The poet Wordsworth spoke succinctly of our struggles with human weakness: “The world is too much with us,” he said. We are supposed to live in the world, but not of the world, but that is a difficult balance to maintain at times and we often fail to live up to our spiritual calling. If we are to pull ourselves away from so many worldly seductions and live with our minds set on the world to come, we need divine assistance. In reality, we need an Advocate.
So also, the Church is on a pilgrim journey through this vale of tears to heaven, but it is a hard road to walk. They say that the Church, in confronting the problems of the world, displays about the same reaction as the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane during Jesus' agony. First, the disciples fell asleep. Then they woke with a start and cut off someone's ear. Finally they fled the scene!
Only later, after all the wreckage, did the Church re-group, gather together in the Upper Room with the Virgin Mary and ask the Holy Spirit to come enlighten and strengthen them in their worldly trials. After Pentecost, the disciples we see in the Acts of the Apostles are transformed men. Their decisions were born of humility and dependence upon God. They went out to change the world with utter confidence that the Spirit of Christ would guide them in their efforts, and they feared nothing.
These disciples were the same ones who had just made the Church's first novena, praying with profound faith for the Advocate to come. This novena, that is, the nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday, is like a yearly retreat for the Church to watch and wait for her divine Spouse.
What does the Church ask for in its novena? Simply that the Holy Spirit will come and “renew the face of the earth.” In its personal dimension, we pray that the Holy Spirit will be “poured into our hearts” (Rom 5:5) and take out of us any compromise with the world, the flesh or the devil. Essentially we are praying for a profound conversion of heart to make us ever more Christ-like.
In its communal dimension we ask the Spirit of Christ to renew the world, starting with the Church. In fact it is really the Church, as the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, which renews the world. The disciples of the Lord set the world on fire only because they acted with one mind and heart, with one mission, united to the Spirit of God. We must fervently present to Him the needs of the Church for renewal, praying above all for courageous bishops, zealous priests and holy marriages and families.
Before the Church's novena to the Holy Spirit ends on Pentecost Sunday, we must tell “the Lord and giver of life” exactly what we need, praying for our own intentions and for the world, and He will grant it in proportion to our faith. Jesus promised that we would have an Advocate to plead our cause, and He will not hesitate to send the Divine Friend to us but will He find us ready to set the world ablaze like the first disciples?
Fr. Tom Euteneuer is president of Human Life International.