Archbishop George J. Lucas is pictured after praying at relics of the Nativity after Mass with U.S. bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome Jan. 14. The bishops were making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses to the pope and Vatican officials. PAUL HARING/CNS PHOTO

Shepherd's Voice

What is the Holy Spirit asking me to do now?

In this week’s discussion, Archbishop George J. Lucas and communications manager David Hazen recall the great celebration of ArchOmaha Unite on the eve of Pentecost last year, where thousands of Catholics from across the archdiocese came together at the CHI Center to joyfully witness to their faith. The Archbishop explains that the witnessing and encouragement experienced at the event can be very useful now, as we face the difficulties of the coronavirus pandemic. He encourages us to mine that experience for life-giving resolutions we can pursue for ourselves, our families and our church.

Q: Last year at this time, we were getting ready to gather thousands of the faithful at the CHI Center to celebrate Pentecost during the ArchOmaha Unite event. What is on your mind, Archbishop, as you look back at that gathering and as we prepare for Pentecost this year?

It seems like a dream, really, to think that just a year ago our efforts were aimed at getting as many people together as possible in one place, and planning a joyful and reverent celebration of the Mass for the largest group we possibly could. I remain grateful that we were able to pull it off by God’s grace – grateful for all those who attended, and for the organizers, underwriters, musicians and presenters who contributed in so many ways.

The Holy Spirit provided gifts to individuals, and they shared them so generously. It was a beautiful, beautiful experience. I am glad we are not trying to do it this year, of course, but I am very grateful that we had that experience together a year ago on Pentecost.

Q: At last year’s event, you asked us all to pray with you for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our local church. We are in a very different situation today, so it seems only natural to ask: What is the Spirit doing among us now? How do we see him acting in our local church?

That is a great question. This is certainly a different set of circumstances than we were experiencing a year ago, or even just a few months ago. I am convinced, though, that the Holy Spirit is not asleep nor somehow off doing some other project.

A mature spirituality always leads us to look backward a little bit when we are facing a challenge – not just longing for better or simpler times, but to try to trace how God has been preparing us for what we are now facing. God has not been setting us up for failure or for disaster or for eternal death; quite the opposite.

We see this in the Scriptures all through salvation history. The ArchOmaha Unite event was a monumental event. It was a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us in this local church. I am really convinced actually, that it was not only a gift to us in that present moment, but was in some way preparing us for what we are experiencing now and what we will be facing together.

I hope all of us who participated had a profound experience of the unity of the church, of the beautiful diversity that is all part of God’s design. When we have to experience isolation or remain distant from one another in the church – which goes against our nature – we have that great experience of being together to fall back on. I am certainly drawing strength from that experience.

We also heard great witnesses from a number of men and women. They live out their faith in their families, in their workplaces, in their parishes. All of those things that we heard and all that encouragement that we received is useful for the time in which we find ourselves. The big experience – bringing 15,000 people together – is not going to happen for us in the immediate future. Having our whole parish community together in one place is not going to happen. Even having a church full of people is not going to be possible in the immediate future. What is possible for us in the church? What is the Holy Spirit providing?

What we saw in the witnesses at ArchOmaha Unite – taking the opportunity to study the Scriptures together in a small group, to pray with our families, to seek out coworkers, family members and neighbors who may be feeling isolated – we are called to experience as well. We are called to notice those in need and go out to them for their own sake, and to believe that the Holy Spirit equips us to have an effect for good in the lives of our neighbors.

We cannot do something on the scale that we did a year ago, but we can do something very powerful. I hope as we recall what we experienced last year on Pentecost, we will mine that experience for what could be really useful and life-giving for us and for our church now.

We are not inanimate objects, and we are not wandering aimlessly or cluelessly in a hostile and meaningless world. In God’s providence we are placed here at a certain moment. We are redeemed by Jesus Christ and given the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we might be filled with hope, that we might see the path that God is opening in front of us, even if only a step at a time.

There is a path, and we must accompany others on the way that leads to life, reminding them of their dignity, offering hope because of the hope that we have in the risen Jesus.

Q: What is your prayer for us this Pentecost, and how should we join our prayers to yours?

I pray that we all will experience the effectiveness of the Holy Spirit, and that he accomplishes in each of us what he desires to accomplish.

When things are out of our control or out of whack it is easy for us to feel powerless. I think we rightly experience powerlessness in the face of this pandemic. The economy is bigger than anything we can solve or contend with on our own, as is the challenge of educating our children or of contending with unemployment. So many things, you know, are just beyond us. We can do our best, but they seem very daunting.

At the same time, the power of the Holy Spirit that was evident on the first Pentecost is certainly providing for us in the church corporately, but also individually. I would pray that we could ask ourselves the question, “What is the effect that God is asking me to have on the people around me?” Because we cannot really move the sun and the moon and the stars, and we cannot just instantly cure the virus tomorrow (though someone may be given that gift at some point), we should ask what effect we can have on the people close to us, the ones the Lord puts in our paths every day.

Pray that the Holy Spirit gives us a little nerve. Ask that he give us the confidence to step out of our comfort zone a little to invite someone else to prayer, to offer support in some way, or even just to express interest in another person’s life and his or her challenges. I would pray that we could see that this is the Lord inviting us to go out, go out of ourselves, even though we may not be able to offer direct service in the ways that we have been used to doing in the past.

If we allow the Holy Spirit to speak in and through us, to work through us, to be patient in us, to be courageous in us, we will feel a great dynamism. I think when we were all together for the ArchOmaha Unite event, we saw that there was strength in numbers. There was a palpable kind of strength that we have together in the Holy Spirit.

The devil, of course, would like to splinter the church and scatter us all, and have us feel very ineffective and very powerless, at the mercy of death-dealing forces. That is not the truth about us. It is not God’s plan for us, but it is easy enough to fall into. So my prayer for this Pentecost is that we feel the power of the Holy Spirit and put our trust in it.

I pray that we believe that the Holy Spirit wants to act in and through us, and so to have an effect for good in the life of someone else. Pray to know who those people are and to notice them. They may already be obvious to us because of our vocations and our responsibilities.

Take the Holy Spirit up on the gifts that are being offered to you. We know that to use those gifts means to help others take a step in the direction of Jesus and a fuller life in him.

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