Today I want to share with you two powerful, two very connected events. Yesterday (Aug 17) was our beloved Father Gregory Schnackenberg O.P.'s final Mass as parochial vicar at St. Patrick's. For those of you who don't know, Father is being sent back to school at Oxford University with the Blackfriars in England. During the Consecration at the epiclesis (action of priest calling down the Holy Spirit) right as Fr. Gregory raised his hands and called on the third person of the Holy Trinity, the thurible immediately started blazing. The fire was over a foot high coming out of the thurifer. On the left is a picture of the thurible I took after Mass. On the right I photoshopped about how big the fire was.
This event was powerful and maybe a bit frightening to some. After Mass in the parish hall, there was much talk and excitement as to whether or not it was a coincidence, a direct manifestation of the fire of the Holy Spirit or as Br. Joseph Anthony O.P. put it, just "grace building on nature." I spoke with Fr. Thomas Blau O.P. and he remarked that we need to remember that the Holy Spirit is not tame. Father said it reminded him of how in the Chronicles of Narnia, when the children hear of Aslan for the first time, Lucy asks "Is He safe?" “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver.”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”Mr. Tumnus also says, “He’s wild, you know. Not a tame lion.”
In most of my life, I never quite understood the person of the Holy Spirit. If anything, I had a very domesticated understanding of the Holy Spirit to be a "force" or "feeling" that was nice but always indirect, disconnected and separate from my life. In a word, if there was one description I would have given to the Holy Spirit, it would probably be "tame." The reality of the Holy Spirit consuming Elijah's sacrifice in fire (1 Kings 18), overshadowing Mary at the annunciation (Luke 1), and blowing into the upper room and descending in tounges of fire upon the apostles (Acts 2) actually demonstrate the truth about the person of the Holy Spirit.
The second event happened this past Tuesday (Aug 12). Br. Paul Kennedy O.P. and I led a day long junior high retreat on the life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati O.P. What rooted his life of service, athleticism and life-giving friendships was a deep love of Jesus Christ in the Eucharst. After a day of fun and games, our ministry of presence to the two elderly care facilities connected to the retreat center and a big dinner, we went to the chapel for adoration. Before exposition, I spoke of Frassati's love for the Eucharist, how he would be so wrapped up in adoration of the Eucharist that wax from candles would fall on him and he wouldn't be moved. How just as he sought to ascend to the mountain summit in his climbing expeditions, the Eucharist was the true source and summit of his life. My Father, Deacon Chris Reis from St. Catharine's presided over Exposition of the Eucharist. During his homily, he spoke of Frassati's life as one who truly left the boat and went to meet Christ on the water. Right after he exposed Jesus in the monstrance, something happened. Without invitation from the leaders, our teens immediately got out of their pews to come closer to Jesus in humble child-like adoration. I have never seen junior high students engage in such powerful and Spirit led adoration before. It was utterly astounding!
Afterwards, all of the leaders were absolutely astounded. We have never seen this before. They praised Jesus in the Eucharist with such power and faith and I knew the the Holy Spirit was flowing out of the Eucharist and filling them up. It was truly a moment of divine empowerment that cannot be explained by human intervention.
After encountering these incredible events, I was reminded of just who the Holy Spirit really is. Saint Pope John Paul II reminded us that
The Holy Spirit is “the protagonist, ‘the principal agent of the whole of the Church’s mission.’ It is he who leads the Church on her missionary paths” (CCC 852), and “wherever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons and history” (John Paul II, Address to Renewal Movements in 1992).
Yes, Father Blau is right. The Holy Spirit is surely not tame. A world bereft of the action of the Holy Spirit is tame, boring and meaningless. As we gear up for a new year of ministry, I have a firm confidence that the person of the Holy Spirit is going to continue to intervene in our youth, in our parish and diocese; to continue to leave us astonished and changed so that we can be unleashed from our worldly tameness. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit to become the evangelizers arising from the center of the Church (in medio ecclesiae)! Pope Francis has called us to this and provides the final word:
Spirit-filled evangelizers means evangelizers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, the Spirit made the apostles go forth from themselves and turned them into heralds of God’s wondrous deeds, capable of speaking to each person in his or her own language. The Holy Spirit also grants the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness (parrhesía) in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition. Let us call upon him today, firmly rooted in prayer, for without prayer all our activity risks being fruitless and our message empty. Jesus wants evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence. Evangelii Gaudiam para 259