As a seminarian I regularly visited a couple of nursing homes, I visited Saint Patrick’s Manor and I visited the Lutheran Netherland home. It was at this second place, the Lutheran Netherland Home, that I visited a woman by the name of Firminia, and she was neither Dutch nor Lutheran. She was a Portuguese Catholic and she was 105 years old. Firminia was born in Portugal where there wasn’t much opportunity, so after marrying she and her husband immigrated to the USA. They landed in Boston and began to live the American dream. This was back in the 1920s.
Firminia and her husband quickly added four children to their family. Their son Johnnie came of age at the time of World War II. And Johnnie, like many of the young men of his generation, felt it was his patriotic duty to enlist into the army. And he did. His mom did not want him to go, she had already left Europe and she had left for good. She didn’t want her son going there. Once overseas Johnnie experienced the terrors of war and in battle, he was lost very quickly. He was killed by enemy fire within a very short time of setting foot on the continent of Europe.
As you can imagine Firminia was heartsick for her dead son. He was gone, taken from her at such a young age. Firminia would never see him marry and never see him have children of his own. There wouldn’t be any grandchildren from her son Johnnie. And then about a month or so after his death a letter from an insurance company arrived in Firminia’s mailbox. It contained a check; and the letter accompanying the check stated that she was the recipient of her son’s insurance policy. Before going overseas to Europe, on an impulse Johnnie had taken out an insurance policy in case he should die. On this insurance policy he named his mother, Firminia, as the beneficiary. She was surprised. She hadn’t expected this and it brought about another wave of sorrow and she started crying. She didn’t know that more checks were to follow. Every month year after year Firminia receive a check from this insurance company. She received these checks every month for 64 years. Until she died she received a monthly check and whenever a check would come, if someone was present she would say, “My son Johnnie still takes care of me. Even though he’s been gone all these years he still takes care of me, I still feel his presence.” Her sorrow had been replaced by joy.
Jesus promised not to leave us alone. In the Gospel He says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.” He promised to send us the advocate, to send us the Spirit of Truth. “He will remain with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans.” He promised to continue to take care of us and to be present with and within us. Leading us to truth, strengthening us and giving us the courage to say yes to God’s will. From the catechism we have this; Jesus came to us to give us the Spirit, and by the Spirit we come to share God’s life. This is the Catholic understanding of grace: it is a sharing in divine life. “As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subjected to his power.”
At the seminary before every class one of my teachers, Fr. Moriarty, would begin each class with the short prayer, “Come Holy Spirit!” Whether he said it for himself or for us, I’m not sure. But it’s a good prayer to always have on our lips and in our minds. It’s a good prayer to begin each day. Praying it in those difficult moments when we are in need of heavenly aid, when we are in need of the right words and the right actions in our home, our place of work, or school.
Saint Hilary a fourth century bishop and Doctor of the Church once wrote this about the Holy Spirit (It’s so good); “We receive the Spirit of truth, he wrote, so that we can know the things of God.” He then used the example of our eyes, ours ears, and our nose in order to explain the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s relationship to our soul. The eye does not work without light, the ear does not work without sound, and the nose does not work without a scent to smell. Our organs of sense need light, and sound, and odor to work properly. And it’s the same with the human soul. Unless the soul absorbs the gift of the Spirit through faith, the mind won’t have the ability to know God it would lack the grace necessary for that knowledge.
This unique gift which is in Christ is offered in its fullness to everyone. It is everywhere available, but it’s given to each person in proportion to his or her readiness to receive it. The more we desire the more we receive.
Firminia received a monthly gift from her son. This gift supported her and gave her comfort and security. How much more and in a more real way does the gift of the Holy Spirit support us giving us wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Never neglect the gift of the Holy Spirit, let these words always be on our lips, “Come Holy Spirit Come!”
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley