Our defense against fear: the Holy Spirit

Jesus seemed to be gone forever, but when the Holy Spirit rushed upon the Apostles like a wind and appeared over their heads like tongues of fire, his presence among them and within them was impossible to dismiss. This coming Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost, the occasion on which God’s Holy Spirit empowered the first believers with the gifts and conviction they needed to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  

The Jewish feast of Pentecost that coincided with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was a holy day set aside to celebrate God’s giving of the Covenant and Law contained in the Torah to Israel on Mt. Sinai. Rather than do away with that Covenant, the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles on that same feast renewed God’s promise to make of Israel a “treasured possession among all peoples” (Ex. 19:5).  

The same Holy Spirit that breathed life into Adam and Eve, brought order to the chaos of the world as it was created, conceived Jesus within the womb of Mary, and later resurrected him from the dead, anointed and empowered the early Church to bring the good news of salvation in Jesus to the rest of the Jewish people and to the world.  

From our perspective in time and as Christians, we might not realize that the Jewish tradition did not have a concept of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. Instead, it spoke of the “spirit of God” or the “spirit of the Lord.”  

But with the experience of Pentecost, God chose to reveal himself to us fully, and the Church began to understand more clearly what Jesus meant when he said that he would send us “another Advocate to be with you always” (Jn. 14:15). “The Advocate, the holy Spirit,” Jesus explained, “will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you” (Jn. 14:26). Through this teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit, our hearts, minds and souls are rejuvenated in Christ, and through his power our bodies can also be healed.  

This is exactly the truth that we need to hear in this period of history we are living through, a time that is marked by fear, illness and instability. The life of the early Church before Jesus’ Resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was also a time of turmoil. That is why St. Peter wasn’t preaching about Jesus in the synagogues until after Pentecost. Before that, he and the other disciples were hiding in fear. But with the outpouring of grace on Pentecost, he boldly proclaimed Jesus, and 3,000 people became believers that day. This transformation illustrates the truth that when we place our trust in God’s strength and not in ourselves, miracles can happen.  

This coming weekend we have a chance to trust in God by returning to Mass in person. Together with Bishop Sheridan and Bishop Berg, I have decided to reinstate the Sunday obligation to attend Mass, with exceptions for those who cannot do so for health or other grave reasons. This presents each of us with a chance to surrender any fears we might have to the Lord and ask for the boldness of the Holy Spirit to value what he values, to worship the Lord and receive his grace at Mass.  

The preacher for the Papal Household, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, once observed that the “apostles and saints prayed in order to know what to do,” rather than just asking God to bless whatever they already had planned. Let us adopt the same approach with this Pentecost celebration and the return to Mass. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in trusting Jesus. 

For more information about returning to Sunday Mass, please visit: https://archden.org/return

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash