Health, Happiness and the Holy Spirit

Today many of the most awkward restrictions of lockdown in England will come to an end, and people will be free to mix in a way that hasn’t been possible for months. There will be much relief, a certain amount of rejoicing and perhaps a little anxiety among those who know that a dose of COVID-19 could be a death-sentence for them or those they love. Here at the monastery we shall be maintaining some of the restraints we have been practising throughout the past year, including visitors ‘by appointment only’. That may sound unfriendly, but it is a reflection of the difficulty my health places the community and me in.

During the past three and a half months there have been a few little blips, with the result that I am now unable to walk more than a few steps without becoming very breathless. A ‘phone conversation is only manageable if I know in advance someone is calling and I can prepare by sitting down and not attempting to do anything else for a few minutes. I tire quickly and, unfortunately, even if I can sleep, it isn’t restorative. All this is par for the course for people with advanced cancer and/or major respiratory illnesses. One consequence, I’m sorry to say, is that I tend to avoid face-to-face meetings and have gone from being a bad correspondent to a very bad correspondent. I value your letters, email and messages, but even if I had no other claims on my time, it would be impossible for me to answer them all; and in a small community such as ours, there is no one else to do so.

Health, however, is not essential to happiness in the way the Holy Spirit is, so please read on.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Novena we Pray

In May 2016 I tapped out a series of posts on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as the community prayed for them each day during the Novena; and I’ve often written about individual gifts at other times. You can find the original sequence of posts by using the search box on this blog. Today I offer you just a few, rather dry thoughts on the subject.

The nine days before the feast of Pentecost are very precious. They allow us to pray earnestly for the coming of the Holy Spirit and the renewal of his gifts within us. We are asking for a radical transformation of ourselves and of the world in which we live. Just think for a moment. What would we — or the world in general — be like if we were filled with wisdom, understanding, right judgement, fortitude, knowledge, piety (in the sense of reverence), and fear of the Lord (in the sense of wonder and awe)?

St Thomas Aquinas said that four of these gifts — wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and right judgement — direct the intellect, while the remaining three — fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord — direct the will towards God. He links them to the seven capital virtues. Of course, we can go further and, following the Vulgate, consider the twelve fruits, or rather, the twelve manifestations of the fruit [singular], of the Holy Spirit : charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. (This list enlarges on the one Christians of all traditions will be familiar with from Galatians 5. 22–23, where St Paul lists nine visible attributes of Christians as the fruit [singular] of the Spirit). There is more than enough there to reflect on over the days before Pentecost, but I would like to add one further thought.

The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is the Spirit of Truth. Truth is not always comfortable. In fact, it can be difficult to accept and make us feel naked and defenceless. If we look at the world around us, how much untruth there is, how much defensive posturing! When we pray for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, perhaps we should be praying above all for this gift of truth, both in our own hearts and minds and in the heart and mind of every person on earth. Have we the courage to do so? Do we dare to be happy?


14 thoughts on “Health, Happiness and the Holy Spirit”

  1. Take care of yourself Sister. I believe that the Breath of the Holy Spirit has even greater significance for you this year. I pray for you daily.

  2. I love the collect for purity, where we pray ‘…cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit…’; all the resonances of the word ‘inspiration’ make my heart sing, especially when I am feeling short of breath.
    Thank you for your posts today and always.

  3. Often wonder how you are and look you up- you are never long off Facebook, you show such stamina and grace and a huge example of fortitude to those who follow,
    Warm best wishes to you,

  4. Thank you, as always, for illuminating thoughts, and also for as the illumination of a life of commitment to a rule that simultaneously binds you and sets you free.

    You teach us all so much, and so freely! You illuminate the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and so, so clearly, live them! May the fruit of the gifts be yours in abundance!

    Thank you—and be assured of many prayers from faraway kitchen cloisters outside your community walls.

    And although I may be presuming: much love to you and many prayers for you. You are daily in my scattered, half-baked prayers—the kinds perennially distracted mothers say—may love and prayers follow you daily from all here.

    Godspeed, in all you do.


  5. Dear Sr Catherine, I, too, am experiencing some trials. In all that time you have persistently been in my heart and mind the last few weeks. I am not sure why, fully. What I can share with certainty is that I have missed you on Twitter. I am praying for you!

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