We say some people are “inspired by the Holy Spirit” because their insights and teachings are so close to reality. We say that some people are “fully alive” because the flame of the Holy Spirit is burning brightly in their works and their ability to motivate others. But, can the Holy Spirit work miracles in our times?
The Church which Jesus established depends heavily upon the Holy Spirit. Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God, which starts here and will only be fully realized in Heaven. Jesus established His Church -- the one, true Church – to continue His mission – the mission of salvation. Salvation, God’s invitation to share in His inner relationship of love and life, is offered to every man, woman, and child.
But God decided to rely on human instruments to accomplish this mission. Because of our human frailty, we know that Jesus was taking a big chance; can you and I, and all the people we know, do all this? Can we become effective evangelizers? Pope Paul VI taught that the Church exists to evangelize – to bring the message of God’s love and goodness to every human being (Evangelii Nuntiandi 14).
What has been the response of the Church to this call for a New Evangelization? One survey published in 2005 asked various Christian congregations whether spreading the faith is a high priority. In conservative Protestant congregations, some 75 percent answered in the affirmative; 57 percent of African-American congregations agreed. Among U.S. Catholic parishes, only 6 percent did – not exactly an enthusiastic embrace of the central thrust of the Second Vatican Council or the teaching of recent popes. Their warnings go unheeded as the number of practicing Catholics declines. (See this column by Archbishop William Lori)
That is why we have the Solemnity of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. To evangelize, we must have the love of God burning brightly in our hearts – the Holy Spirit brings that fire. We must be convinced of all that Jesus taught us about God, about ourselves, and about the world. It is more than our saying: “Well, it is my belief that such and such is true," (e.g., Real Presence.) Rather, it is our saying “I am convinced, with my full being, that what Jesus said, and what His Church teaches, is true. I stake my life on it.”
The Holy Spirit must guide the Church, and you and me in the New Evangelization. Every new generation is unique in some ways; we can’t deal with it exactly as we did with previous generations. “New wine requires new skeins.” But the Holy Spirit must help us find these working approaches. Pope John Paul II taught that the New Evangelization requires a new ardor, a new approach, and a new style. It is the same content and reality, but with a different packaging. We must find the approach and method that is suited for these times.
Who will guide us into a successful approach to the New Evangelization? The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, will help us understand all that Jesus has spoken to us, and how to bring that to others.
Today, 75% of all young Catholics 18-30 years of age, claim to be NONES (with no religious affiliation). Our previous method of catechesis did not work. We must find a more effective catechesis.
The Holy Spirit is willing to work with any and all who want to do God’s work. The graduation speaker for Benedictine College this year was Curtis Martin, one of the founders of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). Being a NONE himself, during his teenage years, then rediscovering his Faith through Campus Crusade, he resolved to find a way to reach the huge number of young Catholics who have abandoned their Faith. Working with Dr. Ted Sri at Benedictine College 20 years ago, the two of them developed a program that stressed building friendships and using weekly Bible studies that related the Bible to daily life. It was the Campus Crusade approach with a Catholic focus.
This program has been hugely successful and continues to grow. It started 20 years ago at BC with just a few members. Joe and Megan Wurtz were in the first class. FOCUS missionaries are recent college graduates, who do a summer training at Colorado Springs, then go in teams of 4-8 persons to campuses all over the country. They are uniquely gifted in reaching out to the needs and emptiness that their peers are experiencing. Young people begin to read Sacred Scripture. They go to daily Mass and use the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They discover a relationship with the Lord. FOCUS is one of the reasons why there are so many students at all the Masses on campus, and why four confessors are needed for one hour of Confessions before the two Sunday Masses at the Abbey Church, and two confessors for an hour before each daily Mass.
Today FOCUS is on 138 campuses with 650 active missionaries. Over the past 20 years, 128 of the missionaries have come from BC. There are 24,000 alumni, now acting as catalysts in their parishes. Curtis wants FOCUS to be on 250 campuses, here and abroad, by 2020.
Can the Holy Spirit work his miracles in our times? Well, just look at what had its beginnings right here in River City, Atchison!
The Holy Spirit is not finished with us. He is looking for receptive souls who want to be zealous for the ways of God.