I look back and I see them now. They’ve come and gone over the years, ever since I was a child. Moments of peace. Moments of revelation. Moments of renewal. Moments where I really didn’t see it at the time, but only realize after the fact. Moments where the Holy Spirit was coming back to me – teaching me, renewing my faith, renewing my relationship with God – taking it to a whole new level.
As I mentioned before, I am a cradle Catholic, but it wasn’t until the last decade where I truly became practicing – but the foundation was always there, comprised of the graces I’d gleaned growing up. Graces from my baptism. My first communion. My confirmation. The lessons I had been taught in catechism while not realizing it. Those seeds of grace that were planted in my soul for later in my life when they would grow and bloom just when I needed them.
The seeds were watered by experiences, the times where I’ve literally felt the Holy Spirit in my life, good times and challenging times. The time I saw Pope (now Saint) John Paul II and the rain clouds part above him when he spoke. The death of my brother at such a young age.
The History of Religion class I took in college that made me think and ask questions, and seek why it is that I have this yearning for Catholicism, the faith I was raised with, even though I really did not know a lot about it. Those other religions have a lot of good parts, but nothing as a whole, is on the same level as our faith.
The time I met the woman who would become my wife. The accident that almost killed us. The day we took those vows. The day she became Catholic. The birth of our son.
The financial challenges we had. Our renewal retreats – Christ Renews His Parish and Worldwide Marriage encounter. My anxiety and depression with my career and purpose in life.
The World Meeting of Families. The list goes on and on. And it will continue to go on and unfold.
These are all experiences in my life – both joy and pain – that have made me who I am, and have been constant renewals. God has used these to bring me, and those around me, closer to Him. He’s the master gardener of our soul. Those times when we’ve received the Sacraments, those times where we experience Him and His Spirit – he’s watering and fertilizing the seeds He’s sown, and He’s planting new ones.
Jesus says in the Gospel today, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you… You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’”
Our lives are like the seasons. Some of us have more seasons than others. Some of us have warmer summers, some of us live in a drought. Some of us have longer winters. But from time to time – we all have a springtime – a period of renewal where Jesus comes back to us, to cultivate us, to teach us something after a long, cold winter. These renewals are also times to show us the joy of the blooms of those seeds He planted long ago. These are times where Christ comes back into our heart, and plants more seeds – where He leaves His Peace with us – for a time later in life when we will need it, when it blooms in our soul.
Our lives are lives of constant renewal. God uses things that happen to us for the very reason that they will bring us closer to Him. I firmly believe that. Everything happens for a reason, everything is connected. We may not realize His plan at the time, and we may never fully realize it. But there is a reason for all of it. Deep down, I feel it is largely through these peaks and valleys, these seasons in our lives, where God draws us closer to Him, and where He has us do His work, and be His instrument – and His gardener.
Jesus said it best in the Gospel today – it’s through these times where the Holy Spirit comes to us and teaches us everything, and then reminds us of all He has taught.
Life is full of constant reminders. Some of us need more than others, and God knows exactly what we each need, exactly when we need it. He knew exactly when I needed to experience certain things in my life, and He knew the exact seeds to plant when life events happened. He knows that for all of us.
He knew that for the Apostles and all the disciples in today’s first reading. Gentiles were being converted, and suddenly, Christian communities were comprised of people from many different backgrounds. There were many different opinions on what all this meant, what rules and traditions should these new converts follow. There were surely several heated arguments and many frustrations.
But Christ used this time flawlessly. He used this formation, and this challenge as a time of renewal, a time to truly define what it means to be a Christian. He used this time of dissention as a time to create His Church – the Catholic Church. Ever since then, the Holy Spirit has been flooding the world and the hearts of billions of the centuries, even in the midst of a fallen world. From time to time, we get a glimpse of the renewed Jerusalem that John shares from His vision in Revelations. These are the times when we are flooded with the love of the Holy Spirit and have those experiences that fill our soul with a grace that words cannot describe.
Life is a constant renewal where Christ leaves the seeds of His peace in our soul, and the Holy Spirit comes back to water them and show us the blooms from time to time, and often pull out the weeds. When we’re in the midst of it, it just seems like work. The renewals lead to harvesting the fruit, and then pruning the plants and loss of our foliage, and then the dormancy of winter. And this cycle continues. Sometimes, the work is harder than at other times. But wow, are the renewals amazing! And if we let the Spirit guide us and we open ourselves up to Him, the things we can learn and understand and changes we can experience in our lives are limitless. Often though, we keep our head down, focused on the immediate task at hand.
But if we just pause, and take a step back at those times of renewal in our lives, raise our head and look out, we’ll just see the great and beautiful garden that our life has become. And then we let the Holy Spirit plant those seeds for the seasons to come.