Small Pentecosts

Gratitude Is the Antidote!

By Fr. Barry Cairns

You might call me a slow learner. I am 84 years old, and about 40 years ago a colleague recommended a book called “The Forgotten Spirit.” The title seemed only mildly interesting to me. I admit that at the time the Holy Spirit did not occupy the place of honor in my spirituality. I considered myself a Jesus man. God the Father was a far distant figure. I did attend some prayer meetings of the Catholic charismatic renewal. I admired and was envious of their enthusiasm, but it did not appeal to me.

As I was coming into my 70s and 80s, I noticed my memory was not as good as it had been. People’s names and Japanese words would often make it almost to the tip of my tongue and no further. I could recall details about a person, but not his or her actual name. In trying to recall Japanese words, I would come up with a word like the word I was trying to retrieve from my memory, but not the exact word. To give an example, imagine my recalling “violet” instead of “violent.”

It was about that time that the scripture readings for the Pentecost season struck me in a new way. The readings described how the Holy Spirit gave those still-frightened Apostles the words to “speak out boldly for the Lord,” (Acts 14:3). And we are told in Romans 8:16 that it is by the gift of the spirit of adoption that we can call God “Abba.” At long last something stirred in my heart and in my memory.

Thirty years ago I was on the staff of the Columban Seminary in Sydney, Australia. I used to coach the deacons about the delivery of their homilies. I asked an actress of long experience to help. I remember what she said, “Even after all these years I still get nervous going out on stage, even in repeat performances. I use my nervousness as an impetus to ask the Holy Spirit to guide me.” Now after all these years, her words come back to me. I can still see her vividly as she stood in front of us. I can even remember what she was wearing. But I cannot remember her NAME. But like her, even after 60 years of preaching, I still get nervous. Before Sunday’s homily, my Saturday night is always restless. Will the content I have prepared be relevant to the people who will be listening? Do I have an adequate Japanese vocabulary to express that content?

So my prayer on Saturday nights is something like this, “Jesus, I want to be your instrument in getting your message across to your people. Please ask the Father, Abba, to send the Holy Spirit upon me and the people in the pews. Mary, spouse of the Holy Spirit, please pray for me.”

It works. Often I step down from the pulpit and ask myself, “Where did I get that phrase? Where did that Japanese word that I have not used in years come from?” There can be only one answer, from the Holy Spirit. That acknowledgement leads to gratitude. I find that gratitude is an antidote to pride in thinking that any success is all due to my own effort.

My belated education did not end there. I now ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance in making decisions. I do sometimes think that it would have been better to have chosen another alternative, but even then I can be at peace and remind myself, “No, with due human consideration and the Holy Spirit’s help, I chose this.” And I can be happy with the choice and have no regrets.

Another place I find myself asking the Holy Spirit’s guidance is in my small woodworking shop. There at long last I came to the realization that the Spirit’s help is not just for “holy” things and occasions like priests’ sermons, the Holy Spirit is with all of us in our humdrum everyday doings. Try it. It works!

Columban Fr. Barry Cairns lives and works in Japan.

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