Pentecost is a feast day for us, but it didn’t start that way for the disciples, who had just lost their teacher and Lord. He was carried up in the clouds, He who was with them day in and day out for three and half years, who called them His friends, who loved them to the end. They didn’t yet have the comfort of the Holy Spirit. But when the Holy Spirit descended upon them later that day, the veil over their understanding was removed. They understood who Jesus truly was and how it was better that He ascended to heaven, just as He had said.
Like the disciples, we see the grace of God in our lives only after moments have passed, sometimes many years afterward. However, appreciating God’s presence in these moments by faith is part of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In “Christ, Manifested in Remembrance” St. John Henry Newman explains how spiritual hindsight works and how we can serve God now, even if we can’t see Him at work.
It doesn’t matter whether something pleasant or painful occurs to us, Newman says, we don’t typically see God’s hand at work in either case. Scripture is replete with examples of God’s miraculous interventions in the lives of His followers, but His work remains invisible to them. The life of Joseph is instructive: Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and was separated from his father and family. Despite rising to a respectful position in his master’s household, he was later wrongfully accused of sexual assault and thrown in prison. When Joseph interprets the dreams of other prisoners and then Pharaoh himself, he is released and promoted to the second highest post in all of Egypt. It is doubtless Joseph was able, in each of these traumatic downs and triumphant ups, to see how God was working in him and through him for Joseph’s good and the good of others.
But later on Joseph would see how God led him every step of the way, even as we are able now to see the little ways in which Christ led us to himself. Speaking of these perhaps seemingly insignificant moments, Newman says: “Let a person who trusts he is on the whole serving God acceptably, look back upon his past life, and he will find how critical were moments and acts, which at the time seemed the most indifferent: as for instance, the school he was sent to as a child, the occasion of his falling in with those persons who have most benefited him, the accidents which determined his calling or prospects whatever they were. God’s hand is ever over his own, and He leads them forward by a way they know not of. The utmost they can do is to believe, what they cannot see now, what they shall see hereafter; and as believing, to act together with God towards it.”
These ordinary moments that fill our day actually define our day – they are not incidental. They are where God meets us. Yet how easy it is to see them – getting ready for work, driving to the store, talking with a coworker or neighbor, eating dinner and so many others – as means to some other end. We have in mind some destination, some financial position, some status, some level of comfort, etc. that we will finally arrive at if we can get past these interruptions. That place is where life begins. But it isn’t. That place is ever out of reach, and meanwhile we let slip the short time we have.
To use this time well and to meet Christ in each moment is a hallmark of sanctity. In a few weeks, we will celebrate the feast day of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. Escrivá urged everyone to offer their work (whatever occupies us) to God, “seeing ourselves as his instruments, and acting accordingly, so that we may co-redeem with him [Christ], and of offering up our entire lives in the joyful sacrifice of surrendering ourselves for the good of souls.” Each moment, as banal as our banter with the grocery store clerk or our time spent in the car by ourselves waiting for the stoplight to change, can be an encounter with the living Christ, who alone can make these moments fruitful. Newman says bluntly, “Let us profit by what every day and hour teaches us, as it flies.” And he adds, “Let us beg of Him grace wherewith to enter into the depth of our privileges,—to enjoy what we possess,—to believe, to use, to improve, to glory in our present gifts as ‘members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.’”
In other words, let there be no wasted moments, no time spent as a means to reach some future time that we expect to fulfill us. And no time for sorrowing over lost time. As Scripture enjoins us, now is the acceptable time, today is the day of salvation. The Holy Spirit will teach us how to make every moment a holy one, if we only ask Him.