When the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples on the day of Pentecost, there are two miracles. One miracle is that the disciples spoke in new languages, and the other is that the people heard the disciples speaking in their own languages. The Holy Spirit changed not only how the disciples “declared the wonders of God,” but also how those listening heard what was declared.
We find a similar phenomenon in the epiclesis prayer of the Divine Liturgy, that is the prayer of the priest calling down the Holy Spirit to consecrate the bread and wine. In this prayer the priest says, “Send down your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here spread forth….” Notice that for the consecration to take place, the Holy Spirit must come not only on the bread and wine, but also on us who will partake of it.
The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives always takes place on two levels, both on the level of what is outside us or what comes to us, and on the level of what is within us or how we receive what comes to us.
Isn’t this also what Jesus taught in the Gospels? Jesus spoke the very words of life, yet he told his hearers, “take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18) and “with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Mark 4:24). The fact that Jesus spoke the very words of life did not alter the fact that how one heard those words changed dramatically the effect those words had in their life.
Or to look at it from another perspective, the “measure you use,” that is how generous you are towards others, how you evaluate other people and situations, in a large way determines how generous God will be with you and them. The Holy Spirit is working both within you and outside you, and how you allow the Holy Spirit to work inside you has a huge influence on how the Holy Spirit is working outside you.
I think of this today not only because we are approaching Pentecost, the feast of the coming of the Holy Spirit, but also because of a sentence I read recently in a collection of homilies by His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius the IV of thrice blessed memory. The sentence is this: “One of our greatest responsibilities as priests is to grow accustomed to seeing saintliness in the faces, actions, and manners of our flock.”
Patriarch Ignatius understood that how the priest sees the people has a great influence on what the priest sees in the people. The work of the Holy Spirit in the people is influenced by the work of the Holy Spirit in the one(s) leading the people. To use Patriarch Ignatius’ example, when the priest “grows accustomed” to seeing holiness in the people, the people will indeed be more holy. Or to return to the example of the holy Eucharist or the very words of Jesus Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart to perceive the consecrated Body and Blood and the words of Jesus as holy is what enables me to receive them as holy.
This principle is at work in all of our relationships: “With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Generosity in our perception of others has a huge impact on them. When we learn to see the good and the holy in others, what is good and holy in them becomes manifest. That is, the Holy Spirit at work within us to see or to hear what is good and holy in others—if indeed we do allow the Holy Spirit to influence our perception of others—actually has an effect on those around us. The Holy Spirit is at work in both us and them, and how we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, how we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us how to hear and how to see, this has a huge effect on the Holy Spirit’s work in and on those outside us.
One of the results of sin is the perversion of human perception. We don’t see or hear very well. Further, we have forgotten that seeing and hearing is not objective, but rather interactive. How I see and how I listen to others changes them. How others see and listen to me influences me too. When I measure generously, when I see the best and the holy in others especially when it is difficult to see, I participate with the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about the good and the holy in them. This is true in all relationships: teachers and students, parents and children, husbands and wives and priests and people.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will work in all of us to see and hear generously, to look for the holy in “the faces, actions and manners” of those around us so that all of us together will truly be filled with the Holy Spirit.