In this week’s Spirit, we read about a devastating earthquake that hit Peru in 2007, causing 80,000 families to lose their homes in just one city. In addition to this earthquake in Peru, most of us can name numerous other natural disasters that have wrought immeasurable suffering in cities and countries around the globe—the flooding in New Orleans, the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan… The list could go on and on.
In the face of such humanitarian tragedies, it is easy to be numbed by the scope of the destruction and the amount of work that needs to be done to bring life back to livable standards for those inhabiting the affected area. It is easy to think, “I am only one person. The problem is too big. There is nothing I can do to make a difference.”
Jessica LaRonde and her friend Lana Johnstone did not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by what had happened in Peru. They advocated so that supporting recovery in Peru would be the project of their Interact Club, a club dedicated to helping youth make a difference around the world. Raising $750 for building a schoolhouse in Chincha, Jessica and Lana made the trip to Peru to participate in the building of the school and the life of the community they were helping.
So what makes it possible for Jessica and Lana to respond to the suffering they know is happening in Peru? Why did they not just throw up their hands, saying this was not their problem or that there was nothing they could do to help?
Of course, the answer to these questions is complex. But I want to focus on one part of the answer to the questions suggested through this week’s Gospel reading from John 20:19-31. When Jesus appears to his disciples in the upper room, he offers them peace before commissioning them to go forth and spread the Good News, saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” But Jesus does not send them to continue his work and message alone. Rather, he breathes on them and tells them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Put another way, Jesus insures that his disciples will have the help of the Spirit to assist them.
And what does the help of the Spirit entail? Isaiah 11:2-3 enumerates seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, gifts that are given to us in baptism and that are renewed when we receive Eucharist. These gifts are:
- Wisdom: the desire to contemplate the things of God
- Understanding: the ability to comprehend divine truth, especially as revealed through Jesus Christ
- Counsel: the ability to judge how to act based on faith
- Fortitude: the courage to follow through on actions suggested by the gift of counsel
- Knowledge: the ability to see our lives as God sees them
- Piety: the desire to worship and serve God
- Fear of the Lord: the desire to act out of hope and out of wonder and awe of God (which is different than acting out of fear of punishment)
When I read Jessica and Lana’s story, I can see the gifts of the Spirit working in them. Particularly, I see a demonstration of the gift of counsel, in that they knew to act by giving preference to the poor and suffering, as Jesus did; the gift of fortitude, as they had the courage to stand by their convictions, to advocate that funds be raised to help the communities in Peru devastated by the earthquake, and to travel to Peru even if this would be a new experience for them; and fear of the Lord, as they acted out of hope and not despair.
When it seems as if we might be working alone or when it seems as if a problem is too big for us to make a difference, it is important to remember that we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are never working alone, and while a problem may be too big for us, who are we to say what is too big for God?
How have you experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit in your life?