It’s a little over a month since Brothers Jordan, Luke and I were ordained into the order of the diaconate on March 19. I have to say that it’s been an amazing month, one full of graces, ministry opportunities, and just sheer joy. There were so many things that made that day special. We celebrated with our friends and families; the whole thing brought so much happiness. Many people we had met in ministry were there, some professors and seminarians. Some of the school faculty said it was so refreshing to finally see their chapel at full capacity. Since that day, I’ve been active in ministry, leading worship, Benediction, giving workshops and assisting at the altar. I always wonder where the excitement comes from, and the simple answer is: it’s from God. It’s the abiding presence of God; the shadow of the Spirit of God working in each of us, the Holy Spirit, who stands over us always.
Not far from the friary there’s a nice park that is situated near a lake. All around the lake there is a trail that many people use for walking, running, and biking. On my evening runs, I will see the occasional picnic cloth set up in the grass or occasional karate sparring groups. It’s a great place for everyone to work out. Eventually, I began to see construction tape on the trail. A few days later, I saw cones around some slow-drying cement. Soon after, I noticed outdoor workout machines had been installed; there were these large green metal pipes to do exercises on. But for the next few weeks, I would pass by this area and I noticed very quickly that not once had I seen anybody using the machines. Out in the sun, away from from the shade and exposed to the heat, I wondered why I never saw anybody there. A couple months went by and I decided to go on a run through the park. As I’m approaching this section, I noticed a great big canopy had been installed over this whole area and I could see people at a distance using all the machines: the pull-up bar, the crunch bar, the bench press machine. It was a nice revelation on what a little shade can do for us.
I think in order to do the work we are capable of, all we need is a little confirmation, affirmation; we need the presence of the Almighty. In the Scriptures, the presence of God, the spirit of God, is uniquely described as a shadow. The prophets like Hosea and Isaiah speak about a shadow that strengthens us, and stands in our midst. The psalmist too cries out, “You who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust!’”
Those who were in the shadow of God’s presence experienced powerful effects. We know this from the Book of Acts, when the Apostles are doing so many signs and wonders, healing and testifying about the Risen Christ they had seen. In Acts, Luke describes one account where the Apostles are passing through town and all the sick and the lame are brought to the streets and laid on mats. Their only hope was that at the very least, the shadow of Peter might touch them. The shadow was precisely the spirit of God at work in the life of Peter and the other Apostles. People began to be healed; they were able to experience the healing work of God by letting the presence of God literally stand over them. The shadow of Peter, for these people, became the very life of God who was able to overshadow them with his presence and heal them. In some sense, Peter is no longer ministering as Peter, but instead with the shadow of the Risen Christ having been fastened upon him.
Peter, like all the other Apostles, found his strength in the presence of God. The prophet Hosea asks, “Where will you find your shade?” Where will you find your shelter and place your trust? He declares boldly that by living in the shadow of God’s wings, we will find our strength. That declaration is no different than the one now! The shadow of God, the shade of God, is a presence that strengthens, and it’s one that can heal us and set us ablaze for love of God. That was an experience that the Apostles had at Pentecost in which the Holy Spirit came down in a real way! They were given hearts on fire for God, their tongues were inflamed, their souls were made ablaze because they were in the presence of God – the shadow of God came over them, stood in their midst and breathed upon them his Holy Spirit. That account depicted in Acts is also what fuels the zealousness of their hearts and it’s an experience that can also fuel ours.
The last few months for me have been fueled incredibly by the Holy Spirit. I felt it during my diaconate ordination, leading up to that day and afterwards. It’s been an incredible blessing and grace to minister as a deacon – giving blessings, preparing the altar, preaching, leading benediction, and giving out Communion. I’ve been asked several times by friends and family what that experience has been like. The best way I can describe it is it’s like the shadow of God stepping in front of my self, my nature, my being, my me. God enters the picture in a real way. This gave me a whole new perspective on my vocation, the reality of the Sacrament, and the Holy Spirit as dwelling within each of us.
With reflection, I realized that our shadows are no longer ours, but it’s God living in us. As I learned about the shadow of the Spirit, I found that it was real in my own life. I realized that the shadow of God’s presence is living within you and me. That it has been there all along, and not only that, but it seeks our cooperation and recognition. I found that the Holy Spirit is indeed in our midst as a people of God.
That means a couple of things for us. That each day we should wake up asking the Risen Lord to stand over us throughout our day. To trust in the canopy of his love and say, “Lord, overshadow me! – let me find strength under the shadow of your wings.” Like Peter and the Apostles, we should find our strength in the presence of God, in the shade he offers. The next is to recognize that the Spirit of God is capable of stepping into your life. He can come and stand in the midst of your life, your family, and your relationships. He is capable of being present now just as he was in the Upper Room in the life and work of the Apostles. The Spirit of God overshadows us; he walks with us and casts the canopy of his Divine Life into our world. The Spirit of the living God is a person, the third person of the Holy Trinity who inflames us and sets our hearts ablaze to carry out his mission in truth – do you believe that to be true?