Today is the Feast of Pentecost, a Feast that officially ends the season of Easter, a Feast that celebrates that day when the Holy Spirit descended, like tongues of fire, upon Mary, the Apostles, and all the other disciples gathered together in that upper room in Jerusalem 2 millennia ago.
So we might ask ourselves, what does this have to do with me? What difference can the Holy Spirit really make in my life? To answer this we sometimes have to see the difference in someone to understand; the difference the Holy Spirit makes, sometimes we have to meet someone animated by the Holy Spirit to be reminded of the difference that the Third person of the Trinity can make in our lives.
Now the person I have in mind is Immaculee Ilibegiza. She’s an author and motivational speaker who radiates a combination of joy, freedom, and security. She knows who she is. She’s also a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.
In 1994, Immaculee was 24 years old and studying at a university in her home country of Rwanda when a time of intense and brutal fighting broke out. Through a series of circumstances, as the fighting began, she was hidden away by a neighbor in a bathroom in his house. The bathroom was 3 ft. by 4 ft. She stayed locked inside that bathroom for the next 91 days. In that bathroom with her were 6 other women. During those 91 days over 1,000,000 people in Rwanda were slaughtered, including her family. By the time the fighting was over and she emerged from the bathroom, she weighed barely 60 pounds.
hink that after having gone through all that she had gone through, after having seen friends turn against her family and horrifically murder them, that her demeanor would be one of a woman who is angry, resentful, and bitter. But she’s not anything like that at all.
During those 91 days this young woman, in the midst of great disaster and personal loss, found God. In her book, “Live to Tell” Immaculee writes how the faith she had been taught as a child suddenly came alive. She writes how she began to talk incessantly with God, to argue with Him, to wrestle with Him trying to figure out what was happening all around her. She was able to get a hold of a Bible from the man who was protecting them, and together with her rosary that kept her occupied for the next 3 months. You can only imagine how well she got to know the Scriptures during that time. And by her constant dialogue with God, her reading of Scripture, and her meditation on the mysteries of the rosary, she experienced some life-changing revelations.
The greatest of those revelations was the experience of being God’s child. She came to know, and not just in her head, she came to know in her heart that God was her Father and that she was His daughter, and that even in the midst of great distress He was there for her. At one point as she was reading Scripture she blurted out to God, pointing to the Bible she said, “This says You have created me. That means I am Your responsibility! You have to take care of me.” This is the spirit of adoption that St. Paul talks about in our 2nd reading today, a Spirit that enables us to know, to confidently know, to know within our heart that God is our Father and that we are His children. Enabling us to cry out Abba, Father or more accurately Daddy, Father. In those terrible and confining days Immaculee not only found God she found out who she was. She found her identity. She knew who she was and whose she was. She discovered she was His daughter, and this one insight is the reason why she is now so free, forgiving, and joyful.
Many people wrestle their whole lives with things, things like insecurity, jealousy, envy, pride, not wanting to forgive. We wrestle with these things for many reasons, but the root reason, I think, is because we are unsure of our identity; we don’t really know who we are or whose we are. The Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit given in power to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, enables us to know who we are, enable us to know that we are sons and daughters of the Heavenly King, and that no matter what may be going on in our life, even in the midst of difficult circumstances, like dealing with cancer wrestling with some sort of an addiction, or dealing with problems in our marriage, we are not on our own; we are God’s responsibility, and He will give us, He will always give us the grace we need. This is a simple yet profound fact of our faith and this makes all the difference in our lives. This is the difference that Holy Spirit makes. And that grace of the Holy Spirit may come to us in ways we don’t even expect or through people we don’t even know.
The love between the Father and the Son is so monumentally strong that we name it the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is love personified. And because of our Baptism that monumental love dwells in us, so that along with Jesus we can call God our Father. May the Holy Spirit remain ever present within us, keeping us in a state of grace, revealing ever more our true dignity as sons and daughters of God the Father.
May the prayer of “Come Holy Spirit” be always on our lips.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley