Sometimes I wonder how, in the face of the shame and scandal we face these days in our Church and the headwinds in so many aspects of our lives, any of us manage to maintain a deep sense of peace and confidence on our road ahead. So I want to disclose and discharge, if I may, something of my own mind and heart. Speaking personally, the simplest way I can put it is: I trust in the Holy Spirit. I just believe that what we celebrate at Pentecost is real. God is with us. The Holy Spirit is within and among us, especially in our Church family.   

As Scripture has it, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. (And) be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” (Eph 4:30-31, cf Eph 1:13) 

I am well aware that many Catholics are disgusted with the Church as an institution and many of its officials. I know that some of us are hearing whispers from the ancient tempter, ever scheming to disorient our trust in God, to detach ourselves from the umbilical cord that connects us to the living Lord, the Holy Mass. Are anger, frustration and discouragement not his tools, leading us from God to self-cure: a spiritual declaration of independence? I am not them? Understandable. But isn’t it a little like banging your head against a wall or, if I might be so blunt, leaving the scene of a crime or an accident you just witnessed, that maybe you didn’t cause, but if you walk away the victim may never get help, nor those responsible ­apprehended? 

Yes, that’s how I feel somewhat. I can’t walk away from those who have been wounded, especially victims and survivors of abuse and their families and friends. Many of them — I have no idea how many — may question how an “institution” can listen to, let alone care for them if it was not vigilant enough to protect them from the horrible experiences whose scars they bear every day. Many of us concur. 

But I am staying right here. Not because I believe I have some power to repair or undo wrongs once done, but because I trust that God wants to do something about it. So he summons me (who else?) to be an instrument of his peace, a witness to a faith that proclaims he is here in the person of Jesus Christ, whose Holy Spirit heals and unites, and is living in you and me. Maybe he is asking that of you. 

In practical terms, I want to serve, something like a trail guide on this trek through a forest ridden with hidden thorns and brambles, the strange cries of wild creatures, paths not yet forged, wrong turns at times and unpredictable weather. I see us as in this together, sharing our stories like those pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, listening and learning from one another, plodding along as we pray together. 

Some of those stories are quite raw and tender, painful to tell. They may need an interpreter, an intercession, to be put on hold for a while just to catch a breath. Sometimes every one of us needs to withdraw a bit, to pause and just find some safe and quiet space. Nothing may be more comforting than to find a little “chapel in the woods,” some place where people pray quietly, before the Blessed Sacrament perhaps, or even just a random chair, not too hard or too soft, in a beautiful, relaxing setting, like a back porch or a bench in a garden, or just patch of green grass at the Shrine of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Auriesville. I have found peace in all of these places. 

But most of all I find peace in my heart, knowing and accepting the Spirit of the Lord who wants to be there with me, if only I will trust him to be who he is, both Comforter and Advocate. These two identifying words ­Jesus uses in the Gospel of Saint John. The Holy Spirit is our consoling companion, the one who sticks up for you and me in the face of all the bad, sad news and the assaults on our faith and morale. 

It’s not that I am optimistic, though some might have that impression. I want to see the world as it is — neither darkly distorted as the pessimist does nor with rose-colored glasses, or as I wish it were or might have been. But I know that whatever state it may be in, or whatever bridge we have come to or been led to, Jesus is there to help us cross. He always meets us exactly where we are. He is the one who always comes to us! 

In fact, I believe — I must confess that I can say I know this with the certainty of faith — that the Holy Spirit of Jesus is always arriving with grace in abundance at every crime scene, every sinful disaster, every suffocating dead-end in our life’s journey. While we might be tempted to throw up our hands in frustration or near despair, drowned in our own blind rage or tear-drenched eyes, Jesus is there to punch a hole in the side of that virtual tomb (as he did his own) and to lead us out into the fresh air along a new path of hope and a life that is eternal. 

Like a forester wielding a machete, he thrashes through the thickets of our doom and gloom, inviting us to imagine what our lives and relationships would look like — redeemed. When we have come to the end of our rope, God’s plans are only beginning. That is exactly how the grace that builds on nature works. God invites us to try our best with all that we’ve got and, of course, that will never be enough. He knows that. But if we crawl, as children do, toward a beloved parent or trusted grandparent, struggling to move faster without falling, those big arms pick us up and lift us to heights we could never even imagine.  

God is with us. We are not alone. Jesus promised us his presence throughout all time. Like the vinedresser, never closer to the vine than when its dead branches need pruning, and the good shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep, he is with us now. The gates of hell may break open to assail us, but the Holy Spirit fends off the demons of despair with the soothing warmth of his breath — that same Spirit who hovered over the chaotic waters before creation was born and who renews now the face of the earth, beginning with the flame of spirit-fire that we bear in our hearts.