I’m better these days about inviting the Holy Spirit in…but there was a time in my life when the Advocate’s gentle, liberating presence typically came as a bit of a surprise.
I was reminded of that fact a couple of weeks ago, when I visited a certain parcel of personal holy ground in upstate New York.
This now-shuttered junior college seminary (run by the Missionaries of LaSalette) wound up being the final stop on my journey of discerning a call to the priesthood in 1974.
At that point, I’d been toying with the idea for a while. Having just graduated from a prep seminary, I’d gone on to college at Altamont not out of any clear sense of a priestly vocation taking shape…but mostly, because I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
My first semester there was wrapping up when – one Sunday afternoon – our rector button-holed me, and asked me to join him on a walk. Right away, I thought: “THIS can’t be good.” We all knew the rector never asked a seminarian to take a walk unless he was about to lower the boom.
As it happened, the rector did have an ulterior motive in mind. He was fishing for information – essentially asking me to rat-out any classmates who might be planning to leave our ranks. But something pretty remarkable happened in the instant after Father Rector posed his query: I felt an overwhelming peace. I sensed the Holy Spirit whispering to my heart, telling me, “It’s really OK.”
And then, I heard myself summoning the courage to tell our rector that I would be leaving the seminary at the end of the semester.
It may not have been in the literal sense a bolt out of the blue. But it came pretty darn close. In fact, some 48 years later, I sometimes wonder whether that mountaintop moment was real.
I still find it a little hard to believe that the Lord of the Cosmos would deign make a site-visit, showing up (even in a beautiful backwater like Altamont) for the sole purpose of giving little-ol-me a gentle nudge regarding vocation and career.
But if I needed confirmation of the Spirit’s actual presence in that long-ago moment, I found it in my most recent visit, too. You see, this time around I was accompanied by my Paradise Partner.
Gerri’s forbearing smile – as I traipsed the grounds at Altamont in 2022 – reminded me of the unexpected, unconditional, and liberating love I had experienced in that same spot one Sunday afternoon, all those many years ago.
Perhaps I didn’t know it then, but I can see it now, and with a blessed assurance: I wasn’t leaving Altamont in 1974. I was being led.
This is the remarkable promise of Pentecost, isn’t it? For all of us as church, yes. But even (and amazingly) for each of us as individuals, when we remember to invite the Holy Spirit in:
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.