I am writing this column on Saturday afternoon, in the family room of the home I grew up in. I am here because my mother’s health has failed quite dramatically over the last few days and, as a family, we have come together to make some decisions and seek to assist my parents in their time of need. I want to begin by thanking the diocesan staff, Bishop Cunningham, and my brother priests for making this a possibility on short notice and for the understanding of those parishes whose visits I had to postpone.
It is said that timing is everything and I arrived home just two hours before my mother’s admittance to the local hospital. In these days of COVID-19 regulations, I take nothing for granted! In this time, as in all moments of life, we know everything is in God’s hands; and it invites one to trust ever more in the tender compassion of our God and in Divine Providence.
I don’t know what the coming hours, days, weeks, etc. are going to bring. It is definitely a new stage of the journey, especially in our life as a family. All I can do is rely on the Paraclete, the Consoler, the promised Power of God in the Holy Spirit to get me (us) through it all.
This lesson that I am in the process of learning for the umpteenth time is one that I believe can guide all of us as our nation learns to deal with a new administration in the executive branch. Some citizens have enthusiastically welcomed the new president and vice president, while others are rightly apprehensive over some policies that the new administration seeks to promote that are contrary to the doctrines of the Catholic Church and age-old moral principles based on natural law.
First, I think it is very important for all inhabitants of this land to remember (or to be shown) that first and foremost “our true citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). A hallmark of this citizenship is that we are called to be a people of prayer relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, especially when the doors around us seemed to be locked.
St. Paul in his First Letter to Timothy wrote, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tm 2:1-2). This call to prayer wasn’t because the rulers of the day were necessarily friends of the Christian community, but it was to invoke “God our Savior” (1 Tm 2:3) and the mediation of Christ Jesus and the promised gift of the Spirit. In this same exhortation to Timothy, Paul would go on to state, “I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument” (1 Tm 2:8). I think in all our parishes it is important to remember that this pastoral practice is given to us by the Apostle Paul himself.
Secondly, there is such a thing as “Divine Law” as shown to us in the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments). From those tablets arose the Mosaic Law, which governed civil, ceremonial, and moral precepts. When Christ Jesus came on the scene it was not to destroy the law, but to fulfill and perfect it. It is that mission that the Church as the Body of Christ shares in to this very day. Jesus would sum up this mission by summing up the law in this manner: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:37-40).
For me, this is the crossroads where we as Church find ourselves. Holy Scripture tells us that, “In you [God] all find their home” (Ps 87:7). That is where we want certainly to lead people through a recommitment of sharing the Gospel — the Good News of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, it leads us both as individuals and as a Church to examine our faithfulness to God’s Law, especially as exhibited in the teachings of Jesus. One of my favorite lines in the Gospels is from the two disciples on the road to Emmaus when they recount their encounter with Jesus: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us” (Lk 24:32)?
This past Sunday, the Church universal was invited to observe Word of God Sunday. In the apostolic letter “Aperuit Illis” regarding this occasion, Pope Francis wrote, “The work of the Holy Spirit has to do not only with the formation of sacred Scripture; it is also operative in those who hear the word of God. The words of the Council Fathers are instructive: sacred Scripture is to be ‘read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit through whom it was written’ (Dei Verbum, 12). God’s revelation attains its completion and fullness in Jesus Christ; nonetheless, the Holy Spirit does not cease to act. It would be reductive indeed to restrict the working of the Spirit to the divine inspiration of sacred Scripture and its various human authors. We need to have confidence in the working of the Holy Spirit as he continues in his own way to provide ‘inspiration’ whenever the Church teaches the sacred Scriptures, whenever the Magisterium authentically interprets them (cf. ibid.,10), and whenever each believer makes them the norm of his or her spiritual life. In this sense, we can understand the words spoken by Jesus to his disciples when they told him that they now understood the meanings of his parables: ‘Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old’ (Mt 13:52).”
In less than a month, we will begin the holy season of Lent. Perhaps a good Lenten practice would be for us to examine our lives in light of the Ten Commandments and the Two Great Commandments as illustrated in the Gospels by Jesus. Are our hearts burning on fire with the Word of God? For me, I find also the Ten Commandments to be an excellent examination of conscience each time I approach the Sacrament of Penance (Confession).
Most importantly, through our renewed contact with the Word of God may you and I know the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of God in our lives. And so, we pray St. Augustine’s prayer to the Holy Spirit:
Breathe into me, Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Move in me, Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Attract my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy. Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy. Protect me, Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy.