President’s Letter: Re-Discover the Spirit of Truth – Denise Utter

Libby MahowaldBlog, Catechetical Leader, Featured

Surely, I wait for the Lord . . . who bends down to me and hears my cry . . . (Psalm 40)

In a recent homily, my pastor shared a story about his vocation (not his vocation story). Every year he is invited to Career Day with the fifth-graders at the parish school to share the story of how and why he became a priest. This year he started to tell the same story he tells every year, about growing up on the south side of Chicago, with his whole family and life focused around the neighborhood parish. 

He stopped. Something happened, he said. I believe it was the Holy Spirit that moved him as he began instead to tell the children about people, about moments, about grace, about re-discovering how God calls him again and again. He told them that he made the choice to become a priest one day, and that he makes the choice again every day. 

As he shared these stories with us about the many ways God has shown up for him, he kept repeating the second part of the psalm above: “He puts a new song in my mouth, a hymn to our God.” He admitted there were times it was difficult (with the renewed crisis in the church, for example, or when experiencing great loss that makes no sense), but the Lord bends down and hears our cries. Tears rolled down my cheeks. My husband looked at me, and I smiled to assure him everything was OK, but inside it was like something had been released. I had been waiting for the Lord to bend down and hear my cries. 

The Spirit joins us

I kept joining this beautiful faith community every Sunday, was faithful to my ministry, faithful to my prayer life most of the time, but in many ways I was still struggling with my calling. As I heard of ministry friends who lost jobs in the last year, publishers who cut staff drastically, dioceses claiming bankruptcy, polarization within our church, there were days when it was difficult to feel hope. 

But here on this Sunday, it was like the Spirit joined us in the Upper Room. The weight was lifted. There was a flood of memories of people and moments and grace, times in ministry and in life when God revealed himself to me, a recollection of the many ways I am called to say yes, every day, as “he puts a new song in my mouth, a hymn to our God.” I need to be open to how the Spirit is moving in all of this. I need to re-discover the spirit of truth.

In my coaching ministry, the pastoral teams I work with keep celebration logs. It’s easy in ministry to move from one program to another, from one season to another, without celebrating our “wins”—the moments when we get a glimpse into that which is greater than us. The log helps us pay attention so that we aren’t just “doing” ministry, we are ministering—hearing people’s stories, seeing them, seeing Christ in them. When we’re paying attention, we have the opportunity to participate in that grace. 

I started my own celebration log that very Sunday, but I call it my “new song” log. It reminds me to sing this song, a hymn to our God. It reminds me that the Spirit is present—in us, among us, through us. The reminders are everywhere now. And this year’s annual convocation focuses on that. The convocation will begin with an invocation of the Holy Spirit. 

The Spirit will lead us

The description of this year’s theme reminds us that the membership of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership has reflected upon the changing dynamics and landscapes in our church and, through prayer and discernment, is prepared to move. The NCCL declares: “Throughout these reflections, which have taken place over many months, the Holy Spirit has been a guiding agent. Through prayer, dialogue, and reflection, the truth of the Spirit will guide participants into occasions of grace. As individuals and community, participants will (re)discover the guidance of God’s generous presence through an outpouring of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. This day of invocation will invite participants to open themselves to prayer and call upon the Spirit to renew their charisms and call to leadership within the church.” 

I am confident that this kind of Upper Room experience of recent years and this time together, with the power of the Spirit, will lead us to our own Pentecost. I am confident you are called. I am confident in your leadership. I am renewed in my own. Remember the words of St. Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”