Emmitsburg Council of Churches

The greatest challenges to the Roman Catholic Church today

Father John J. Lombardi

Personal transformation and Ecclesial regeneration: that's what we need in today's world. Read on if you wanna help…

Question: What's one of the greatest challenges to the Roman Catholic Church today? Answer: Pentecostalism (at least that's my opinion). And: Pentecostalism is one of the fastest growing spiritualities and communities in the world.

Recently Pope Benedict traveled to Brazil and spoke on this subject of how some Pentecostals are luring away Catholics from our Church. Pentecostalism-more a movement than a "church"-- means-emphasis upon the Holy Spirit (as in "Baptism in the Spirit"); an experiential faith based on emotionalism; small communities of faith, and healing and speaking in tongues.

Worldwide there are growing millions of Pentecostals in Latin America, the U.S., Asia and elsewhere. As we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost-the "Birthday of the Church", our "Spiritual Inauguration" (see Acts ch. 2-today's First Reading), let us re-consider Pentecostalism-neither condemning it nor converting to it (after all we are already part of the Lord Jesus' Foundational-Original Church-see Mt. 16:18 ff) but learning what we can and personally transforming and ecclesial regenerating. Many Catholics can use a dose of the Holy Spirit and, after all, do you actually know the Holy Spirit? Recently I was thinking of it this way: kinda like a manila folder-we all sorta know what one is, but-- is that a color or shape or size of the folder or what? And is it named for the Philippines' capital or a flavoring like ice cream? Like the folder, like the Spirit-we kinda know Him and kinda don't-yeah?

Review, now, these following Biblical-spiritual-helps and see how you know and live in God-the-Spirit. The Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:21) are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self control, chastity. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-2). Now, refer to these Bible help lists to ask for more manifestations of the Spirit within your life and keep yourself accountable to Him! Are you producing these Fruits and Gifts or are you just "paying your dues" or "spiritually sleepwalking" or got the religious-robotic blues"?

Just Who is the Person of the Holy Spirit? He is sometimes called The Bond of Love between the Father and the Son. Like parents who love one another so greatly and intimately and who thereby in marital union sometimes create a "third person" (baby), so the Uncreated Fruit of the Eternal, Divine Love of Father in Son in the Godhead is the Holy Spirit. Do you regularly talk and listen to the Holy Spirit in your daily life or ignore Him? That would be like meeting the couple mentioned above and ignoring the third person, the child. Don't ignore: implore Him, the Spirit, evermore!

Anyway: here are some "Catholic mistakes" when it comes to our Faith-and how we may be lacking in the Spirit: Intellectualism--some people narrowly "highlight the head" and also knowledge to the detriment of the heart and emotions-becoming religious robotic. Okay, remember: we're not a philosophical system but a Plan of Salvation and called to be Alive in the Spirit-moisturized by His Love. Moralism: like the Scribes and Pharisees this places over reliance on morality apart from a personal relationship with God and His Spirit enlivening us, and can lead to scrupulousness. Ask the Spirit to help your heart grow and form a more personal union and relationship with Him and the Divine Trinity. Spiritualism: over-emphasis on one's own performing and doing of exercises and religious practices as kinda like a "checklist" of egoism. Ask the Spirit to help you, to remind you, that it's all about a relationship with God and others. Brittleness: this might include a Type-A personality where control is an issue (do we have to do everything by a plan or rulebook or goals and objectives?); or dourness of character wherein people seem more like they're sleepwalking rather than alive in the Spirit. Now: is the Holy Spirit mystically moisturizing your life, personality and even your body? Think of the Spirit and yourself like this: A hot-air balloon needs hot air-not cold air-to fly and soar. The Holy Spirit is like our "spiritually-warm-air-Breath" enlivening, transforming and vivifying us. Contra the moniker: it's good, then, to be filled with hot air because if you have cold air within you, your hot-air balloon Temple-body-soul will be grounded and you'll miss out on the Soaring Spirituality of the Saints!

Let us consider some of the key texts of Pentecostalism, which we Catholics would do well to familiarize ourselves with more: the Acts of the Apostles (illustrating the early Church's reliance upon the Holy Spirit which the Incarnate Jesus left us with, and the ensuing "marvelous-miraculous deeds"); I Corinthians ch's 12 and 13 (The Gifts of the Holy Spirit) and Joel ch. 2 (The Spirit re-vivifying Israel and the prophets). While there is much good that we can learn from Pentecostalism, let us charitably consider some critique: loss of Sacred Tradition and Theology from our Church; over reliance upon "the miraculous" (speaking in tongues, etc.); loss of the social dimensions of the Gospel and wide breadth of variety of the Bible; neglecting or rejecting the Sacraments and St Peter's Successors, the bishops, and rejecting updated helpful moral teachings.

Okay, take a break-now pray (and memorize) this beautiful, simple prayer: Come Holy Ghost/ Creator Blest/ and in our hearts take up Thy Rest/ Come with Thy grace/ and Heavenly aid/ to fill the hearts/ which Thou hast made…"

Once again: personal transformation and ecclesial regeneration: this means becoming a different person inside once encountering and continually being transformed changed by the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit (since He IS God) to change us from within. And: an ecclesial regeneration mean the Church cannot focus on money or prestige or pride or possessions, but like the Early Church (once again, see with the Pentecostals and saints the Book of Acts)

Now read these moving and beautiful words from a recent pilgrim to the Grotto, "Bernadette," who has a serious form of life-threatening cancer, and who is married, the mother of five and 39 yrs young. She came here for Mass, healing, prayer, a picnic and the Lord's and Lady's Love: "It has taken me a long time to begin to understand the Holy Spirit. You know, He is really the One who gets the least amount of attention, yet He does an awful lot for us. We all find it easy to give glory to God the Father, and really easy to call on Jesus and to praise Him for His amazing sacrifice, but the Holy Spirit….pretty much nothing. I think it is because His ways are subtle. He is quiet and moves in and out of us without our noticing. When He has graced us we just think, wow, I did great, and we go about our way. But the Holy Spirit, at least for me, is the director on the side of the stage that gives me my lines when I do not know them; and that is most of the time. He is that random stranger that gives you great shortcut directions when you are lost. He is the hairs that stand up on the back of your neck when there is danger and the butterflies in your stomach when you realize that you have found 'the one'. He puts the right words in your heart; you have to get them to your mouth. He nudges you on your path, you have to choose to either follow, or resist. Nonetheless, He is there all the time, speaking to your heart, and when we accept Him, we can do, say, believe, know amazing things. All of this He does, and all He asks is that you listen. I regularly forget to thank Him, I hope I just have."

As we celebrate this "Birthday of the Church"- let us promote and protect our Catholic Teaching which frees and heals. Many have called, along with Pope John Paul II (we love you), for a New Pentecost, or "Second Pentecost" whereby our Church is re-gifted and animated once again the by the Holy Spirit. There are many challenges to the Church today-so be aware-don't give into the scare-we need ecclesial re-generation for new vocations to the priesthood and religious life; for strong families; for holy leadership and for challenging teaching and prophetic lifestyles of love. Recently I saw the news and heard about a high school in Boulder, Co., where the presenters promoted open sexuality to teens, to "experiment" in many different ways and also thru same-sex practices, thru self abuse-this was actually recorded and promoted. As if this weren't enough the superintendent of the school system defended the practice. Now: we need the Fire of the Spirit to clean up such situations and help us prophetically protest so souls may receive their dignity and preserve it. Parents: ask the Holy Spirit to never let anyone or any agency to get in between you and your child and usurp your God-given privileges and duties. The Birthday of the Church means we need to re-vive our Catholic teachings esp. in regard to morality and sexuality so that more people don't become enslaved.

We need more of the Holy Spirit. In the Eastern Church (both Catholic and Orthodox) there is much more emphasis on the Holy Spirit-in art (icons and church works); in music; in prayer; in the Liturgy (chanting, and in texts which emphasize His role more), in theology (whereby the Spirit is given more prominence and not neglected). So: how can you rely more on the Spirit?

Now, don't laugh: I sometimes think of the Holy Sprit (imagine: it's comes down to this!) as like a "spiritual umbilical cord" which divinizes us and keeps us alive-like the child in the womb needs the parent's-link-umbilical cord. Unless we have Him-the-Spirit-"spiritual cord-connection"--then we will die in our world with all its challenges. So get re-connected!

Ask the Holy Spirit to cauterize you of what most people struggle with: anger, lust and anxiety. To cauterize means to burn and melt away: this is a major aim and task of the Fiery Spirit. So keep asking and never give up! Become purified inside.

Teaching-The Holy Spirit assists us to understand difficult truths-about God Himself (the Trinity); about our moral lives-avoiding evil and doing good-and also about our spiritual lives.

Are you alive in the Holy Spirit? This is what Pentecostals and other Catholics are looking for. So, now consider the Gifts of the Spirit- St Paul describes (I Cor 12-13) how we Catholics may have different gifts and talents-from plumbing to art to music-but it is all the same Spirit Who begets these in us. We have Mystics like St John of the Cross to simple souls like St Joseph Cupertino to brains like Dumb Ox St Thomas Aquinas to beautiful persons like St Catherine of Siena to drunk-reformed souls like Ven. Matt Talbott to "renaissance men" like Pope John Paul II to introverts like St Therese of Lieseaux. How did all these folks get in one family? Just say: "Consider the source"-it's the Holy Spirit that makes them, us, holy, diverse and divine-like. You have all kinds of Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit from plumbing to art to music to athletics to knowledge and adventure-are you acknowledging The Source and sharing them with others?

My dentist friend, Dr Mike, just asked the question: "What do you think of Christian Yoga?" I said, "Mike, can I get back to you on that?" I did--and will 2 u another time, but, to paraphrase: We need to harness the Breath-Spirit of God within our lives to meditate, and spiritually regenerate and do legit spiritual exercises and not lose this "teachable moment" wherein we can help others. While we need to avoid all forms of "dabbling in spirits" (which some forms of yoga do) we also can ask the Holy-Spirit-Breath to help us integrate Body, Mind and Soul in the disciplines Catholics have practiced for two-thousand years. Upshot: always make your prayer-disciplines Holy Spirit centered and Christically concentrated.

And don't forget one of the Gifts of the Holy Sprit-Reconciliation: The Holy Spirit helps singe sins. When was your last Confession wherein you trusted in Jesus Christ's Divine Mercy?

So, now pray: Come Holy Ghost, and with the Father and Son, help me to love You the most. Be my Inward Guest within, and chase away any sin, and thereby help me to become blest. Transform and regenerate my life-all my thoughts, words and deeds, that I might be recreated and be Your instrument and channel of Love… Happy Birthday Church!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi