“A church that understands itself as possessing the fullness of the means of grace must yearn for the fullness of the manifestation of that grace.”
I found this to be a rather challenging statement by Sherry Weddell in her book Forming Intentional Disciples. It is challenging because many of our parishes seem to have accepted a lack of manifestation of that grace, rather than its fullness, as the normal way of being.
It is as if we understand the first part of that statement reasonably well but don’t put it into practice.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The manifestation of grace is first and foremost the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As the Catechism explains
But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. (CCC#2003)
If, according to Pope St Paul VI in his letter on evangelisation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, the Church exists to evangelise, and such was the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20), then the principal agent of that mission is the Holy Spirit.
For it was only by the power of the Holy Spirit that the gospel was proclaimed outside of the walls of the upper room.
Encounter the Holy Spirit
With all of this in mind, it is safe to say that the Holy Spirit is the presence and power of God par excellence on earth today.
Through our life in the parish we should experience moments of encounter with the Holy Spirit. Those moments should move us, are sometimes emotional and should provoke an enthusiastic response in us – at the very minimum telling other people what we have experienced and Who we have met.
We tell others about a closely contested game of football we have seen, a satisfying restaurant we have visited or an interesting movie we have watched – why don’t we tell others with an even greater fervor about this love that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit?
Foster and Encourage the Living God
Yet according to Fr James Mallon in his book Divine Renovation, most people in our parishes ‘are more comfortable with the idea of the Holy Spirit rather than experiencing him as the one who comes in power’.
We know about him, but we haven’t actually met him.
Most people have heard of the Holy Spirit, but, in practice, have not experienced him. He is too often a gift that lies dormant in us, and so many Catholics remain paralysed in the upper room, not empowered to participate in the mission of the Church.
This is a problem and a large part of the reason why our parishes are not being what they are called to be.
At a parish level we need to foster and encourage encounter with the living God who comes in power to radically change lives.
So, what can we do to bring the Holy Spirit in power to the parish?
Both of these tried and tested methods have as their focus a basic presentation of the kerygma, an invitation to come under the lordship of Christ, and a life- changing encounter with the Holy Spirit.
Catechesis falls on dead ears when hard hearts have not been moved by an encounter with the fullness of divine grace.
What has worked in your parish? What would you long for yourself and your parish?