It seems as though the Holy Spirit moves in strange ways. Or at least the Spirit moves in ways that I don’t completely understand. Often, I find it surprising that events that seem unrelated somehow lead to one another.
For example, I had a plan about what topics I was going to write about when I first planned to write this particular column. The topics I planned to cover were related to a letter I had received in the mail. However, when I was about to begin writing the column, I could not find the letter. Searching for it, I discovered, under papers on my desk, an issue of Initiatives, the newsletter put out by the National Center for the Laity in Chicago. Reading the newsletter’s comments about the Church’s social teaching was a wonderful nostalgic trip for me, leading me back to memories of the time when I was a seminarian.
In the last summer before ordination, I spent six weeks in Washington at The Catholic University of America studying the Church’s social teaching. For me, that summer was a life-changing experience, and reading the August 2022 issue of Initiatives brought back memories of that summer.
In the newsletter, one of my heroes, Cardinal Suhard, is quoted. I read Suhard’s pastoral letter “Growth or Decline?” back in the 1950s. Cardinal Suhard’s ideas about the Church gave me a much deeper understanding of what Catholics mean when they refer to the Church as The Mystical Body of Christ.
The following is part of the commentary about Cardinal Suhard’s “Growth or Decline?” in the newsletter:
“It is impossible to simply put the past behind, Cardinal Suhard writes. Our hope is in recognizing ‘an imminent new birth.’ The church of the past is dissolving ‘through a thousand crevices.’ It is irrelevant to many young adults who say Christianity is escapism. The church, as many experience it, ‘hovers over humanity instead of being incarnate.’
“The way ahead is not an ‘exaggerated progressivism’ that in desiring ‘the development of (the church’s) terrestrial forms forgets ‘its eternal essence.’ The way is not ‘exaggerated conservatism’ that ‘defends the transcendence and perennial duration of the church but does accept her contingence and temporal growth.’
“The church must adapt, but not embrace every new trend, Cardinal Suhard says. … Yes, there is evil in the world but Christians need not flee from or destroy the world. ‘The greatest error’ for today’s Christians, he concludes, ‘is to allow the world to take shape without them.’ ”
I think many of Cardinal Suhard’s insights into the mystery of the Church are important for Christians to reflect on today. Reading the issue of the newsletter moved me to send gift subscriptions to Initiatives to five of my friends. What if my friends find the newsletter as stimulating and challenging as I did? Is there a line of causality between me misplacing a letter, finding and reading an issue of the newsletter, being inspired by it, sending copies to friends who may become as inspired as I was when I read it? Could the Holy Spirit be involved? I don’t know why not.
A lyric by Oscar Hammerstein comes into my mind. It is from a song in the musical Flower Drum Song. The lyric is “A hundred million miracles are happening every day.” The Holy Spirit breathes where he will! We cannot even imagine the good actions that are being performed throughout the world because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. I suspect that millions of small acts of charity are being performed every day because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Is there such an action as “a small act of charity?” Remember that Christian teaching is that the Holy Spirit is Infinite Love. The presence of the Spirit is a cosmic presence, more powerful than hydrogen bombs. The acts inspired by the presence of the Holy Spirit may not make the headlines of newspapers or the nightly television news shows. It can help when we hear bad news that we renew our faith that more important good news is happening because of the Holy Spirit.
I find in my Sunday homilies I refer more and more to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In my own understanding of the Christian life and in my efforts to lead a Christian life, I see the Holy Spirit’s presence as central to all efforts at deepening faith, hope and charity. Several books I read last summer noted that anxiety, depression and suicide are on the increase among teenagers. I would never wish to reduce Christian truth to a therapeutic device, but I think that to believe deeply that the Holy Spirit is present in our lives might have not only great spiritual benefit but also, at least indirectly, promote psychological and emotional health.
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.