BELEIVE THAT the Catholic Church is on the verge of an incredible new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the same way that we now regard Vatican II, twenty years from now Catholics are going to look back at Jubilee 2000 as the beginning of an extraordinary time in the life of the Church. Jubilee 2000 will mark the time when the Father's love and power transformed the lives of the Catholic laity.
I had heard a great deal about the forthcoming Jubilee, but to be honest had not paid it a great deal of attention. While I heard John Paul II proclaiming it, and my pastor certainly isn't shy about preaching it, I just could not see how the Jubilee would be important in my life. A few extra masses, some preaching maybe but that was about it. The challenges of the present day seemed much more urgent. Then I began to take a closer look at the Jubilee and tie it to some other events that are happening around us and things began to look a lot different. Now I cannot wait to see what God is going to do.
There are several reasons for my excitement. The first is the obvious one — the Church is preaching it. Pope John Paul II is spending a lot of time and effort proclaiming the Jubilee, almost to the point that it is the single unifying event of his pontificate. The Father both inspires and honours such themes, especially in the Pope. If God has put the Jubilee into the heart of Christianity's greatest leader, he has a reason for it. The last time something like this happened we got Vatican II out of it. Just look at how that changed things.
The world is always in need of conversion and the Holy Spirit is always working to bring it about. Yet it seems that the time we live in is more in need of it than ever. People now commonly refer to our age as 'post Christian'. Morality has given way to relativistic ethics, wherein right and wrong depend upon the situation or past experience, not the purpose of God. Our culture has lost the sense of sin, of right and wrong. At the same time our society now condones the execution of the innocent for reasons of convenience (abortion) and is moving towards extending this philosophy to other venues (euthanasia). This type of thinking reminds me of Herod's response to the birth of Jesus. In order to protect his throne (convenience) he massacred many young children in his kingdom. Paradoxically, the teachings of the Church have never been more clear, forthright and available to the faithful. For this the Church faces persecution from without and, often enough, criticism from within. Attacks by the world always provoke a response from the Father, who with sorrowing heart will work to restore humanity by pouring out his Spirit to foster repentance and conversion.
Persecution of Christianity is rampant in other cultures as well. In fact it would be fair to say that Christians have rarely been as persecuted as we are today. We live in a time of great martyrdom. Many of our brothers and sisters have given their lives in witness to their faith. Pope John Paul II drew attention to this new martydom in his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente and pointed out the need to record it. Persecution and the blood of the martyrs always prepare the way for conversion.
Pope John Paul II has pointed out another major sign of impending renewal — the Second Vatican Council. Most of us would agree that the Council changed the way we relate to our Church. There are a few things about it we may have missed, however. The Council had quite an impact and seemed very sudden. Because of this we tend to see it as a dividing point, "then and now" as it were. It is more accurate to see it as a significant waypoint in a long process. The Council would not have looked anything like it did without the Holy Spirit preparing the Church through the inspired teachings of successive pontificates. The other thing is that the event of the Council itself follows a historical pattern. The Church has experienced many different means of renewal over the centuries. Quite often the renewal starts with structural changes implemented from the top which prepare the way for a later wave of change within the laity.
There is a tendency in secular circles to portray the Church as having peaked sometime in the early modern era and then declining slowly to the present day, when the decline has accelerated. Nothing could be further from reality. Rather, in terms of spirituality the Church has been growing over the centuries. The growth has not been uniform, but more like a steadily ascending series of peaks and valleys. Even through the twentieth century there have been several spikes of renewal. It seems that there is a continuous cycle of inspiration from the Holy Spirit, an outburst of spiritual devotion, then a period of relative quiet before the next cycle. In each cycle the Church learns something more about responding to the Father. It can get confusing because inspiration will come at different times in different ways in different parts of the world. For example, sometimes renewal has started with ecclesial reform and then moved to the laity, other times lay renewal has preceded structural reform. Thus there is usually a peak somewhere within the Church, but rarely in all of it.
Sometimes the Father will move his renewing Spirit across the whole Church. These are times of great evangelization and piety that radically transform how the Church in general and the laity in particular relate to Jesus. Interestingly, these seem to happen during times of structural and technological change in the world. A couple of better known examples are the era of St. Francis, who was only one of a startling number of saints in that time, and the religious fervor that gripped Europe during the evangelization of Africa and Asia in the nineteenth century. These are only two of several such events that we rarely hear of today.
The signs indicate that we are already in just such a major outpouring of the Spirit. The way is being prepared through the shedding of holy blood. There are several renewal "spikes" already moving through the Church and new ones coming. Ecclesial reform has already taken place and the teachings of the Church are clear and available. The Pope is calling it forth in prayer and teaching that is both inspired and prophetic, just as Pope John XXIII called forth Vatican II. To put it in scriptural terms, the harvest is ready.
Catholics face a tremendously exciting time. We also face several challenges. The Church was created in front of thousands of Jewish believers on Pentecost. Despite the fact that these people were devout and yearned for God to move, all but a few thousand dismissed what they saw because it did not fit their preconceived ideas of what God should be like. Some however, laughed it off. "They have been drinking too much new wine," they said (Acts 2:13).
Jesus warned us that this would happen. Several parables teach about being prepared for the coming of God. In the parable of the wedding attendants, ten attendants wait for the bridegroom. Five have brought extra oil for their lamps, five have not. Because the bridegroom is late, the unready five have to go and get oil. They return too late and cannot enter the wedding feast. The parable ends with an admonition to stay alert and ready, for we do not know the hour of his coming. One way to look at this parable is to call the fire in the lamps 'expectant faith' and the oil the 'decisions for Christ' that we must make to keep our faith from being dimmed by the cares of our lives. If we are always preparing and seeking God, then our faith will show us Jesus and the action of the Spirit, however different it may seem. If not, then we run the risk of dismissing his action as not important to our lives. In that case the wedding feast will indeed be closed to us for we will have rejected it despite the Father's best efforts! The Father will still love us and we will still be his children, but we will have missed a tremendous blessing that he wanted to give us.
Pope John Paul II has shown us how to prepare for Jubilee 2000. The Church as a whole has embarked on a three year preparation, centering each year on one person of the Trinity and what that means in our lives. The focus was on Jesus in 1997, the Holy Spirit in 1998, and the Father in 1999.
As a Church and as individuals, we must start with a recognition of our continuing need for God and how we have fallen short in our response to his love. We need to recognize our sinfulness. As we approach Jesus with an attitude of humility, we can take steps to deepen our faith and undertake an ongoing education, or catechises. The church provides us with the teaching we need through the Bible, the papal letters, our bishop and the Catechism. This teaching will lead us to a renewed appreciation of the gulf between man and God, and Jesus' action to bridge that gulf. Gratitude then leads us to seek out God and what he is doing. In other words, we need to learn how to recognize the Holy Spirit and what he is doing now. This is a gift from the Father. Just as Pope John XXIII asked the Holy Spirit to come into the Church and renew it through Vatican II, we need to ask the Spirit to deepen his presence in our own lives. Finally, we will recognize that conversion is not a one time event, but rather a continuing process. We are on a journey and we need to seek the Father's help every day. Only the grace of God can see us through.
Jesus will free us and show us the Father's love. That love will change us and change how we deal with the people around us. True social justice is not a cause, but rather a relationship.
Jesus told a parable about a man who went out into a fields one day and stumbled across something he did not expect to find, an incredibly valuable pearl. He went away, sold everything he had, and bought the field that had the pearl in it. That is how we will be when we prepare for Jubilee 2000. Somewhere along the way we will stumble across something we did not really expect to find — just how much the Father loves us and how real and practical that love really is. When we find a pearl like that, it will change us.
Jesus is doing something wonderful and he wants us to be part of it. I can hardly wait. How about you?