More than Miracles: Pentecost and the Power to Love Like God
“The Lord does not say that the proof of his disciples’ faithfulness will be the working of wondrous miracles and prodigies, although he gave them the power to perform them, in the Holy Spirit. What does he tell them? ‘You shall be known as my disciples if you love one another.'”
St. Josemaria Escriva
Friends of God, no. 224
The New Testament takes for granted that we know God is within us by His Spirit: “And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us” (1 Jn 3:24). Our Lord declares the same about the Holy Spirit, our Counselor: “You know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you” (Jn 14:17). Are we as aware as the first Christians were of the Spirit dwelling within us? Do we need to learn to perceive what was so obvious to them? What evidence is there that God abides in us and we in Him?
Saint Augustine offers us some very telling signs: “For our comfort in this earthly journey He has given us so freely of His Spirit, that in the adversities of this life we may retain our confidence in, and love for, Him whom as yet we see not; and He has also given to each of us gifts suitable for the building up of His Church, that we may do [His will], not only without a murmur, but even with delight” (see On Christian Doctrine I, 15).
Notice what this great Saint and Doctor teaches: The Spirit gives us comfort on our path through this life, confidence in and love for the unseen God in adversity, and the ability to serve God with delight. Simply put: the Holy Spirit empowers us to be Christians.
A Christian is a child of the invisible God, serving Him in the footsteps of Jesus, imitating His words and actions in the disciple’s own time and place. Only the Holy Spirit can make us reproduce Jesus’ life in our own, doing with delight and ease what God commands us: “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 Jn 3:23).
Sometimes the Holy Spirit manifests Himself by signs and wonders, miracles, which He does as needed. But more often He acts in a quieter way. He simply enables us to love God and neighbor, to have confidence in God, to serve God—“not only without a murmur, but even with delight.” Is there any miracle or “sign” you would rather see in your life in place of loving and serving God with a confidence and joy that no one can take away from you?
Indeed, as St Josemaria echoes: “I have no need of miracles: there are more than enough for me in the Gospel. But I do need to see you fulfilling your duty and responding to grace” (The Way, no. 362). That is the inconspicuous path of the faithful disciple who walks according to the Spirit, giving cheerfully at each turn, lovingly completing the work that God has given him to do.
We often associate the Holy Spirit with the extraordinary—with miracles, signs, wonders. That is not wrong, but it is incomplete. Because the same Spirit who produces wonders through the hands of the Apostles effects in us something even more wonderful: the capacity to love like Christ. “Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:12-13). This is worth more than all miracles combined, because just as for the Apostles, the Holy Spirit’s main work in us is to remake us into other Christs.
Jesus wants us to be more humble in how we recognize the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Lord is very clear that He will reveal Himself to us in recognizable ways, and so we have to look primarily at what’s going on inside of us. When we find ourselves capable of saying “I forgive” in the name of Christ; when we love those who oppose us and even make sacrifices for them; when we give of ourselves with delight and not grudgingly; all of these are sure signs that God’s Spirit is alive and active within us.
The more we are moved by authentic love, i.e., when we are really trying to lay down our lives for others, the more unmistakable is the presence and action of the Holy Spirit within us. This is the “sign” of the faithful disciple to which St Josemaria refers above—and it is nothing less than the power to love like God. Because in truth, the Lord Jesus commands a love that we sinners cannot give unless it is given to us from above. When His Spirit fills our hearts mystically as fire, wind, or water we find ourselves truly confirmed, strengthened to love like Jesus, and buoyed up to delight in the indwelling presence that makes it possible.
The great Carmelite mystic, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906), beautifully tells us about her own experience of God within, truly embodying the “delight” of which Augustine speaks: “He is in me, I am in Him. I have only to love Him, to let myself be loved, all the time, through all things: to wake in Love, to move in Love, to sleep in Love, my soul in His Soul, my heart in His Heart, my eyes in His eyes, so that through His contact He may purify me, free me from my misery. If you knew how it fills me” (Letter 177).
She, like holy Christians of every age, learned God’s presence within her soul by cultivating a humble awareness of what He was doing on a small scale in her life. She was not looking out for the miraculous, but for the signs of love: the ability to sacrifice, to forgive, to spend oneself freely for others. Really, the more we have a sense of our “misery” and sinfulness, the more awed we are when God’s grace moves us to be selfless, patient, merciful, loving in all things.
Perhaps what is most striking in her, as in the lives St Josemaria and St Augustine, is a strong sense of joy in the Lord, which the Holy Spirit always inspires in faithful Christians. No trial, no matter how severe, could ever rob them of a supernatural joy and delight in serving Him. When the Spirit is allowed to breathe freely within the soul, nothing can stifle the love, joy, and other fruits that He brings. Jesus promises His disciples, “Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take that joy away from you” (Jn 16:22). How can this be, unless His Spirit not only fortifies our joy but also makes it grow (and not shrivel up) when the inevitable difficulties of life come?
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22). We have to learn to appreciate the effects of the Holy Spirit within us, according to what Scripture itself teaches us, not overlooking any small bit of progress in love, joy, and the other fruits. This is where we must look to see what our fathers and mothers in the Faith saw so plainly. It is also the test posed by St Josemaria and other Saints. The Christian is not asked, “Can you work miracles?” But “Do you love God and neighbor? Do you take delight in loving and being loved?” By this we will know that we belong to Christ and truly share in the Spirit He gave us.