QUESTION: Is it me or do we Catholics almost ignore the Holy Spirit?
ANSWER: The question above has two aspects. The first relates to the official worship of the Catholic Church. That worship (and liturgical life) does not “ignore” the Holy Spirit. For example, the sign of the cross and the “Glory to the Father ...” are central elements of worship in the Catholic Church and both incorporate the Holy Spirit.
It is important to note, however, that the Roman Catholic Church differs from the Catholic churches of the East and from Orthodoxy in its liturgy and spirituality. One such aspect is the way in which they include reference to the Holy Spirit.
In the western church, because of cultural and theological elements, an emphasis was placed on a more rational and pragmatic approach. In the eastern churches, however, there seems to be more comfort with mystery and a certain patience that leads to a belief that in this life not all questions have immediate or even sufficiently clear answers.
The actual worship forms that emanate from the churches of East and West, therefore, will necessarily involve differing approaches. Thus, in the West the hymns and prayers of worship tend to speak of tangible realities, whereas in the East the elements of mystery and symbol play a greater role. In this context, mention of the Holy Spirit is found more frequently in the worship of the East.
This may cast some light on the official liturgical life of the Roman Catholic Church, but we must also consider the everyday prayer life of its members. It is never simple to determine how other people pray or even think about prayer. But it seems that some Catholics tend to pray to God or Jesus before they think of praying to the Holy Spirit. There are likely many reasons for this.
One that strikes me is that within many Catholics there is some desire to maintain things religious within a certain level of our control. We like our religion to stay in “its place.” For some, then, to emphasize the Holy Spirit is to invite a certain uncontrolled power into one’s life.
In fact, this is verified in the early Christian experience as recorded in the New Testament (especially in the Acts of the Apostle and in the letters attributed to St. Paul). While the Holy Spirit brought tremendous gifts to the young Christian communities of the New Testament, it also cast them into initiatives that were not within traditional “comfort zones.” While that experience meant heading out into new directions, it also meant being open to spontaneous outpourings of grace to accomplish these new tasks.
For those who place an emphasis on control in their lives (even in areas of religion), the Holy Spirit may bring an uncomfortable message. If we rely upon the Holy Spirit, we place control of our lives (and our church) into another’s hands (even if that “other” is the Holy Spirit). In that way, we must be far more open to be led in new and different directions.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.