If there’s one virtue I struggle with, it would be hope.
In part because of my melancholic nature, my inner pendulum swings more toward pessimism.
I see the difficulties before they arise, sigh with the weight of anticipated woes, expect disappointment around every corner, and wait for the other shoe to drop.
At times, it affects my spiritual life, too.
This is how prayer might go for someone like me:
Lord, I say yes to You. I desire Your Will more than anything, and I lay down (this need, intention, etc) at your feet. Please take this ache in my heart and work it for good.
Of course, that probably means you want me to suffer. You know that suffering will purify me, and You know that I need lots of that. So I suppose my desires won’t be fulfilled in this life. Or ever.
It’s OK, Lord. You know best. If life is nothing but an ongoing crucifixion and inner dryness, I accept it. I surrender to a life of suffering. All for you, Lord.
There’s a certain amount of truth, of course, to prayers like these. We live in a fallen world, and for our own good God allows a certain amount of suffering to bring about greater glory. St. Ignatius tells us in his rules of discernment to prepare ourselves for desolation even in times of consolation. We can’t expect unremitting bliss—that would be ridiculous.
And we do need to surrender, to die to ourselves. This is the way to holiness. Experience tells us that love is sometimes, maybe even often, painful.
But – Hope.
Hope is buoyant. Hope lifts our eyes to heavenly things rippling over all of our lives—even in the here and now, bright pockets of paradise turned inside-out over our days and tasting of splendor.
Hope is the antidote to pessimism, depression, and a listless sort of defeatism.
Hope reminds us that we live in New Testament times, and that the eternal covenant wrought by Jesus on the Cross and the Coming of the Holy Spirit means that even now eternity has begun—that “everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31) is meant for us in this very moment.
And so surrendering doesn’t just mean allowing something to give way— it means making space for Someone. And when He comes, everything changes.
When I was a teenager, I noticed a new book on my parent’s bookshelf: Let the Fire Fall by Father Michael Scanlan. I pulled it down and read it in a single afternoon, lost in his story of conversion, vocation, and baptism in the Holy Spirit. A new world, a world of vibrancy and faith and healing and power opened up for me between those pages and almost immediately, I decided I want that, too. I knew that the college he’d transformed into an oasis of renewal, Franciscan University of Steubenville, would be my next home.
While studying there, I attended a Life in the Spirit Seminar—not once, but twice—and was baptized in the Holy Spirit (which is really nothing other than giving a deeper yes to God and a petition for Him to release the graces we’ve already received in our baptism in a fuller way.)
And what I experienced is what we were all meant to know: that life lived with the Holy Spirit is a breathtaking adventure. The pessimistic girl was lifted on her heavenly Father’s shoulders and shown a new vista where his presence could be seen around every corner. It was someone opened the blinds in my heart.
With the Spirit, light is more luminous. Colors are brighter. Joy is sweeter. Life is richer. From the first moments after Pentecost, Christians have known what is it is to suddenly be awakened to the breathtaking presence of God even in the ordinariness of things.
Even a cup, a chair, or a brown dress
Could draw their tears with the great loveliness
That wrote tremendous secrets every place.
– Jessica Powers, “The First Pentecost”
Pentecost is my favorite time in the Church year, a new opportunity for a greater release of the Spirit’s gifts in our lives. It is a time to believe with fervor that life really is beautiful now, that God’s gaze is never turned from us and that His countenance splashes radiance everywhere. That He wants us to know joy and fulfillment here and taste eternity even in this present moment.
“Time,” said St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, “is eternity begun and still in progress.” When we live this life with God, she said, “we realize His divine dream.” And that dream is full of wonders.
What if, then, surrender and self-sacrifice means more than suffering? What if it also means making space for miracles? For becoming more of ourselves, in Christ? For new opportunities and resurrections and divine, Spirit-inspired dreams?
What if it’s wonderful?
Someone who knew hope and lived it well was Pope John Paul II. His words to youth in the Czech Republic are powerful reminders to us in these days leading up to Pentecost:
“Do not be afraid! Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure. He alone can give full meaning to life, he alone is the center of history. Live by him! With Mary! With your saints! Ask Christ for the gift of the Spirit. For it is precisely he, the Spirit, the Divine Person who has the task of healing, purifying, sanctifying men’s consciences, and thus renewing the face of the earth. With all my heart I want this to happen to you, to your nation…and to the people of the whole world. May the words proclaimed so powerfully by the Church in today’s liturgy be fulfilled in you: Veni Santce Spiritus, Come, Holy Spirit! In You is the source of light and life, in You the flame of eternal love; in You the secret of Hope that never disappoints. Come, Holy Spirit! Amen.”
This week as we approach Pentecost, let’s lift our hearts in a posture of receptivity to the One who not only gave us life but promised it in abundance. Let’s ask for a greater outpouring of His own life within us, the life that gives everything meaning. Let’s ask for more of Him.
And let’s expect it to be wonderful.
I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. – Psalm 27:13
** Want to find more hope? Pope Benedict XVI called prayer “a school of hope” in his encyclical Spe Salvi. To learn more about prayer, hope, and a life lived in relationship with God, be sure to watch Dan Burke’s powerful new video series Into the Deep here.
And for more about each of the three persons of the Trinity–including the Holy Spirit!–consider joining Claire Dwyer’s small group for The Well, Blessed is She’s 8-week spiritual mentorship program to rediscover the vibrancy of a life firm in identity and rich in intimacy. Registration is open now for sessions beginning the week of June 5! Register here and use code TheWell/Claire for 10% off.