The Gift above all others

“I keep praying, but God’s not listening.”

This woman was in distress. She lay in her hospital bed, with tubes protruding out of her arms and beeps pulsating the air. She was recovering from one surgery in a series of dozens more.

However, her grief was not just about her recovery: her family back home was unraveling. And amid all this pain, God seemed silent.

It was my first day in the hospital. I had no response. I was shadowing my mentor chaplain to get the lay of the floors. Thankfully, the chaplain didn’t miss a beat, and responded with kindness and compassion. For my part, I realized that I would have much to learn this summer.

A few days later, I took a train down to visit my friends. Their family was celebrating a baptism, and they had invited me along. On the train ride, I opened up my Bible and found myself in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 11.

The disciples ask Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray.” To this request, Jesus teaches them the Our Father, followed by other sayings on prayer. This passage is so well-known that we easily glaze over Jesus’ teaching. By the words “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish,” I had slipped into scriptural auto-pilot. But with a shock, the last line grabbed my attention. I was expecting the conclusion from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount: “…how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Mt 7:11). But in Luke, Jesus says: “…how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Lk 11:13, emphasis added).

When I imagined all the “good things” to ask of God, I hadn’t thought of the Holy Spirit. I remembered the prayer intentions that people share, like the patient I met on my first day. We ask for bodily health, peace in the family, guidance with decisions, comfort in anxiety, etc. These are all good, but they cannot even compare with the goodness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, consubstantial with the Father and the Son.

In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus urges the disciples to have confidence in the Father’s generosity. But in Luke, Jesus urges them not just to ask for gifts, but for the Giver himself. And while this is a bolder request, it is also more reliable. When we ask for the “good things” of health, etc., God may or may not grant it, according to what is truly best for us. This seemed to be the frustration of the patient on that first day. Yet when we ask for the Holy Spirit, God happily gives himself.

I reflected on this passage as my train pulled into the station. Soon, my friends greeted me and brought me to the church. At the baptism, I saw just how happily God gives himself. With a ritual of pouring water and pronouncing the baptismal formula, a two-month-old received the gift of the Holy Spirit, forever becoming his temple. Her parents did not have to convince God to give himself. They only had to ask.

In our prayer, what do we ask of God? Perhaps we’re asking too little. Perhaps we’re too focused on our plans, and we’ve forgotten the great things that God wants to do in our lives. Let us seek first the kingdom of God, and let us trust that the rest will be added. Come, Holy Spirit.

Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., The Holy Spirit

You May Also Enjoy:

Give Us Wisdom to Govern “Give me, therefore, wisdom and knowledge to govern this people, for otherwise who could rule this vast people of yours?” (2 Chr 1:9–10) Ascending the throne of Israel, Solomon trembled inside. King David, Solomon’s father, had ruled a united Israel for thirty years. He spent much of that time expanding his borders and expelling rival tribes, which unsurprisingly involved scandal, a large deal of violence, and unflinching boldness. Isn’t this ...
Icon of Mercy St. Mary Magdalene is an icon of God’s mercy. Her life magnifies the workings of God’s love: how He heals us, restores our dignity, befriends us, and calls us beyond ourselves. Leaving aside the tradition that she was a prostitute and the confusion about the different Marys in the New Testament, we are left with a simple introduction: “ . . . Mary called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out . . . ” (Luke 8:2). Seven demons—that’s not...
The Smiling Face of Terror The Muslim holy season of Ramadan this year has been marred by major terrorist attacks by radical Islamic militants all around the world, from our own nation, to Turkey, Iraq, and others. Reading an article about the bombings in Bangladesh, however, caught my attention in a particular way. The details of each mass shooting or bombing carry such horrendous details and depraved storylines that it can be difficult to have the appropriate feelings...
Strange Birth It’s not unusual to hear comments and field questions about the outlandish life-choice and—with vigorous finger-waggling—“call” that have marooned me and those of my vocational ilk in a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Many, if not most, of these imply, with varying degrees of candor, that our hold on reality must indeed be precarious if we can so blithely forswear family, freedom, and, frankly, the chance to be happy. That’s par for ...
Br. Joseph Martin Hagan, O.P.

Written by:

Br. Joseph Martin Hagan graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2009. The following year, he spent trekking around Ireland, serving with N.E.T. Ministries. Then, he returned to Notre Dame's Echo program and completed an M.A. in theology, while serving in the Diocese of Wilmington, DE. Br. Joseph entered the Order of Preachers in 2012. On DominicanFriars.org