As an adolescent, I never understood Jesus’ words, “I have more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when He comes, the Spirit of Truth, He will guide you to all truth,” (Jn 16:12). Wasn’t the Sacrament of Confirmation receipt of the Holy Spirit? Didn’t we live in a world already gifted by the Spirit of Truth? I was mature enough to understand we read and celebrated past events (i.e. Nativity). There certainly was the impatience of youth. Beside that, though, was the respectful question, “Why can’t You tell me now Lord?” Beneath that was a heart beginning to appreciate that there must be more to truth than an honest yes or no. I was eager to grow in wisdom and understanding.
As my example of growth in understanding as one journeys with God, I use baseball. As a small child I sat beside my dad eager to understand what he saw in the Saturday TV games. My dad taught me and my two brothers to play baseball. Our family’s back yard was the baseball field for my neighborhood.
I tried out for Little League at age 12. With my ponytail tucked up into my cap, I easily made it to final selections. Then, names and ages were taken. At the name Helen, my baseball career was over. Back then, each team had one token girl player — namely, the coach’s daughter. The best my parents could do was secure me a place in the league for eight-year-olds. At 12, I was an All-Star in that league.
My take at 12 was how horribly unjust the world was. Since no one else was going to change it, I would do so! Father Michael Casey reminds us that God is speaking to us in those moments when reality is different from what we expected. He says,
“We are being asked to cast our eyes in a different direction, open to the possibility that we are being asked to change course.” As I grew, I let go of baseball. But I chose to devote my life as an educator focused upon moving each student past any academic difficulty.
The closest I ever got to addressing athletic inequalities was during my times covering Physical Education. Rules were set to level the playing field. Some days, I chose the least athletic kids first. You should have seen the joy radiating from their faces! In his reflection, “The Simple Truth,” Father Demetrius Dumm reminds us that the question to ponder is “Were we a gift to others?” He says, “Success means to have learned how to love and to become a positive and liberating influence in the lives of others.”
Walking in Providence is all about being a positive influence in the lives of others. Even so, I am human. Each spring Little Leaguers would fund raise. The issue was a constant thorn in my side. When the little boys said that girls were not allowed to play, my donation stayed inside my wallet. Over time, that morphed into my withdrawal of financial support from any organization not open to all.
One spring, a little boy said, “Icky girls were not allowed to play.” My mind brought me to my mom’s and my watching the U.S. women’s team take the gold medal in ice hockey. Just a few precious years earlier, my mom’s agonizing words were, “You are an eighth-grader. Must you and your friends continue to play floor hockey?” But my mom let me explore then find that special person within. Both the chance to explore and to be supported by my mom’s unconditional love were foundational in my growth.
In her reflection, “A Space for Calm and Comfort,” Judith Valente reminds us that although the ways of the world can seem cruel, peace is our inheritance. Judith says, “There is a space for calm and comfort within each hardship. It is the peace Christ promised, a peace beyond the suffering.” I looked to the adult coach behind the boy. I gently said, “Maybe it is time to let girls play baseball.”
In her book, “Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope,” Sister Joan Chittister says, “There is a time to put a thing down, however unresolved, however baffling, however wrong, however unjust it may be.” There is, of course, surrender. Easy to see in my baseball story. Perhaps not so easy to see or live in whatever conflict may now be stirring one’s emotions. Sister Chittister says, “Surrender is the moment in which we realize that it is time to become someone new. Surrender is not about giving up; it is about moving on.” She describes courage as what you do when your heart is ready. Sister Chittister reminds us that the call to courage is the seedbed of hope.
I finally understand that the Spirit of Truth is meant to be a guide throughout one’s life journey. As Father Paul Turner says, “You can listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit. When you act on that voice, you will make history — even if no one recognizes your name.”
Anchor columnist Dr. Helen J. Flavin, Ph.D., is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.