In the gospel for the 1st Sunday of Lent the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, where he duels with the devil. The Spirit fills Mary, Elizabeth, Zachariah, and Simeon before descending upon Jesus at his baptism and leading him into the desert. All these activities culminate in Jesus’ first preaching, his inaugural address in his hometown synagogue. He reads from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me to bring glad tiding to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year of God’s favor” (4.18-19). Jesus rolls up the scroll, sits down, and with all eyes on him, develops his first sermon—9 words in English, under 50 letters, perfect for Twitter: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” I am that Spirit-filled prophet.
The Holy Spirit anoints Jesus to stir up a year of favor, the jubilee year the Old Testament Book of Leviticus requires every 50 year to give the poor a fresh start, to prevent a permanent underclass.
Makes me wonder what the Holy Spirit is stirring up in our time. Pope Benedict has done something new is resigning, an act of humility. He’s done what he can with the strength he has. Benedict set in motion a Year of Faith that celebrates the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. Fifty, hum, could it be time for a jubilee year in the Church, a new beginning? By my lights we profoundly need a Spirit-filled leader who can reengage the Church with the needs of the times and find God coming from the future and not only the past.
Once on a two-hour car ride with my youngest sister and her youngest daughter, we shared our answers to the questions: What two people have most influenced you in your life? My two were both wise, learned women older than me. My sister’s two were her children. Her answer stunned me. I hadn’t thought about learning from younger people. As a nun I don’t have children to learn from, and of course, neither do the cardinals who will gather on March 15 to elect a new pope. Will they elect a leader like their predecessors who appointed them?
How does the Holy Spirit work in our world? Richard Gaillardetz maintains that one of the most important acts of the Second Vatican Council happened in the first 15 minutes when the bishops voted to recess rather than accept the list of bishops the Curia proposed for membership on the commissions preparing council documents. The bishops gathered, met one another in language groups, and learned about each others’ abilities. A greater diversity of members on the commissions resulted. Diversity opened the doors to the Spirit. So did, celebrating Eucharist during the Council in various rites, the Byzantine, Syriac, Melekite. The bishops experienced a bigger church than most knew.
Already in 1963, some bishops noticed the Council included Protestant observers but no Catholic women. Cardinal Suenens led the rally to include women. Carmel McEnroe tells about the 23 women who attended Vatican II as auditors in the book Guests in Their Own House. The woman were heads of international organizations of lay people and heads of religious orders, except for one married woman, who with her husband were the head couple in Mexico of the Christian Family Movement. They had 12 children. She had a big job representing married Catholics. The 23 women contributed most to the commission that preparing the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. the document closest to the Spirit-filled mission that Jesus announces in his inaugural message, the document that calls Catholics into solidarity with those in our world poor and afflicted. It is the fullest statement of Catholic social teaching and human rights. Here is a paragraph the women succeeded in getting into the document.
“With respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language, or religion is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent (GS29).
Now is a crucial time for we the People of God, the whole People of God, the Baptized, male and female, clergy and laity to participate fully, actively, consciously in our life as Church. Now is a time to pray for sure. Now is also a time to let the Spirit of God do something new in all of us. Benedict started to twitter online. Maybe we can create access to the cardinals online. We can give voice to the needs of the poor, the need for women to become fully equal in the Church, the need to welcome and connect with alienated Catholic. Let the whole Church find ways to text and tweet, blog, and send cards and emails, dialogue with our neighbors, and be part of the election. Visit Futurechurch.org.
I heard Father Geoffrey Diekmann speak on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Vatican II. Someone raised a hand and asked him why there were no women scripture scholars on the committee that created the new lectionary. “We never thought of it then,” he said. What about now?
As we begin Lent, Jesus challenges us to live God’s word as he does. May the Holy Spirit lead us as well as the Irish say to speak the truth and shame the devil.