May 23, 2010
All Truth, No Zeal?
During a public gathering in a small town, the emcee was having some problems with the English language. As usual, the town mayor was very late. During the middle of the affair, the mayor arrived. As he was passing in front of the stage, the gutsy emcee quickly announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to announce the arrival of the late mayor who just passed away!”
This incident must have taught the mayor a valuable lesson on punctuality. But it is also a strong reminder for all students to take their studies seriously. We all know that shallow knowledge can be embarrassing and even devastating.
In a year or two, the English-speaking countries will be using the new translation of the Missal. There are some significant changes that we need to learn and study well. One of these is the response to the greeting “The Lord be with you.” We have been used to the response “And also with you.” But the new translation is totally different but more accurate: “And with your spirit.” (In Latin, it is “Et cum spiritu tuo”; in Spanish, “Y con su espiritu.”)
In recent years, we have seen many Catholics leaving the Church. Most of them say that they found the liturgical celebrations boring and lacking in spirit. They were looking for lively and exciting celebrations and they found these in born-again sects. Worse than this is the perception, which may also be true, that Catholics do not have enough passion and ardor for the faith. The late Bishop Fulton Sheen said: “Communism is all zeal, but no truth; Catholics have all truth, but no zeal.”
Zeal, enthusiasm, fervor, and energy – all these presuppose the presence of a principle of life and love. When one is in love, he suddenly becomes aware of a new power and vitality that fills him with unbounded zeal and passion for his beloved. In the spiritual life, that principle is the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity.
In the account of creation in the Book of Genesis, God breathed on the human figure formed from clay, and man came into being. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and breathed on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the breath of God that gives life, power, zeal and energy. This was the experience of the Apostles in the Upper Room on that day of Pentecost. They were huddled in one room, for fear of the Jews. When the Holy Spirit came in the form of a strong wind and hovered over each of them as tongues of fire, they literally burst out of their shell and began proclaiming with full enthusiasm and courage the message of the Resurrection. It was the moment when the Church was born into the world. Pentecost is the feast of the Holy Spirit, and at the same time, also the feast of the birthday of the Church.
In our baptism and particularly in the sacrament of Confirmation, we received the Holy Spirit as God’s gift to us. This is what that greeting in the Mass reminds us: “The Lord be with you”, “And with your spirit.” Indeed the Spirit of God resides in each one of us. St. Paul categorically declares that our body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19).
If the Holy Spirit is already given to us, why are many Catholics so tepid and uninspired in the practice of the faith? We proudly claim that we belong to the true Church that Christ founded; that we possess the fullness of the Truth. But why do many of us, instead of being ardent defenders of the truths of the faith, have engaged in religious relativism, watering down the truths of our Christian faith for fear of offending anybody and of being accused as intolerant and not nice?
The problem is not that the Church has boring liturgical celebrations, outdated doctrinal teachings and rigid hierarchical structure. These are all untrue and unfounded charges. Rather, the real problem is with many Catholics. Most of us have never really lived according to the promptings and inspiration of the Holy Spirit in us. Thus, we have become ineffective witnesses, even counter witnesses, to the Gospel.
One main reason for this is our egoism, fueled by materialism and consumerism. We are so focused on our selfish and worldly pursuits that we become oblivious of God and insensitive to His Spirit. We are like a transistor radio that emits only static noise. There is no problem with the radio; the station is broadcasting clearly. But the tuning dial of the unit is not set to the right frequency. As a result, the transistor radio cannot receive the music and news from the station. What is needed only is to move the tuning dial to the right position to get the frequency of the station, and then there will be clear broadcast of the news and harmonious music over the radio.
This is what the Feast of the Pentecost reminds us. The Holy Spirit, the life-giving breath of God is always with us in this world. He is like a radio station on perpetual broadcast. What is needed only is for us to refocus our own spirits and awareness to the Spirit of God. Then we will enjoy the peace, joy and harmony that God gives, always open to receive all the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. And like the Apostles on Pentecost, we will be transformed into courageous and zealous messengers of the immutable truths of Christ. Thus, we will be able to speak like Peter: “Better for us to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b). Or, as one Catholic author said, “Better to deal with the heat in this life than in the next.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Diocese of Novaliches
Quezon City, Philippines