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The views presented in the following papers are those of the Issues Group and are not necessarily representative of the people of St. Aloysius Parish nor the Roman Catholic Church.

(Copyright Pending)
Catholic Issues: The Church Today

The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Church:

On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 believers gathered together in an upper room in Jerusalem. From that day forward, the Spirit of Christ was poured out on everyone and a new age had begun. Jesus was the Word that had become "God - bearing - flesh" in the four Gospels. In Acts we have become "men (women) - bearing - spirit." With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the believers now understood the teaching and actions of Jesus; moreover they could feel the experience of the Holy Spirit directly within their own lives. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus continued to be alive in the church and within us.

 

There are instances of the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses, Daniel in the lion's den, ..., but the accounts are rare and intermittent. It is sort of a creative power that somehow enables men to do that which normally would be impossible. In the Christian Scriptures, on the other hand, the experience of the Holy Spirit is normal. Acts is the Gospel of the Spirit carrying on what Jesus initiated as expressed in the four gospels. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke wishes to make clear that the growth of the church was not the work of humans. Men and women were the instruments of God through the divine force of the Spirit which dwelt within them.

 

The early Christians were in the situation of having to build the church from scratch, and it is the Holy Spirit that guided them in facing the unprecedented challenges they faced. Every problem and question they encountered was new, yet they succeeded against what were seemingly insurmountable odds with the Holy Spirit always with them prodding, nudging, pushing, helping. For example, the first great crisis dealing with how to live as a Christian that nearly tore the infant church apart at its very origin was the issue of circumcision. A certain elite insisted the Gentiles must be circumcised before baptism and acceptance into the church. A major debate raged with all sorts of reasoning and authorities being cited. The whole assembly fell silent and prayed to the Holy Spirit for instruction and the solution came to them expressed through the words of Peter and James (Acts Ch. 15).

 

Nearly every page in Acts demonstrates some event that illustrates the New Testament Christians' belief that they were living under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was a felt reality. In Acts we see the Holy Spirit at work providing extraordinary gifts to the Apostles, empowering them to be able to go forth and spread the good news, guiding the infant church outward from its Jewish roots in Jerusalem, to the Gentiles in Antioch and finally onward to the Mediterranean world.

 

In the writing of Paul, we see the emphasis of the Holy Spirit's role in the inner life of the early Christian. The Spirit dwells within us, both in the context of community ("Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" 1 Cor 3:16) and as individuals ("Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?" 1 Cor 6:19). To Paul, the Spirit is the operative principle of Christian life, both in the church and in the individual.

 

The Holy Spirit has guided the Church throughout its history. It came upon the disciples and empowered them and gave them the courage and strength to carry out their task. Admittedly there have been times in the history of the Church where the Spirit of God has not been listened to and the egos of men have prevailed for reasons of fear, power, capital, greed, narrow-mindedness and a host of other rationales. Human effort and trial are, of course, part of the package, and decisions made without the integration of the Holy Spirit can result in a very painful education. After all, people are people and undergo the dilemmas of how to handle new situations and change. The very fact that the church has survived, however, attests to its being carried on eagles wings through the worst of times and is not the work of mere man .

 

Just as the Holy Spirit was very much a dynamic presence in the lives of the people in the early church, so it is today. The Spirit of God dwells within each and every one of us, and thus within the Church, and is always present and involved in our lives. It was the Holy Spirit who guided the apostles and early disciples in the infancy of the Church to meet the unprecedented challenges they faced as depicted in Acts. Perhaps Acts is in reality a never ending story. Each age unto the present day has its challenges to meet, i.e. genetic engineering, euthanasia, population control, surrogate motherhood, divorce, women in the church, death penalty, war and so on, and it is to that same Holy Spirit that we appeal for direction.

 

The Holy Spirit does not "come and go." It is we who go through changes in our relationship with the Spirit. Actually, our difficulty today is in imagining that the Holy Spirit exists anywhere. Perhaps we are inclined to think that the church is no longer guided by the Holy Spirit, forgetting that if it is not, then it is not the church of Christ. But the power of the Holy Spirit is near and active. Within our own time we have seen the Holy Spirit explode into action. Vatican II dusted off cobwebs and opened the windows to a vast array of opportunities to expand the role of all people in the church. The stage was set for the laity, both men and women, to again become truly a dynamic force within Church in partnership with the clergy as was the case in the New Testament Church. In order to do so, the laity needs to shoulder the responsibility and take it upon themselves to sweep chips away from stubborn shoulders. The Holy Spirit will assert itself in its own way and in its own time and it may not be the way either the members or the hierarchy would like to have it done.

 

In sum, the Holy Spirit is Christ come back to us (John 14:16-18) to guide and be with us in building our community, in our case Saint Aloysius, based upon his teaching of love and compassion. We have the choice:

 

"To every man there openeth
A high road and a low
And every man decideth
The way his soul must go."

The post Vatican II church is offering us the opportunity, indeed demanding we grab the chance, to truly make our church a genuine, dynamic, active force within the community, both Saint Aloysius itself as well as the community at large. There was something about the way of life of the early Christian communities that caused outsiders to say, "Look at them. See how they love one another." It was obvious that following "The Way" changed these people's lives through their actions, i.e.: caring for the elderly, widows (ers), children, sick, orphaned, and those in need generally, dealing with whoever they met with compassion,.... Each of us might ask ourselves what we do as a Christian community to live out the spirit of discipleship. Are we a vibrant, dynamic force within our area? Does the wider community look to us as examples of Christian love? Do we make a difference? What do we offer?

 

Following the true Christian path is a demanding road and all we can do is our best. But we do need to try or face the heartbreak of Christ. I like what one poet wrote:

 

" I think I'd sooner frizzle up
In the flames of a burning hell
Than stand and look into his face
And hear his voice say -- "Well?"

 

We have done our best to credit our sources. Please forgive us if we have overlooked any.

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