Perhaps some of you have heard, at one time or another, some version of the following story. One day, as Augustine of Hippo was strolling along the beach, he became lost in thought while meditating on the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Augustine walked aimlessly until he came upon a young child who had dug a hole in the sand. With his toy bucket in hand, the youngster had begun making trips back and forth to the ocean pouring buckets of water into the hole. After watching for a while, Augustine asked the child, “What are you trying to do?”
“I’m pouring the ocean into this hole,” came back the reply. As kindly as he could manage, Augustine explained, “But you can never do that!” Whereupon the child responded, “And neither can you ever understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity.” According to the legend, the child suddenly disappeared from sight because, in truth, the child was the Holy Spirit.
If you are questioning why I am sharing a story about the mystery of the Holy Trinity with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit, let me answer your question with a little background information. Research has shown that the gospel of Matthew was written about seventy years after the death of Jesus. It is theorized that the gospel was not written by a single apostle named Matthew but by a group of inspired people, most likely men, who knew Matthew the apostle. These men were Jewish rabbis who had become Christian and who wanted to write a catechism for Jewish people who were becoming Christian. Their teaching objective was to present Jesus as a rabbi, a teacher who was better than the Jewish rabbis of his time. They wanted to give the new Jewish Christians a role model for living a Christian life much like we try to give our children good role models today.
We know that in the gospel of Matthew Jesus is portrayed as a teacher. In his conversation with the crowds, Jesus encourages his students to follow the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees but condemns their practices. The writers of Matthew’s gospel are using the ancient and familiar motto “Do what I say not what I do” to describe the Scribes and Pharisees. They know that stories of Jesus’ actions during his brief years of ministry say much more than the words that either the Pharisees or Scribes spoke. So the writers of Matthew’s gospel have Jesus remove the Pharisees and the Scribes as role models for the crowd and replaces them with himself and the Holy Spirit who Jesus promises will be given to the apostles on Pentecost.
We know that Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians and in his letters to the Romans and Ephesians recognizes the Holy Spirit as the one person in God who gives us human beings the gifts to be servant to one another. These letters from Paul were written from fifty-four to fifty-eight years after the death of Jesus. So it is possible that the writers of Matthew’s gospel had heard about Paul’s teaching on how God works in our lives through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts we each are given.
The role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Matthew’s and Paul’s communities was to equip the members with gifts to build up the church. It is the same for us. The Holy Spirit equips us with gifts so that we can build up our church community. As I reflect on what I see take place each week in this community, from our Eucharistic celebrations to the volunteer work done by individuals, committees, and the non-profit organizations we support, it becomes quite easy to translate the twenty-one spiritual gifts named by Paul to the spiritual gifts found in the Church of St. Matthew community. Someday, but hopefully not too soon, I will be able to boast to Paul that the gifts of this community far outnumber the ones he named for his communities.
Around the Feast of Pentecost, a spiritual gift recognition tool will be placed on the Church of St. Matthew web page (st-matts.org). The tool will enable you to discover your spiritual gifts by using your lived experience to respond to different statements. After discovering your spiritual gifts, you will be invited to reflect on how you are using your gifts or how you might use them for the flourishing of your life and the lives of family, friends, and church community. Don’t worry if you don’t have a computer. A computer will be available in the Pastoral Center along with all the help you may need to use it. If you prefer not to use a computer, paper copies of the recognition tool will be available to discover your spiritual gifts using a pen or pencil.
While it can be argued that the activities of the Holy Spirit are unpredictable and illusive, spiritual gift recognition tools are the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who encouraged not only theologians, ministers, priests, and catechists to develop them but people like you and me to use them. What a wonderful opportunity to discover the working of the Holy Spirit in our life as Augustine discovered the working of the Holy Spirit in his life through the toy bucket of a young child. The Holy Spirit is closer than we think!
Fr. Bob Kelly