Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Holy Spirit, The Divine Disturber

Archbishop Fulton Sheen (top) and Louis Budenz

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Pentecost 2005]

(Pentecost 2005 (A): This homily was given on May 15, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Acts 2: 1-11; 1 Corinthians 12: 3-13; John 20: 19-23.)

The Holy Spirit is known by many titles: the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Lord and Giver of life, etc.

But here’s one title that you’ve probably never heard before: the Divine Disturber! The Holy Spirit—the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity whom we honor today on Pentecost Sunday—is the Divine Disturber.

This thought came to me after I read something written many years ago by a man named Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—who now just happens to be Pope Benedict XVI. It’s a meditation on Pentecost which he composed back in the late 1970s, when he was still a bishop in Germany.

In the middle of the meditation he says these words: “Christ is the Messiah, a victorious King, who has fought and won the decisive battle of world history, the battle with death. Now he exercises the victor’s right to distribute the spoils of war. But what are these spoils? The answer comes: The gift of God is God himself, the Holy Spirit.”

But then he goes on to say that this is not the kind of gift we would normally expect from a conquering king! He writes, “We would expect quite different gifts from a redeemer. . . . We would expect a house, money, good food, travel, success, other people’s esteem, comfort, peace, security. But not the Holy Spirit. For in reality the Holy Spirit is largely the opposite of all these things: he makes us restless with our possessions, our comfort, our respect that is so often based on dubious compromises. He is a tempest. He does not let us settle down in our comfort, but exposes us to ridicule by putting us in the service of truth and obliging us to exercise the self control which loves the other person ‘as myself’.” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Seek That Which Is Above, Ignatius Press, pp. 74-75.)

In other words, we wouldn’t expect Jesus, our conquering Savior, to send us a “Divine Disturber” after his incredible Easter victory—but that’s exactly what he’s done!

And it’s the best thing he possibly could have done, even if we don’t always realize it or appreciate it! Because the Divine Disturber is the one who gives us new life in the sacraments, gets us on the road to heaven and keeps us there (if we let him!). And if perchance we get off the narrow road that leads to the kingdom, he’s the one who gets us back on it through the sacrament of Reconciliation (once again, if we let him!).

But getting us on the road to heaven and keeping us there—or getting us back on the road after we’ve fallen into serious sin—may mean that the Holy Spirit will have to “disturb” us in some way. That is to say, he will have to exercise his role as the Divine Disturber!

For example, have you ever heard a homily that really got you angry? Fuming mad?

“Yes, Fr. Ray, every week!”

Well, there are at least two possible reasons for that. Either the preacher did not listen to the Holy Spirit and preached his own version of the Gospel (which can and does happen), or the preacher got it right and the Holy Spirit was convicting you of sin and challenging you to change your life for the better.

In most cases, it’s either one or the other of those two possibilities.

And just to let you know, it’s not only my preaching and teaching that does this to people. The great Bishop Sheen, for example, had this effect many years ago on a man named Louis Budenz. (This was back in the 1940s.) Budenz was the editor of the Communist Daily Worker, where he would frequently write articles in which he attacked Sheen. Sheen, of course, was a very strong and vocal opponent of communism.

So you can imagine how the bishop felt when Budenz called him one day, out of the blue, and asked him to dinner. To put it mildly, Sheen was shocked! He couldn’t believe it, but he accepted the invitation anyway. (He later found out that it was the Soviet government that had ordered Budenz to meet with him.)

At the beginning of the meal, the topic was communism—and that’s precisely the way Budenz wanted it. But after a few minutes Sheen said to him, “I’m really not terribly interested in your communism. I want to talk to you about your soul.”

So he did. He talked to him about Jesus Christ and salvation—and Budenz hated every minute of it!

Later that night, he went home and said to his wife, “I was never so angry in my life.” Many years later his wife told Bishop Sheen that from that moment on, whenever Sheen’s voice was heard on the radio in their house (Sheen, remember, had a radio show at the time), Budenz would fly into a rage! He’d scream, “Turn that radio off! I can’t stand to hear that man’s voice!”

Seven years later, Sheen received a letter from Louis Budenz: “Dear Bishop Sheen, I would like to talk to you—about my soul.”

And he did.

Not long afterward, both he and his wife abandoned their atheistic communism and became Catholics. They were two of Bishop Sheen’s most famous converts.

The Holy Spirit disturbed Louis Budenz and his wife out of their sin and into the Church—and he kept them there until death.

That’s the power of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.

In one way or another, we all experience this “disturbing” presence of the Spirit in our lives. And if you don’t believe me, just ask our new pope, Benedict XVI. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he actually prophesied his own experience of the Divine Disturber in the meditation I read to you a few minutes ago.

Did you pick up on that?

Listen again to this line—and remember he wrote it almost 30 years ago: “[The Holy Spirit] is a tempest. He does not let us settle down in our comfort, but exposes us to ridicule by putting us in the service of truth and obliging us to exercise the self control which loves the other person ‘as myself’.”

As far back as 1991, when he was working for Pope John Paul II as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wanted to retire. He wanted to go back to Germany to live a quiet life in his final years. He wanted to spend his time studying and writing books on theology, since he loved to do both.

That was his will.

But the Divine Disturber wouldn’t let him! The Holy Spirit didn’t allow him to “settle down in comfort” (to use his own words). The Spirit had other work for him to do (as we all know) in “the service of truth”.

So the next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re challenged to come out of yourself and serve someone else in need, know that it might just be the Holy Spirit working in your life as he’s worked in Pope Benedict XVI’s life.

And remember, the challenge is ultimately for your good and the good of others; it’s for your growth in holiness. As we were told in today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians 12: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

I’m sure that today—on this Pentecost Sunday—Pope Benedict XVI is praising the Holy Spirit for “disturbing” him in these later years of his life: for keeping him, in other words, from retirement and complacency, and for leading him to the Chair of St. Peter.

Let’s join our pope by saying “Thank you” to the Spirit ourselves, for the times he’s convicted us of our sins, and challenged us to reform our lives and serve others.

Because the bottom line is this: The Holy Spirit comes to disturb us in a good way here on earth, so that we will not be disturbed in a bad way for all eternity.