J   U   L   Y       1   9   9   8
Millennium Moment
Welcome, Pilgrims

The Holy Spirit: Source of Unity and Hope
by Bishop Robert F. Morneau

"The highest knowledge is to know that we are surrounded by mystery." This conviction of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the doctor and humanitarian winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, provides an excellent starting point as we reflect on the presence of God in our lives and prepare for the Great Jubilee Year.

Not only are we surrounded by mystery, but the very Mystery of God dwells within us. The Scriptures and our tradition hold firmly and consistently that our experience of God is threefold: God creates us, God redeems us in the person of Jesus, God continues to lead and guide us in the person of the Holy Spirit. One God, three persons—mystery upon mystery.

Wrestling with mystery

The priest and poet George Herbert (1593-1633) wrestled long and prayerfully with the mystery of the triune God, seeking through the inadequacy of words to relay his experience of the Trinity. His "Trinity Sunday" is both powerful theology and awe-filled prayer. I offer the assurance that if these nine lines are memorized and prayed from the heart on a daily basis, growth in discipleship will happen:

Lord, who hast form'd me out of mud,
And hast redeem'd me through thy blood,
And sanctifi'd me to do good;
Purge all my sins done heretofore:
For I confess my heavy score,
And I will strive to sin no more.
Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity;
That I may run, rise, rest with thee.

The Spirit of God is the source of unity in the Church and the world. Faced with the reality of massive disorder and chaos we realize that for all the progress of education and science, something more is needed to bring about peaceful communities and the healing of our woundedness. Our hope does not lie in chariots or horses but in the living Spirit of God who sanctifies us and makes us whole.

God's Spirit at work

The Spirit of God sanctifies us in a variety of ways. Let's look at five activities of the Holy Spirit that bring about the perfection of love, those activities of the Spirit that fulfill our vocation to holiness: indwelling, brooding, stirring, reconciling, commissioning.

Indwelling. St. Paul is explicit and strong in his conviction that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. The divine Guest has taken up lodging in our soul. Hospitality and courtesy are fundamental dispositions necessary to experience this awesome presence. Failure to take time to nurture this relationship (prayer) results in a superficial life and a loss of meaning.

Our challenge is to open our minds and hearts to God. In the Book of Revelation (3:20) we are told that the Lord stands at the door of our souls knocking, seeking entrance. Anyone who hears and anyone who opens the door will be visited by the mystery of God. The Lord promises to come and share our meal—our life—with us. The latch is on the inside, which means we have the freedom to welcome or reject the divine Guest.

Brooding. Gerard Manley Hopkins concludes his magnificent sonnet "God's Grandeur" with these lines: " . . . the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings." Our world and our hearts are bent and often broken. Yet God continues to hover over us with warmth and light. Faith assures us that we are not alone, but constantly under God's providential and protective gaze.

Nor is this brooding a slothful sitting around. God has work to do in and through us. Our call is to make present and manifest the love and mercy of God. To the extent that we position ourselves under the wings of the Spirit and the fire of God's energy will we be able to further the kingdom of God. We are agents and ambassadors of Jesus in our times. The Spirit's warmth and light make us capable of transforming our culture and our times.

Stirring. Different authors use different words (quickening, nudging, prodding, impelling, inciting) to describe how the Spirit is constantly working in the depth of our lives, in regions far beyond our consciousness and outer activity. Too easily we settle down in comfort zones or slide into periods of stagnation, becoming unaware and insensitive to this volcanic life deep within. Then suddenly the waters stir, the fire ignites, the wind arises and a second, third or fourth springtime is experienced.

The suddenness of grace can happen anywhere, at any time. God nudges us to take the initiative in welcoming the stranger, pushes us into a leadership role that we have been avoiding for years, stirs us to compassion to reach out to the homeless, quickens us to new hope after a severe loss, incites us to a righteous anger in the face of injustice, impels us to be glad instruments of the Good News. The Spirit is always working, and our task is to recognize these inner movements and to respond appropriately.

Reconciling. Jesus' farewell gift to the disciples was "peace," a peace that the world cannot give. The disciples in the upper room, locked away in their fears and guilt, were overwhelmed to see the risen Lord and to be given a share of his Spirit. The sense of being separated from Jesus' friendship was ended. A joy overflowing from unity swept through their being. Once again they experienced communion with God.

As we approach the new millennium, the call to reconciliation echoes across our broken planet. Be it in the country of Rwanda or the inner city of Los Angeles, be it in the divisions between theologians and church leaders or the ruptures in our families, we stand in desperate need of the Spirit to unify us and make us whole. Without divine grace and the commitment of leaders and all our people, we will not come to know the peace that is beyond all understanding.

An ending, and more

Commissioning. The traditional ending of the Mass is "Go, the Mass is ended." I was in a parish recently and, after the last blessing, the presider said: "And we say?" Then the entire congregation, with gusto and fiery enthusiasm, cried out: "The Mass is not ended. We are sent forth now to share the Good News with all we meet!" Though I'm sure that some liturgists and bishops would have some deep concerns here, the point is well made. The Mass really doesn't end. The Spirit sends us forth to make Jesus present and manifest at the shelter, in the workplace, at the kitchen table, in the marketplace. Our worship points to evangelization, and that work is done in and through the Holy Spirit.

Years ago I read a novel in which one of the characters said: "I must go where the suffering is!" Rephrasing this, "We must go where the brokenness is to bring God's unity and peace!" Both the "going" and the "unifying" are the work of God's Spirit. That same Spirit empowers us to overcome the fear and apathy that would make us stay at home or allow our liturgy to remain in-house. We are being commissioned daily to be servants of peace and unity, agents of God's love and joy, instruments of mercy and forgiveness.

Three case studies

When Mother Teresa of Calcutta died on September 5, 1997, a Hindu professor from a university in the United States asked a bishop if he could speak at the Mass of thanksgiving. After holy Communion the native from India stated with great emotion that Gandhi was an instrument of justice for his people and the Roman Catholic Mother Teresa was an instrument of charity and love. The Holy Spirit blows where he will, bringing justice through the political leadership of a Hindu, freedom through the counseling of an agnostic, truth through a pastoral letter of a bishop, charity through the commitment of an order of sisters.

The Spirit is the source of unity in the Church and in the world. Wherever truth, charity, freedom and justice are protected and promoted, the Spirit is present. By contrast, where lies and hatred, enslavement and injustice reign, the seeds of divisions are at work.

My second story: Some years ago a family gathered for its annual summer picnic. In the midst of the celebration a storm arose out of the west sending all the picnickers for shelter. Within a half hour the storm abated, and suddenly a magnificent rainbow filled the sky. An aunt was holding her two-year-old niece and said to little Niki, "Look, look!" The small child looked once, then twice. She whis- pered in her aunt's ear: "Take me to it." (And note: There were still hot dogs and ice-cream cones to be eaten, and games to be played.)

After hearing this story I scratched down a few lines:

"Take Me to It"
     (for Niki)

She held her niece against the evening storm.
The thunder and lightning made them both tremble.
Then, with the suddenness of all grace,
a rainbow arched the evening sky,
elusive-dappled-beauty filled their eyes.
The two-year-old child gazed once, then twice.
Into her aunt's astounded ear she whispered:
       "Take me to it!"

The Spirit attracts, unifies and transforms. Whenever we witness Beauty, Truth or Goodness, the Spirit is around and active. If we are not too distracted by all our toys and trivia, we might also whisper, "Take me to it."

My final story: On October 19, 1997, Pope John Paul II named St. Therese of Lisieux a doctor of the Church. She joins the ranks of two other women doctors, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila. The Holy Spirit prompted the Little Flower to make statements like: "Whenever I am charitable it is Jesus alone who is working in me. The more I am united to him, the more I love my Sisters."

Again we see the Spirit as the source of unity in every dimension of our lives. To the extent that we are attached to the vine, our branches will bear fruit, fruit that will last. Apart from Jesus and his Spirit we are powerless.

Imbibing the Spirit

In the very first paragraph of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), the Council Fathers remind us that the Church is to be a sign and instrument of unity with God and unity among ourselves. It is through the Church that the Spirit is at work in an intense and powerful fashion. Through the Church's sacramental life, especially the Eucharist and Confirmation, through her pastoral work and through her leaders, the Church is a channel of God's uncreated and created graces.

We are the Church, this community of people who acknowledge God as creator, Jesus as redeemer and brother and the Spirit who leads us into light, love and life. We must daily beg God to send down the fire of the Spirit upon us so that we can ignite the world with divine love. It is that same Spirit that gives us the power to reconcile and heal the many wounds that injure God's people. The Spirit is our source of unity, our hope of salvation, the fountain of our joy.

Bishop Robert F. Morneau is auxiliary bishop and vicar general of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is the author of 11 books, including Paths to Prayer and A Retreat With Jessica Powers: Loving a Passionate God, both from St. Anthony Messenger Press.


Father Virgilio Elizondo  

When Virgilio Elizondo speaks of his desire for a Church that is inclusive, he speaks as one who has felt the sting of exclusion. When he expresses a desire for a Church that welcomes "people of any and every background," that desire flows from painful memories: As a young Mexican-American boy in Texas, being different from the majority left him on the outside looking in.

But it is not unresolved hurt that propels his wish today for a Church that welcomes all persons as part of the family of faith. It is a desire to return to the Church that Jesus established, says the priest-theologian and founder of the Mexican-American Cultural Center in San Antonio.

The early Church was "radically inclusive, " Father Virgilio Elizondo told Millennium Monthly. "People of any and every background felt welcomed, they felt a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood." And inclusion, he continued, "is at the very heart of being a Christian. This is what constitutes the Good News." The Jesus who surrounded himself with outcasts, public sinners and women, says Father Elizondo, a priest of the Diocese of San Antonio, radically reversed the thinking of his day.

It is the Holy Spirit, says Father Elizondo, who helps us "to go beyond" ourselves. "While the world would rejoice in diversity based on differences, the Spirit rejoices in our unity. What the world would keep apart we dare to unite. Where others may see degrading differences, we see unsurpassed beauty. The Spirit opens our eyes to see, our ears to hear, [thereby] enriching the whole community."

The idea of Church as an inclusive, extended family was played out in dramatic form at the Synod of America in late 1997, when bishops from North, South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, gathered as a single unit to prepare for the new millennium. "It was Pope John Paul II's desire that we speak of America as one," Father Elizondo recalls. "Political boundaries should not be ecclesial boundaries."

A man who has worked to bring down barriers through his writing, speaking and community organizing efforts on behalf of the downtrodden, Father Elizondo sees this as a particularly potent moment. The new millennium, he believes, calls for the creation of a new Church "that would have no foreigners. Everyone would be familia" (family).

— by Judy Ball



Welcome, Pilgrims

Pilgrims seeking to visit the Holy Land in conjunction with the year 2000 now have an official invitation to head for Bethsaida, the first new pilgrimage and tourist site open to the public in connection with the Great Jubilee. Almost 2,000 years after the village in Galilee was destroyed by an earthquake and flood, Bethsaida has been designated as a historical archaeological site.

Christian tradition holds that Bethsaida, located near the Sea of Galilee, was the site where Jesus performed many miracles, including restoring the sight of the blind man, feeding the multitudes and walking on water. It is also thought to have been home to the apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip.

Bethsaida's location remained a mystery for almost two millennia following its destruction in the year 115. Unlike other New Testament cities such as Nazareth and Capernaum, it was never rebuilt. Following the 1967 war in Israel, archaeologists began looking for the site, but excavations did not start until 20 years later. The partially restored site now includes two open-air chapel, one donated by Vatican and overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Also included are remnants of two houses and two temples.*



I want to order a 12-month bulk subscription
to hand out in my parish or classroom.



Paid Advertisement
Ads contrary to Catholic teachings should be reported to our webmaster. Include ad link.

An AmericanCatholic.org Web Site from the Franciscans and
Franciscan Media     ©1996-2015 Copyright