August 23, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

The Holy Spirit renews the Church throughout history

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that we profess in faith every Sunday is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the roaring fire that was set ablaze at Pentecost, and it is the strong, driving wind of rebirth and renewal that was unleashed when Peter and the other disciples first stood in the public square and began preaching in languages that all present could understand” (Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, The Criterion, June 7, 2019).

The third reason for staying in the Church proposed by Bishop Robert E. Barron in his powerful book, Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Scandal, is the Holy Spirit. Why would the Holy Spirit be a reason to persuade Catholics to remain faithful to our Church even (or especially) when they are feeling “demoralized, scandalized, angry beyond words, and ready to quit”?

“The first followers of the risen Christ felt that they had been inhabited by the Spirit of their Lord,” Bishop Barron writes. This “lifted them up, gave them courage [and] breathed through their words and actions.” Without the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples were powerless. They were deeply wounded by their Lord’s suffering and death—and by their own failures to stand with him in his hour of greatest need.

Before they received the gift of the Holy Spirit from the risen Christ, the disciples were not able to overcome either the sin of the world or their own sinfulness. They were frightened and helpless. Pentecost effected a truly remarkable transformation. It created bold advocates from timid, fair-weather friends, and it gave vibrant life and energy to the newly formed mystical body of Christ, the Church.

We need the power of the Holy Spirit now more than ever. In response to the unspeakable crimes of clergy sexual abuse of those who are most vulnerable, and the gravely serious sins of denial and cover-up by Church leaders, we desperately need the spiritual renewal and healing power that can only come from the Holy Spirit.

As I wrote in my column for The Criterion on June 7, 2019, the Friday before Pentecost Sunday:

“Before Pentecost, no one—with the possible exception of Mary, the mother of Jesus—possessed the courage to stand up against the powers of darkness that were responsible for the Lord’s passion and death. After Pentecost, the fearful, tongue-tied disciples were reborn. These were the same men and women, with the same faults and personal weaknesses, but their manner was radically different. The power of the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples, who had gathered around Jesus during his time on Earth, into fearless public witnesses to his resurrection and ascension to the Father.

“These reborn women and men were on fire with love for God and for one another. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, they formed an ecclesia, a gathering or community [the Church], and they preached, healed and sanctified throughout the known world in the name of Jesus who was crucified by the religious and secular leaders of his day, but then triumphed, raised from the dead as a sign of our liberation from the power of sin and death.”

If we give up and leave the Church, we deny ourselves the many grace-filled opportunities by which the Holy Spirit renews us as individuals and as members of Christ’s body. We remain angry and disillusioned, and we refuse to participate in the important work of renewal and rebuilding that the Spirit of God makes possible.

Many times before in the 2,000-year history of our Church, we Christians have found ourselves discouraged and disheartened by the failures of our leaders—as well as the Christian community at large—to live up to the teaching and practices of our faith. Always before, the Church’s darkest days have been dispelled by the light of Christ made manifest through the work of the Holy Spirit. Always before, the corruption found in the Church’s institutional structures, and the sinful actions of our leaders, have been rooted out by the Spirit of God. “It is this same Holy Spirit,” Bishop Barron writes, “who throughout the history of the Church to the present moment gives vitality and energy to the Mystical Body of Christ.”

Why is the Holy Spirit a powerful reason to stay? Because if we really want things to change, God’s Spirit is our only reliable source of transforming power.

Come, Holy Spirit. Renew your Church. Strengthen us as the body of Christ. Give us courage and wisdom as we place all our hope in you. †

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