More important than Jesus, The Anchor, May 17, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
The Anchor
Putting Out Into The Deep
May 17, 2013

The Church is now in the midst of the great annual novena praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit this Sunday on Pentecost. It’s become my favorite time of the Liturgical year, when I have a chance to ponder — and try to help other Catholics ponder — the role of the Holy Spirit in our life as Christians and in the mission of the Church.

The most shocking phrase in all of Sacred Scripture, I believe, occurs during the Last Supper when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth. It is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.”

Jesus swears an oath basically saying that if we have a choice between keeping Him and going without the Holy Spirit, or letting Jesus depart and receiving the Holy Spirit, it’s better for us to have the Holy Spirit. If Jesus didn’t Himself say it, it would be hard to believe, but He is essentially saying that the Holy Spirit is even more important for us than He is.

Most Catholics, however, don’t treat the Holy Spirit this way. We often treat Him as a lesser-known nobody included in a package deal with God the Father and God the Son.

The Holy Spirit remains for so many — including Confirmation candidates and recipients, priests, religious, and highly dedicated laity — just a strange white bird, or mysterious descending flame, or howling wind of Biblical history. Rather than a personal, vital “helper and guide” — as the Confirmation Rite begs the Father that He will become for us — He remains the great Unknown.

And our Christian life, and the whole mission of the Church, suffers from this remediable ignorance.

There’s a famous scene in the Acts of the Apostles when St. Paul came to Ephesus and met some disciples. He asked, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They responded, “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

While today, every Catholic has heard of the Holy Spirit as a theological concept, few really know Him intimately. Benedict XVI talked about this ignorance five years ago when he met with the youth of the world in Australia.

“The Holy Spirit has been in some ways the neglected Person of the Blessed Trinity,” he declared, and confessed that he, too, was guilty of this disregard for the first half of his life. It was only as a young priest teaching theology that he began to recognize the importance that the Holy Spirit should play in his life.

“It is not enough to know about the Spirit,” he said at World Youth Day. “We must welcome Him as the guide of our souls, as the ‘Teacher of the interior life’ Who introduces us to the Mystery of the Trinity, because He alone can open us up to faith and allow us to live it each day to the full.”

If we wish to understand the faith, to live it, and to pass it on, we must allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, even if we, like Father Joseph Ratzinger, are beginning as adults rather than as children. For us, the “great unknown” must become the “great known,” our Teacher, Leader, Consoler, and Advocate.

Since the Second Vatican Council, there’s been one group that absolutely hasn’t taken the Holy Spirit for granted: the members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. The whole Church owes them a debt of gratitude. To those who haven’t been part of this renewal, some of its most striking manifestations seemed a little strange — like speaking in undecipherable tongues or being “slain” by the Spirit and collapsing — and the rebirth in awareness and cooperation with the Holy Spirit it was launching remained fundamentally for prayer group members or Life in the Spirit seminar participants.

But glossalia and other such manifestations are not the essence of the renewal the Holy Spirit always wants to bring about in the Church. The true charismatic renewal occurs when individual Christians and the Church as a whole allows the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with faith, enkindling in them the fire of His love. That’s the way we’re renewed and through us the Holy Spirit renews the face of the earth.

As Catholics, we’re all called to be charismatics in this fuller sense, those who receive with faith and respond with fervor to the Holy Spirit’s charisms and interior presence.

During this great novena, it’s a time for us to examine our docility to what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us as our Helper and Guide.

The first thing He wants to do is to help us pray better. St. Paul tells us, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought.” The Holy Spirit teaches us how to pray. He does this principally not by putting words on our lips, but changing who we are as we pray, helping us to be conscious of our reality as beloved sons and daughters confidently crying out, “Abba, Father!” Our prayer needs to become more charismatic, guided by the Holy Spirit, not just during this novena, but always.

The second thing the Holy Spirit wants to do is to help us live differently. Through Baptism, we have become the temple of His Holy Presence, and that reality should change us and make us different from the rest. St. Paul calls us to “live according to the Spirit,” which requires setting our hearts on the things of the Spirit and responding to His help to kill in us the things of the flesh, what Pope Francis calls “spiritual worldliness.” We’re called not merely to know the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit but to live by them. Someone who is truly “spiritual” lives a charismatic life according to the Holy Spirit in things big and small.

Third, the Holy Spirit wants to fill us with a fire to light the world ablaze with the Gospel. The Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost as tongues of fire — rather than ice-cold, quivering lips! — for a reason. It was a Sacramental sign effecting what it signified: that those who receive the Holy Spirit are equipped and emboldened to proclaim the Gospel with ardor.

Many Catholics are sadly wrapped in spiritual asbestos. By Baptism and Confirmation, however, we’ve all received the same Holy Spirit that the Apostles received on Pentecost. We just need to cooperate as much as they did and spread the faith more charismatically, as joint witnesses with the Holy Spirit, that Christ is alive and wants to raise not only the dead but the living!

Lastly, the Holy Spirit wants to build up the Church. St. Paul tells us He gives each of us a “manifestation of the Spirit” for the benefit of the whole. The mission of the Church is not just for ordained or consecrated “specialists.” We’re all called to be contributors rather than consumers, givers rather than takers, co-responsible participants rather than seated spectators. Our roles will vary — just as an eye is not the same thing as a foot — but all our roles are important. Each charismatic gift is crucial to accomplish the mission Christ has entrusted to the Church for the salvation of the world. Our parishes, our diocese, and the Church Universal must become more charismatic in our identifying and implementing the particular manifestations of the Spirit each of us has been given.

The Holy Spirit’s mission is to lead the Church and each of us. St. Paul begged the early Christians not to “quench” or “grieve” the Spirit of God. He wanted them — and us — rather to allow the Spirit full reign so that we might “please” Him by allowing Him to work in us the same moral miracles He worked in the Apostles and members of the early Church.

On Sunday, the birthday of the Church, the Holy Spirit wants to lead us, our parishes and the whole Church on a true charismatic renewal from within. He wants to bring about a new and perpetual Pentecost.

Let’s pray — and open up the windows.