purpose, but it also has its limitations, like any language. My hope is that my music will reach the people who otherwise may never hear God’s message because it’s never been communicated to them in a language they understand, or want to listen to. My hope is that Catholics who may otherwise fall away have the opportunity to fall in love with our Lord through the music I write. My hope is to revolutionize the way that we as Catholics look at evangelization, so that more of us begin to use our gifts exactly as God designed them to be used.

So what does this mean for you? Well, ask yourself this: What are my gifts? If you’ve never thought about this, ask two more questions: What do I enjoy, and what am I good at? If the answer to these two questions is the same, you have found your gift. The next question to ask is “Lord, how do you want to use this gift to reach others?

It’s very easy as a musician to be dismissed as “gifted,” when the reality is I’ve poured countless hours of my life into what I do. Music is my passion, and passions require time and effort to perfect. Music and art are not the only ways in which people are “gifted”. A gift is any skill or interest that you have that can be developed and used. Find your gifts, and use them to reach people who may never have heard Christ’s message otherwise.

The final part of this passage says that the apostles made “bold proclamations as the Spirit prompted them.” This is a very important reality to us. The Holy Spirit prompts us to boldly proclaim Christ’s message all the time. When have you last heard the Holy Spirit call you to act? It is very important as Catholics that we learn to listen for the will of the Holy Spirit in our lives, because He has so much to say. If you do not have a habit of conversational prayer developed with God in any of His three persons, ask Him to give you the opportunity to learn how to do this. A great place to start is what is known as the “Pirate Prayer.” The acronym stands for “Acknowledge, Relate, Receive, Respond.” The idea is that prayer should be a conversation, where we are listening more than we are responding, and that the prayer should come from God and not from us. Making a habit of this type of prayer leads to a continuous, communicative, and reciprocal relationship between you and God, that will allow you to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit when He calls us to act.

To be honest with you, living as a Catholic or even any Christian in 2021, it’s not that hard to make a “bold proclamation.” Much of our faith is not recognized or understood by the world around us. So we really have no excuse not to do it. The Holy Spirit wants to use us, in all of our gifts, in all of the languages we speak, and in spite of all of the fear we may harbor in our hearts, should only we say, “Amen.”

Edited by Ariel Hobbs

One Response

  1. I have been severely ill with a series of potentially life-threatening diagnoses since November, 2017. Then the COVID curtailments to life fell on us all like a very wet, very heavy blanket right in the middle of all that. I minded my “sequester semester” less than others around me it seemed. I was already used to not working (retired due to illness) and to restricted movement, restricted social contact (3 hospitalizations since 2019 for acute care, the rest in nursing homes, home and intensive physical rehab), and even to restricted diet. All this was due to the illnesses. But I had all the time I could want to read, read, read!
    I was grateful for the new day each morning on awakening—another day for…reading!
    One night, though, when I felt very ill—more than usual—I despaired of this life as I lived it now. I thought dying now would be better than waking up tomorrow. Then I remembered the teachings of Catholic Catechism from way back in the 1950’s. (I’m 73 years old as I write this.) I remembered that this despair and possible suicide is the only unforgiveable sin. It is a sin against the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. The pragmatist psychologist in me, (41 years of clinical practice before retirement), that guy reasoned: “Of course its unforgiveable because you have to be a living creature in order to ask forgiveness.”
    I stopped thinking like that immediately and I slept. I was sure I would not sin against the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.
    In the morning I decided to find a Mass, any Mass, online just to carry me forward into the day with a little more peace of mind. It was only then that I discovered it was now Pentecost Sunday. How could this scientifically trained mind explain that to itself without also taking seriously the gift I had received from…the Holy Spirit? From some deep crevice in my memory banks arose that memory of Catechism class, the neurologically minded psychologist thought. Still, why now? Why now in the dark and early morning hours of Pentecost? Well, the scientist had no answer but the Church does, faith does.
    Since that moment I have returned, through Reconciliation, to the Church, the sacraments, daily prayer, reading, study and contemplation. I’ve been encouraged by my spiritual advisor whom I first met when he visited me during my last acute care hospitalization to write my story, “I know there are folks out there who would want to read your story and they will benefit from it.”
    So here’s my fresh start. I begin now to answer my own question, “So…what about the first day after Pentecost?”

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