The Spirit's Gifts

In the great crises of poetry, what matters is not to denounce bad poets, nor worse still to hang them, but to write beautiful verses, to reopen the sacred sources.” So wrote Georges Bernanos, reflecting on what the church needed to do in the time of Martin Luther. Today, as the church faces a worldwide crisis over the abuse of minors by clergy compounded by failures of hierarchical leadership, and even corruption, Catholics are turning once more to the lifesprings of faith to write beautiful verse. The “living source,” fons vivus, of the Christian life, as the chanting of the Veni Creator Spiritus reminds us each Pentecost, is God the Spirit dwelling in us and flowing out from us to fill the whole earth. It is the indwelling Spirit who prays with unutterable groaning when we do not know how to pray. It is the Spirit who pours out joy into our hearts and provides us with words of witness when the faith is under attack—from without and within. It is the same Spirit who will enable Catholics, especially in these cloud-dark days, to sing new verses.

The first Pentecost is often described, poetically and theologically, as the birthday of the church. Almost 50 years ago, Pope John XXIII heralded the Second Vatican Council as a new Pentecost, and the council fathers and later theologians looked on it as a unique work of the Spirit in our times. Pentecost, however, is an ongoing event; God’s Spirit gives the church a new birth in every generation. With the Spirit working in us, we can be sure God will write new verses for the church to deliver. Pentecost is a time for the church to take note of the varieties of gifts through which the Spirit is already rebuilding the church following the failures of decades. Among those we would note are: the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, the retrieval by religious congregations of their founding charisms, lay pastoral associates, lay people ministering in hospitals and prisons, novel education programs for the poor and service by young people and seniors.


The council reminded us that the Spirit bestows gifts on each of us for the good of all. The council celebrated these charisms as building up the church in conjunction with the gifts of office. In intervening years, however, the very idea of a variety of charisms given for the good of the whole church has been depreciated. With the exception of a few notable movements, many charisms bestowed on the faithful have suffocated under the weight of office and been neglected or even dismissed as unwarranted in the established order of church life. Charism and office should be complementary gifts, as they have been in the Catholic tradition.

For his part, Pope Benedict XVI has been steady in his teaching that charisms bring vitality to the church. Addressing the clergy of Rome in 2007, he reminded his listeners that “new forms of life are being born in the church, just as they were born down the ages.” With pastoral sensitivity, he understood the necessity of a multiplicity of charisms to enable the church to thrive in surprising ways. He also had the wisdom to anticipate how necessarily disruptive and challenging God’s gifts can be, especially for administrators. So he counseled his audience to gentleness and patience in exercising their pastoral responsibility for coordinating gifts in the local community. “The first rule,” he told them, “is: do not extinguish Christian charisms; be grateful even if they are inconvenient.”

For the church to flourish anew, there needs to be a reciprocity of gifts among believers and between believers and pastors. Gratitude for the gifts others bring to church life ought not be given reluctantly, but should come as a spontaneous and active response, the better to strengthen the bonds that unite the community. Men and women of faith, as the council taught, “have a right and a duty” to exercise their specific gifts in the bonds of charity for the good of the whole church, and when they do so, they ought to “enjoy the freedom of the Holy Spirit.” In this ongoing Pentecost, there should be neither passivity nor domination, but mutual appreciation in pastoral relationships. The church suffers both from acquiescent parishioners and heavy-handed pastors, bishops and other church officials. Neither a passive faith, nor a domineering one manifests the Spirit or truly does the Spirit’s work. Only in reverent attention to and acceptance of the gifts of all is the Spirit not quenched (1 Thes 4:19).

In the church’s new birth, a birth by fire, some things must die. The heavy, static architecture of the overly hierarchical, pyramidal image of the church inherited from Rome and Byzantium is at the point of giving way to the more airy, light-filled style of the church as a community of disciples on mission, with the Spirit infusing and guiding the church at all levels—faithful, clergy and hierarchy. This Pentecost the Spirit is at work bringing new life to the church—if only we listen and do not quench the Spirit.

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Ross Lonergan
10 years 2 months ago

I am afraid that I find it very difficult to be as optimistic as the last paragraph of your edirtorial indicates that you are. When the hierarchy of the Church can deny Catholic schooling to children of lesbian parents, can excommunicate a nun for making a heart-wrenching decision to save a woman's life (when otherwise both the woman and her unborn child would have almost certainly died), can refuse burial in her own Catholic Church to a woman who felt called by God to be a priest; when the leader of the Catholic Church decries gay marriage as insidious and dangerous when it has clearly proven to be no such thing, I think the air is still a bit stagnant and darkness prevails where there indeed should be light. If only the Catholic hierarchy would read the wonderful article "True North" in the current issue of your magazine and take the wisdom contained in that article to heart, the air might begin to sweeten and the light begin to shine.

Ross Lonergan
10 years 2 months ago

P.S. I love this magazine and the courage of its writers, like Father Jim Martin. There is air and light between the covers of America.

Luis Gutierrez
10 years 2 months ago

One thing that must die is the patriarchal structure of the church.  The reformation of the rigid hierarchy we now have must include, the ordination of married women to the diaconate, and the ordination of celibate women to the priesthood and the episcopate.  Else, the body of Christ will continue to suffer the nefarious effects of making the maternal face of God invisible.

Mary Anne Gervais
10 years 2 months ago
Faith, hope and love in Christ, yes, Anger with the Hierarchy, yes, Courage to speak Truth to power, yes.
" Hope has two daughters, Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are and courage to change them. attributed to St. Augustine."

Thank you for this beautiful article but in many ways you speak to the converted Some of this must be digested and acted out by the hierarchy, including our Pope. We must die to the entrenched, antiquateded understanding of our Roman Catholic identity. We must die to hard-line exclusiveness i.e. the sub-ordination of women in hierarchical positions before we can embrace the world with the theological virtues which identify our Catholicism.

Pope John XX111 says:"WE ARE NOT HERE TO GUARD A MUSEUM BUT TO TEND A FLOURISHING GARDEN". He acted out this pronouncement. Our hierarchy, clergy and laity must do so as well.
Frank Gianattasio
10 years 2 months ago

Beautiful article that gives us hope in time of turmoil. We need the clergy to hear us, and allow us to participate to the full. Fortunately we have a loving pastor who listens and welcomes our efforts to support the church.

Some of the old traditions are worth keeping. My favorites  are the old St. Thomas hyms and Adoration. We lost it for a while, but they are coming back.

Deo Gratias.

Frank G.

Eileen Gould
10 years 2 months ago

I am rereading Hans Kung's 1963 That the World May Believe which I bought at a book sale 20 years ago.   My only regret is that I didn't have the wisdom to read it in 1963.   47 years ago and we still don't get it.   Our beautiful church is disintegrating before our very eyes and nothing is done in reforming it (yes, we need a 2nd reformation from within.)   I'm 84 years old and I have nothing to lose in saying my truth.   Should I believe in my truth and be quiet?  I believe with all my heart in the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit will breathe new life into Jesus' church.   Will a new St. Francis of Assisi please stand up!

jane prouty
10 years 2 months ago
WOW, absolutely inspiring editorial. to Eileen: I've been reading Kung for years and I'm 70.

Four years ago the head of adult ed in my new parish decided to exclude me as a bible study teacher even though I have 24 credit hours in theology and philosophy from an accredited and respected Catholic college and had just finished teaching 4 RCIA classes and conducting several adult bible study classes in my former parish. It almost killed my soul. Study and teaching are my charisims. I also have teaching credentials.

I am so grateful for this editorial.
john fitzmorris
10 years 2 months ago
Well said! But ... but there is still within the people of God a terrible lethargy that resists the spirit in favor of the security that Rome and Byzantium afford. The forces of amnesia and nostalgia are still alive and well in the Church. I pray that the Spirit would send another Gregory, another Francis and another Ignatius would set the word on fire.
10 years 2 months ago

A Sonnet to the Church's Hierarchy

I say of all the Church's Pharisees,

"You blocks! You stones! You worse than senseless things!"

The Holy Spirit ever speaks to these

And urges them to hear their 'underlings'.

But in their egocentric temporal quest

To maintain human power, these Pharisees

Quote rigid Canon Laws to quell the best

And inspired approach to meet the Church's needs.

They like the Canon Laws, these Pharisees,

For both are rigid-frozen in a past

That justifies not listening to the pleas

The Holy Spirit urges them to grasp.

The Holy Spirit's messages await

To be allowed to pass through the Church's gate.



Gilbert Guerrero
10 years 2 months ago

Brother Faithful to Rome,

The underlying anger in your message is saddening. What I find so disturbing in the view of regressionists is the lack of wonder or thirst for the opportunity that God provides for new understanding, renewal, and rebirth as we tiny humans continue to grow in our comprehension of the Church, the World, and the Universe. Our incredible world and the universe in which we live and breathe and have our being continues to unfold. That is awe-inspiring, and scary, but it seems to me that it calls for open hearts and minds to participate fully in the majesty of God's creation, to help to grow it to its fruition,  and to accept and embrace the full range of human experience and opinion and understand that they are mysteries of the divine plan.

Progress and change seem to be woven deep into the fabric of God's creation. To sit and rail and suggest that the Church needs to run all these dissenters outta here or, as is often suggested, turn back the clock 50/100/200 years on our thoughts/practices, seems to deliberately be closing oneself to the divine revelation offered to God's children. Others also suggest that things would be "perfect" if we just got some doctrinal purity around here, but it seems to me that God would be a lot happier if we manifested a bit more love toward each other (particularly as Christ calls us to love those who are different from us) and a bit less arguing about human doctrinal and liturgical creations.

Thanks, America. The world is a better place for you being in it.

Brother Michael, may Christ's peace be with you always.

10 years 2 months ago

In response to comment #9.

Had the hierarchs heeded

the code of cannon law,

and not the sweet



and solutions

of the psychologist's simplex strategies:

"I'm OK, Your'e OK!"



Justice and Mercy might have met,

in an embrace

worthy of the prodigal pair.


"You're Not OK"

has become the motto of the lower-archs,

the hurt crowd,

the hard crowd,

a crowd that resembles the 

elder son.

we vnornm
10 years 2 months ago

Dear Ed,

Perhaps you have not met many psychologists? Some of them do follow not only the Canon Law, the Catechism, but also the spirit of the Gospels.

As a profession we work with the poor, the desperate, the sick. 

Please see my blog this week. There are alot of kids who "aren't okay" and need our help. Most of the help they receive comes from public organizations, Medicaid, SSI, etc-not the Church. So perhaps something can be learned from the psychologists.

Wherever one falls on the continuum of dogma, there are many new ministries to be discovered. Hope that you might discover one.

And I know two psychologists who did evals in those 70-80s years-and their recommendations to defrock were not taken.

best, bill

10 years 2 months ago

Dear Bill,

A psychologist saved my life from the pit of despair, so I know the value of good counseling. What "new ministries" are you referring to? And where can I find your blog? 

Thanks! E

we vnornm
10 years 2 months ago

Hi Ed,

So maybe the "psychologist's simplex strategies" refer to those psychologists in the 70s and 80s who are said to have advised the Bishops that perpetrators could be cured? This interpretation of your poem would make sense.

My column is there in the section "In all things". The most recent one is "60.000+ sexual perpetrators."

The "new ministries" involve working with all of the broken people who seem to be forgotten in view of the disproportionate emphasis on what has been occurring in the Church. (ie. 800,000+ maltreated children in 2008 alone). Also see my movie review "The Children's Crusade" in February. I am putting together Wedneday's blog...probably on the most severe kinds of schizophrenia.

Glad you received good counseling. The quality of this can vary.

"The older son"....if I recall, didn't he have a bit of jealousy that the Father was freely and fully giving to someone who "didn't deserve it"? Perhaps there are other "prodigals" (metaphorically, those with hurts of the mind and spirit) who need to be helped through Church ministries as well as by psychologists..

amdg, bill

Mona Villarrubia
10 years 2 months ago

I dream of a future church -
- where leaders can be identified by their humility and spirituality not by the color and opulence of their medieval-styled dress
- where gender is not a factor in the discernment of vocation, and celibacy is not a pre-requisite to ordination
- where the response to people hurt by priests and religious is guided by compassionate ministers of God’s love and justice, and not by members of the legal profession mandated to protect Church property and reputation at all costs
- where I can trust that my children and grandchildren will be safe from known predators, because I can be sure that anyone found hurting children or young adults will be turned over to the civil authorities and not protected and reassigned to unsuspecting communities
- where I can once again pray, celebrate the sacraments, weep and be consoled, find spiritual nurturing, and rediscover hope
I dream, I hope, I pray.


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