by Rev. Albert F. Ernst, O.S.F.S.
About one-hundred-twenty years ago an orange boat was leaving the shores of Italy. On that boat was one of the most brilliant intellects of all time – John Henry Newman. He was returning to his native England after a visit to Rome. Though not a Catholic at that time, Newman was deeply interested in the Church. He was somehow dissatisfied with his Anglican faith. Wide reading and deep study were pointing to the true Church which had its headquarters in Rome, the Eternal City. That was one reason why he went to Rome – to study the Catholic Church first hand and at its very center.
Because he was in such an uncertain state of mind, the following incident which he experienced meant much. The ship on which he was sailing suddenly ran into a calm, the dread of sailor in those days when ships were driven by the wind and sail. Not a breath of air was stirring. The sea was as smooth as glass. They were unable to move; there, they drifted for over a week. Marooned in the midst of the sea. During those dismal days, Newman wrote his immortal poem, “Lead Kindly Light.” “Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, lead Thou me on. The night is dark, and I am far from home. Lead Thou me on. Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene – one step enough for me.” There is more to the poem, but this is enough to show us how Newman was groping for the light.
Back to our boat anchored by a dead calm. One night this marooned Newman noticed the curtains on his cabin window billowing with a bit of breeze. He rushed to the deck and shouted, “Wake up, wake up, the calm is over. There’s a breeze – look!” The sailors were beside themselves for joy. In no time the sails were hoisted and the ship pulled out of the calm. In a similar way the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles that first Pentecost. “Suddenly, as with the sound of a mighty wind,” they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues and understood them. Like Newman and the sailors, our Blessed Mother and the disciples were gathered together in one place, praying for heavenly assistance. They too were praying, “Lead, kindly light.” They were begging the God of light and love, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, to calm their fears and to give them the fire and light they needed to go forth and preach Christ to the world.
The little boat on which Newman and his companions found themselves stranded in the sea, was no worse off than the Church, the “tiny bark” of St. Peter, before the first Pentecost. Newman prayed for the light and help to assist him with the uncertainties and doubts of his Anglican faith. The brilliant light and bounding breeze of the Holy Spirit came to caress his waiting heart and he became a Catholic. That same Holy Spirit came to the infant Church, inspired it and spurred it on in its apostolic way. The Pentecost of this year, the same breath of the Holy Spirit is blowing the bark of St. Peter along its way. Like Mary and the apostles in that upper room, like Newman and his companions in that boat, we are living in days that are dreadfully dark, when civilization seems at a standstill, when the forces of good seem helpless, unable to move, caught in the eye of a hurricane.
This is true not only of society in general, but of many an individual soul because error, uncertainty and sin have deadened and darkened the soul. As such times we should cry out with Newman, “Lead, kindly light.” To us, this Pentecost, as to our Lord’s followers on the first Pentecost, there comes the breath, the spirit of God like a might wind to blow away the clouds of doubt and to fill the sails of our souls with the moving, surging, thrilling breeze of the Spirit. Today we are inspired, uplifted, encouraged, spurred on by the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes people do not know the true path. Sometimes, knowing it, they have not the courage to follow it. Everyday brings problems, not only in religion, but in almost every phase of life, problems that seem to have no solution, problems unsolved for centuries, like the problem of world peace, the problem of justice. Unsolved problems they will remain, if we do not beg the light of the Holy Spirit.
This is particularly true regarding peace. Men from every nation, the Bible tells us, understood the apostles as if they were speaking the language of that particular nation. That was a miracle worked by the Holy Spirit. Can’t we hope that the same Holy Spirit will help all nations today to understand the meaning of peace?
On this glorious, thrilling Feast of Pentecost, beg the Holy Spirit to help the worlds’ leaders to solve their problems. Beg that same Holy Spirit to help you solve your personal problems. Show a deep appreciation of your faith by living it. Any may you and I frequently and fervently cry out in the immortal words of Cardinal Newman, “Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, lead Thou me on! Because the night is dark and I am still far, FAR, from home.”