Many people think the Catholic Church is like a business, or in the best case a humanitarian organization. Regarding the Church as a human organization misses its origin: the Church is God’s creation; and God’s continuous action within in it. With this in mind, Cardinal Newman begins the second of his four short meditations on the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity by praising the Holy Spirit for the Church: “Thou hast founded the Church, Thou hast established and maintained it. Thou fillest it continually with Thy gifts, that men may see, and draw near, and take, and live. Thou hast in this way brought down heaven upon earth.”
Newman holds what St. John Chrysostom taught: “If the Holy Spirit were not present, there would be no word of wisdom or knowledge in the Church; for it is written, ‘The word of wisdom is given through the Spirit’ (1 Cor 12:8)… If the Holy Spirit were not present, the Church would not exist. But if the Church exists, there is no doubt of the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
In his meditation Newman goes on to adore the Paraclete or Consoler for bringing him into the Church. As a convert from the Anglican church, he acknowledges that there were more gifted persons and men less stained by sin and prays: “Yet Thou, in Thy inscrutable love for me, hast chosen me and brought me into Thy fold. Thou hast a reason for everything Thou dost. I know there must have been an all-wise reason, as we speak in human language, for Thy choosing me and not another—but I know that that reason was something external to myself. I did nothing towards it—I did everything against it.”
The Oxford teacher, in fact, earnestly pursued religious truth, but still faulted himself for childhood sins and for his reticence as an adult to move more quickly into the fold of the Catholic Church. Reminiscent of St. Augustine’s confessions he writes: “O my God, that overpowering love took me captive. . . how I struggled to get free from Thee; but Thou art stronger than I and hast prevailed.”
We may ask ourselves: “Why am I a member of the Church while others who are better than I are not?” We do not have an answer to this question but recognize that it is a great and unmerited gift to be in Christ’s fold, and that it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to call Christ Lord.
Like Newman, we can “bow down before the depths of … [God’s] love” and pray to God the Holy Spirit, to use well the graces that He grants us, to love the Sacraments and Commandments: “Teach me to value as I ought, to prize as the inestimable pearl, that pardon which again and again Thou givest me, and the great and heavenly gift of the Presence of Him whose Spirit Thou art, upon the Altar.”
Preparing for the feast of Pentecost, ask a family member or a friend: “What do you understand the Catholic Church to be?” Then with the help of the Holy Spirit, explain to him that the Church is the communion of the baptized children of God, the Body of Christ enlivened by the Spirit.
And let us pray more often: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”