Holy Spirit Graphic

June 21, 2010

It is a sad commentary on our age that just when humanity has reached the pinnacle of scientific knowledge and technological progress, wisdom seems to be in short supply.

Of course, there is no way to say this with certainty. It is of the nature of wisdom not to be measurable. There is no way to give a wisdom report the way TV stations provide weather reports, tracking record highs and lows and forecasting sudden influxes of wisdom in society.

Ours is a culture that puts a high priority on celebrity and comfort and technology, three values that tend to breed superficiality rather than strength of character.

Indeed, this is one of the curious things about wisdom. While even a scoundrel may possess great technical knowledge, the development of wisdom demands that one make significant progress in the battle against sin as well as immersion in holiness.

The Church is the ultimate school in holiness and thus in wisdom. To follow Jesus wholeheartedly results in a detachment from the things of this world and a strong adherence to the things of the Spirit.

"The Church is the sign and instrument of the presence and action of the life-giving Spirit," Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1986 encyclical on the Holy Spirit (no. 64).


The Church is a mystery. More than a visible human institution, it was formed in the heart of God before the beginning of time. The Church then is a sign of the holiness of God - a sign that that which is most authentically real transcends what can be seen, heard, touched, smelled or felt.

Jean Vanier

The Church is an instrument of holiness. Through the life of the Church, – the sacraments, liturgy, common life and prayer – men and women are made holy. They are made like God. The Spirit comes to life in them.

God's wisdom and holiness are foolishness in the eyes of those who are worldly. They don't put food on the table or pay for Caribbean cruises. They call us to make a gift of ourselves rather than to take whatever we can get.

When the disciples received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and began to speak in tongues, the skeptics thought they were drunk. Today, the skeptics believe that those who "cling" to religious truths are immature, that they haven't freed themselves from their mother's apron strings.

The non-religious attitude can take many forms. But always it involves a denial of or blindness to that which is holy. If it admitted the existence of holiness, it would be morally and psychologically bound to pursue it. But if nothing is sacred, one is free to do as he or she pleases.

More and more, those who hate the Church are attacking its holiness. If the Church can be painted as even more unholy than the surrounding secular world, its moral authority can be crushed.

We cannot deny the grave wrongdoings by members of the Church. We need, as Pope Benedict has said, "to relearn penance, to accept purification." But we also need to look for the footprints of the Holy Spirit within the Church. We should take note of the Jean Vaniers, Mother Teresas and John Paul IIs who, through the grace of God, have become towering pillars of holiness in our time.


We need also to remember the thousands of people in our local Church who have chosen to become Catholics at Easter over the years, drawn by the holiness of the Gospel and the Church. We need to look at the good people in our parishes who quietly radiate holiness day in and day out.

Finally, we need to reflect on our own lives – on the moral pit in which we would be living if we had not experienced the love of God and responded to that love through prayer, action and participation in the liturgy.

Jesus told the people of Capernaum, "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life" (John 6.27). This is a call to holiness, a call to pursue the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, who fills our Church and our lives with his holy presence.

The true Church is marked by holiness as well as being one, catholic and apostolic. This holiness endures in the Church, but it is not static. Baptism has given each of us a priestly call to contribute to the growth of the Church's holiness.