There is a priest friend of mine—one of my classmates actually—who does a lot of work with the Legion of Mary calling from door to door speaking to people about faith. He was a Quantity Surveyor before he became a priest and he is one of the most amazing organizers I’ve ever met. He often said to me that the hardest places he found to work in were usually the wealthier areas. When people felt they had all they needed they were generally not as open to hearing about God. The poorer areas were usually much more open to what he had to say. It doesn’t surprise me.
From all the various crises that are happening at the moment one of the good things that is coming from them is that they are helping people to ask a lot of questions and to search for God in a new way. Economic crisis helps us to realise that we are much more vulnerable than we might have thought. Religious crisis and serious scandals—such as we have been seeing—help us to remember that while religion can be a great help, it is absolutely deadly if it is misused. Any religion is simply a way to help us live out what we believe in, but unless it is completely focused on God and unless God is at the center, it can become an end in itself and a very dangerous one at that. We have seen too much of religious extremism and that is a trap that any religious group can fall into.
There is one crucial thing that is needed for faith to be alive and healthy and that is the gift of God’s Spirit. For me the best way of explaining it is to compare the Spirit to electricity. In any building we can have all kinds of useful and sophisticated equipment, such as computers, microphones, lights, projectors, MRI and CAT scanners, and so much more. However, none of these things would be of any use to us if we didn’t have electricity. They would just sit there like stone. The power that goes into them is what transforms them into something wonderful. In a sense the Holy Spirit is the electricity that makes us alive.
Without God’s Spirit we are dead, the Scriptures are just words in a book; the mass is just an empty ritual; marriage is just a legal way of being together. But with the Holy Spirit our faith suddenly lights up. The Scriptures become the living word of God; the mass becomes the living presence of Jesus among us in the Eucharist. With the Holy Spirit marriage includes the presence of God, present to support, strengthen and encourage.
We are nothing without the gift of God’s Spirit. We would not be able to believe, or pray nor would we even have the desire to know God. I could stand at the altar and pray all day long, but nothing would happen if the Holy Spirit didn’t transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus; the same with confession. It is the Spirit who forgives people. The priest is just an instrument; an important instrument, but only an instrument. One of the most astonishing things for me is the fact that the Holy Spirit obeys a human being. God obeys a human being. When the priest says the words 'This is my Body... this is the chalice of my Blood,' the Holy Spirit immediately and humbly changes the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is the same when the priest says, 'I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.' At that moment the Spirit of God takes away that person's sins forever. This is an extraordinary gift that God has given us through the priesthood. But if the Spirit didn't act, then nothing would happen.
What we see happening in the Church at the moment and over the last 20 years or so is also the work of the Holy Spirit, purifying and renewing his people. And that is happening because the Lord loves us and won’t allow his people to be overcome with disease. All the poison is being taken away and this is painful but absolutely essential. We will all be much better off because of this work which God is bringing about. God is forcing us to rely much more on the power of his Word and of his Spirit, something which we should have been doing all along. Perhaps one of the most important things to remember is that God’s work is always beautiful and God will make things beautiful again, because God is the master craftsman.
The Lord doesn’t wait until we are ready either. God acts when the time is right. He doesn’t just wait for the hierarchy of his Church to decide what to do. The Lord sends his Spirit who inspires people and moves people to act. That’s not to say that God doesn’t care about his bishops and priests, of course He does, but God knows how best to act; and so He sends his Spirit to inspire and move people to step out in faith and live the Gospel, and they in turn move others, until soon the people are alive with faith again.
God knows very well what we are like and that despite our best efforts we continually need to be helped back on the right track, no matter what we are doing. And this is why Jesus told us before he ascended into heaven, that the Father would send us this ‘Helper’, who would be with us forever, and who would teach us everything. He knew well that we would need help and so God sent us the best help that we could have, his own Spirit, to guide us and teach us. The Lord constantly teaches through the example of people He inspires, through the Word of God, through prayer when we are open to him and in many other ways we will never even be aware of. But the Spirit is very gentle and that is why we don’t notice him sometimes.
The gift of God’s own Spirit is really the greatest thing God can give us after life itself, because when we have the Holy Spirit we have everything.
Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful people,
send forth your Spirit and we will be created,
And you will renew the face of the earth.