During the Mass for the Solemnity of Pentecost this past May 19, at the same time that the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage was kicking off in four locations around the U.S., I had a reflection which had never before occurred to me.

I was struck by the connection between the Incarnation of Christ, the apostolic birth of the church on Pentecost and the Eucharist – the Holy Spirit being the common denominator of all three. Jesus Christ became God made man as the Holy Spirit hovered over the young virgin Mary at the Annunciation. His apostles first began to carry out Christ’s entrusted mission after, accompanied by the Blessed Mother, the Holy Spirit descended upon them in the Upper Room on Pentecost; and before my very self, May 19, 2024, it was the same Holy Spirit who was being called down by the words of the priest at the epiclesis to consecrate the bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood to be consumed by me.

The action of the Holy Spirit in the church and my own life is something of which I have always been conscious, but that day it became a new conviction. Two weeks later, that conviction became even clearer in a conversation about the “current state of the Catholic Church.” I put that phrase in quotations because I want to address the role of news and journalism in our overall understanding of the church and God’s action through it in the world.

Sitting on a sunny deck in my parents’ backyard – gathered for my sister-in-law’s baby shower – a small group of us were listening to a family member who lives in Rome and has worked in the Vatican in recent years.

You could insert any of a dozen headlines from recent months, but the gist of the distress in my aunts’ and cousins’ voices could be paraphrased as, “What’s going wrong with the church?” and “Who can we trust to lead us?”

This family member repeated the same thing she has told me directly as I’ve reached out, confused by coverage of things like the Vatican’s approval of (individual) blessings for same-sex-attracted persons and restrictions on the celebration of the Latin Mass.

“Go back and read the actual documents,” she has advised more than once. She added that yes, there has been confusion from lack of clarity, and those who want to promote their more liberal interpretations have taken full advantage, but clarified that Pope Francis has never compromised the deposit of faith in any direct way. This family member lived in Argentina before moving to Rome and acknowledged how much of the issue is cultural – that (I’m paraphrasing) Latin cultures focus on relationships over rules.

One of my comments was how I see Americans’ reactiveness stemming from the current political atmosphere, where finger-pointing takes precedence over reaching out a hand. Much of the passion seems to stem from progressives feeling an opening for further promoting rights for minorities in the church, while conservatives feel their traditional values, undermined on so many fronts in American society and culture, aren’t being upheld by their leaders in the church, which is supposed to be a beacon of truth and morals for the world.

As the conversation ebbed and flowed, we shared and listened. Not every question was answer or concern quelled, but I walked away with two nuggets that have been strongly sustaining me since.

First, it is our responsibility as faithful Catholics to make sure our understanding of the church and current issues does not come primarily from the news. We need a vision of who the church is and what is her mission beyond sound-bites and contentious chatter. We receive too much information for our own good, especially as every media outlet has some bias or interpretation. It is important to get as close to the source as possible to appreciate current concerns, but also to read and listen to a variety of sources to get a fuller, more nuanced perception.

At the end of the day, we need to remember that the church is the Body of Christ, made up of individuals for whom he died and with whom he seeks to connect through the sacraments. Yes, the church exists as an institution in this world, but her identity belongs outside of it.

Second, there is an overarching need to renew our trust in the Holy Spirit and deepen our personal relationship with him. When we start to feel overwhelmed by the storms in the culture and even the church, we need to ask in whom have we really placed our trust? Who do we really believe is in charge of the church?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 766, discussing the Creed’s assertion of belief in “the Holy Catholic Church,” states that the Church is primarily born of Christ’s “total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross.” This same number ends with a reflection from St. Ambrose, who was one of the four original doctors of the church: “As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross.”

A few paragraphs later, the Catechism quotes St. Augustine, whose conversion came through his relationship with Ambrose. After iterating the role of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the church’s mission, it follows that the church’s perfection will only come in the glory of heaven. “Until that day, ‘the church progresses on her pilgrimage amidst this world’s persecutions and God’s consolations,’” St. Augustine said.

Although our conversation that warm afternoon didn’t end with a feeling of resolution, I know I came away feeling firmer and more resolved in my faith. This “Vatican insider” asserted that her time in Rome has above all helped her see just how certain she is that the Holy Spirit is guiding the church. As an institution, the church is made up of weak and sinful human beings, as well as holy and courageous saints. Each of us has some of both, but the church is omnipotently bigger than us! It is a living, breathing body made up of persons in pilgrimage to our eternal homeland. If that sounds disconnected from the realities of daily life, it’s not the church that needs to come down, but we that need to raise up our minds and reinvigorate our spirits.

Returning to the common denominator of the Holy Spirit as the channel through which God the Father brings Christ into history and human hearts, let’s allow space for the Spirit’s action in our own histories and hearts. May this summer continue to be fertile and fruitful soil for his gifts and fruits to take firmer roots in our lives.

This hymn of St. Ambrose, Aeterne rerum conditor, gives a poetic summary of the realities of storms and calm that believers have faced since St. Peter’s own denial of Christ before the crucifixion. The following is St. John Henry Newman’s translation, “Framer of the earth and sky.”

Framer of the earth and sky,
Ruler of the day and night,
At Thy word the shadows fly,
Morn returns, and all is bright.

Through the midnight hours forlorn,
Thou, the Lord of light, art near;
Taught by Thee, the bird of morn
Tells that day will soon appear.

Tossed upon the stormy tide,
Seamen hail the morning’s ray;
He who thrice his Lord denied
Found repentance with the day.

Let us then our hearts arouse,
Morning calls us to awake,
Bids us haste to pay our vows,
And our meek confessions make.

Jesu, Master, when we fall
Turn on us Thy healing face;
With that look our souls recall
Unto penitential grace.

Sin’s destruction, Lord, repair
In our darkened bosoms shine:
Thine the early morning prayer,
Morning hymns of glory Thine.

Glory to the Father be,
Equal glory to the Son;
With the Spirit, One and Three,
While eternal ages run. Amen.

Jenny Snarski