“Do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” - Luke 12:11-12
“Moses, however, said to the LORD, ‘If you please, LORD, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently, nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue.’ The LORD said to him, ‘Who gives one man speech and makes another deaf and dumb? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Go, then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.’" - Exodus 4:10-12
I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to characterize myself “slow of speech and tongue” as Moses does, but I do face certain insecurities when it comes to speaking out (about the faith or any topic). I am a perfectionist. I often hold back from evangelizing out of fear that I will say the wrong thing, or even the right thing but not do it justice. This fear is the reason I prefer writing; I can revise until the text says (almost) precisely what I want. However, I am finding more and more that I am being thrown into situations which do not have space for revision. How can I be sure to respond in a way worthy of my baptismal call?
When we volunteered together on a recent Confirmation retreat, my friend gave an eloquent reflection on the person of the Holy Spirit as a gift and an advocate to us and for us.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit - including those which precede eloquent speech, such as knowledge and understanding - are truly the gift of the Holy Spirit, the person of the Trinity. We are given God, whom we can call to our side to provide us with whatever strength we currently need... even when we’re unsure what we truly need. St. Paul points out that “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26).
My friend, who is a high school teacher, found that on the days when he remembered to pray to the Holy Spirit before class, the class had the most fruitful discussions. University of Notre Dame President Emeritus and civil rights champion Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, repeats the simple prayer “Come, Holy Spirit” hundreds of times throughout the day, in immediate preparation for every situation. If that prayer is good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.
While comforting, the Spirit's guidance does not excuse us from all responsibility in developing the coherent response of the Church to the world. St. Peter reminds the faithful that we must "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope" (1 Peter 3:15). Even with the Holy Spirit as our advocate, preparation is necessary. I must be disciplined and conscientious in my study for my upcoming comprehensive examinations. I must continue to grow in prayer, as well as increase my knowledge of my faith and I must be aware of my witness to the faith in word and deed with each person I encounter
Yet once the critical moment of speech or witness arrives, just breathe a call to the Holy Spirit and take God’s own Word for it: Do not worry about what you are to say (Lk 12:11).
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and we shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth.
Laura Berlage holds a M.A. in theology from the University of Notre Dame and currently works as a Pastoral Associate in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, MO.