Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"And Lighten Our Understanding...."

“In the exercise of my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the Apostles. I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, risen from the dead, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, and established as judge of the living and the dead. I have come to repeat the Apostle’s urgent call to conversion and the forgiveness of sins, and to implore from the Lord a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in this country. As we have heard throughout this Easter season, the Church was born of the Spirit’s gift of repentance and faith in the risen Lord. In every age she is impelled by the same Spirit to bring to men and women of every race, language and people the good news of our reconciliation with God in Christ.

The readings of today’s Mass invite us to consider the growth of the Church in America as one chapter in the greater story of the Church’s expansion following the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In those readings we see the inseparable link between the risen Lord, the gift of the Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and the mystery of the Church. Christ established his Church on the foundation of the Apostles as a visible, structured community which is at the same time a spiritual communion, a mystical body enlivened by the Spirit’s manifold gifts, and the sacrament of salvation for all humanity. In every time and place, the Church is called to grow in unity through constant conversion to Christ, whose saving work is proclaimed by the Successors of the Apostles and celebrated in the sacraments. This unity, in turn, gives rise to an unceasing missionary outreach, as the Spirit spurs believers to proclaim “the great works of God” and to invite all people to enter the community of those saved by the blood of Christ and granted new life in his Spirit.

I pray, then, that this significant [moment] in the life of the Church in the United States, and the presence of the Successor of Peter in your midst, will be an occasion for all Catholics to reaffirm their unity in the apostolic faith, to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope which inspires them, and to be renewed in missionary zeal for the extension of God’s Kingdom.

The world needs this witness! Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads, not only for the Church in America but also for society as a whole? It is a time of great promise, as we see the human family in many ways drawing closer together and becoming ever more interdependent. Yet at the same time we see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society: signs of alienation, anger and polarization on the part of many of our contemporaries; increased violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations; and a growing forgetfulness of Christ and God. The Church, too, sees signs of immense promise in her many strong parishes and vital movements, in the enthusiasm for the faith shown by so many young people, in the number of those who each year embrace the Catholic faith, and in a greater interest in prayer and catechesis. At the same time she senses, often painfully, the presence of division and polarization in her midst, as well as the troubling realization that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel.

“Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!” The words of today’s Responsorial Psalm are a prayer which rises up from the heart of the Church in every time and place. They remind us that the Holy Spirit has been poured out as the first fruits of a new creation, “new heavens and a new earth,” in which God’s peace will reign and the human family will be reconciled in justice and love. We have heard Saint Paul tell us that all creation is even now “groaning” in expectation of that true freedom which is God’s gift to his children, a freedom which enables us to live in conformity to his will. Today let us pray fervently that the Church in America will be renewed in that same Spirit, and sustained in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel to a world that longs for genuine freedom, authentic happiness, and the fulfillment of its deepest aspirations!
–Pope Benedict XVI
Homily at Nationals Park
17 April 2008
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“In these days of waiting for the feast of the Holy Spirit, we ask: Come, Holy Spirit, come and give me this big heart, this heart capable of loving with humility, with meekness, an open heart that is capable of loving. And let's ask this grace of the Holy Spirit. And may He free us always from the other path, the path of selfishness, which eventually ends badly. Let us ask for this grace.
–Pope Francis
Homily at Morning Mass
Chapel of the Holy Spirit
Vatican City
14 May 2013

*  *  *
Sure, the turn of pontificates might change some things... others, however, not so much.

To use the traditional phrase, this is – well, this is supposed to be – "privileged time": with Pentecost at hand, the company of believers is taken up with the nine-day vigil before being sent out.

Even in our own time, even in the wider world, this is still the commissioning season as weddings, graduations, ordinations, new assignments or jobs and changes of seemingly every other sort fill up these weeks with a lot of goodness and new life. Obviously, going through these won't be the case for the lot of us – at least, not in the direct sense. Still, only at the 50th day of Easter did The Church have its launch... and that's not to mean the building we take to on Sunday or the offices "Downtown," either.

Simply put, if this weekend in your neck of the woods is little more than "the Sunday we wear red in May," what you've got is no longer a church, just a glorified corporation – one whose "market share" is, in all likelihood, rapidly eroding, and its decline likely being blamed on some external cause instead of the lethal wound inflicted from within. 

Along those lines, five years since the 264th successor of Peter laid out his assessment of Stateside Catholicism and its needed remedy on these very shores (reprised above), how well that call's been heeded – above all, precisely in those places where the prod was most intensely needed, and toward which it was duly aimed – is an especially worthwhile matter of reflection over these days.

As Avery Dulles depicted much of today's scene some three decades ago, "Since charisms, in the widest sense, are simply concretizations of the life of grace, a Church without charisms could only be a Church without grace. Such a Church would be a false sign; it would betoken the presence of what is absent; it would be a pseudosacrament, and for this reason it would not be truly Church."

In the same vein, as another Jesuit cardinal elsewhere more recently put it, "The church of... 'whoever doesn't enter doesn't exist' is Pharisee-ism. Jesus teaches us another way: to go out. Going out to give witness, going out to invest ourselves in our brother, going out to share, going out to ask questions. To embody Him [in the world]."

While the great man of Fordham now belongs to the ages, as for the latter Jebbie there... well, he's now the Pope – and having spoken of the Third Person more frequently than anything else in the two months since his election, it's become fairly clear that, much as the Conclave was suddenly "driven by the Spirit" toward electing Jorge Bergoglio in five ballots, Peter's 265th successor is keen for the Body to focus on even more crucial things for her life and vitality than his black shoes.

On that one, though, the question seems to be the same it's been from the beginning: that is, does The Church accept the challenge?

O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit into our hearts,
and lighten our understanding,
that we may dwell in the fear of thy Name,
all the days of our life,
that we may know thee, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.
Y que así sea entre nosotros.... Così sia per noi. 

That is, "let it be so" for us. Amen.