Bridging the Gap
By Bishop David A. Zubik
Back in the early 1970s, I was studying for the priesthood at Saint Mary Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland, where Bishop Vincent Leonard had assigned me.
Saint Mary’s is the oldest Catholic seminary in the country. It was established in 1791. At the time I was a student there, the total population was close to six hundred seminarians.
As you can well imagine, I have many memories from my four years there: an outstanding spiritual director; great professors; challenging classes; difficult exams; growing prayer times; beautiful Masses among them.
There were also personal experiences that colored my time there: a few paralyzing snow storms; developing friendships with men from other parts of the country; being introduced to different foods; celebrating the victory of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1971 World Series against the…Baltimore Orioles! (Pirates fans were definitely outnumbered in Baltimore on that night of October 17, 1971—the date of our victory.)
Several years later, while I was still a seminarian at Saint Mary’s, our nation faced a severe gasoline shortage, reminiscent of what we have recently witnessed in various parts of our country. I can vividly remember waiting four hours in a mile-long, bumper to bumper traffic line-up to get $5.00 worth of gas. During those months, it often felt as though we did nothing but wait. But looking back, even that was spiritual formation. Isn’t it true that Jesus so often tells us to wait, not in anxiety but in anticipation.
We are nearing the celebration of the great feast of Pentecost—the birthday of the Church. Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles on the evening of Easter. He again made that promise to them on the day He ascended into heaven.
In the “in between time,”—the gap between “the already and the not yet,” between the promise and the fulfillment—the Apostles were faced with WAITING. They were WAITING for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Their experience resembled what waiting sometimes is for us. It is a time of anxiety! And what did they do with the anxiety? They went into the Upper Room, as Saint Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles (1.12-14), “all in continuous prayer.” And what happened when they prayed? Anxiety turned into anticipation.
I don’t know about you, but I can tell you from personal experience that almost every morning I wake up to anxiety over what my day holds. This anxiety is fueled by attitudes in our culture that have invaded some quarters of our Church—anger, relativism, harshness, factions, divisions. All of these work against what it means for us to be Church—the Body of Christ, today, in 2021. As a student of the Acts of the Apostles—(sometimes called Luke’s Second Gospel)—I am always consoled and comforted by seeing how the first leaders of the Church handled the many difficulties that they faced in those early decades.
Yes, the early Church had anxieties caused by anger, relativism, harshness, factions, divisions—all of which threatened to divide the Church as it was emerging. Reading and reflecting on the Acts of the Apostles shows that what we are experiencing today is nothing new, nothing unfamiliar.
We must not forget—those anxieties of the early Church led to anticipation, an expectation, a pregnancy, rooted in the reality that the Church could not be born by itself or grow by itself. The Church can thrive and grow only by the guiding light of the Holy Spirit. That reality offers great comfort today.
What happened to the Church way back then, and what is happening to her today, can become a blueprint in our personal lives. Whatever obstacles we face—you name them—financial struggles, job insecurity, family tensions, personal guilt, jealous competitions, fractured relationships—can be overcome if we follow the lead of our apostolic ancestors and yield our struggles to the Holy Spirit. The anticipation of how the Spirit will transform these anxieties into opportunities for new life can, and will, bring comfort.
Near the beginning of this column, I recounted my frequent morning encounters with anxieties. Now I will tell you the secret for moving past them. What turns those anxieties into anticipation is a healthy dose of prayer. In the midst of those worries, I turn them all over to Jesus. His promise to send the Holy Spirit to intervene and guide is as real to me each morning as it was to Mary and the Apostles on Pentecost Day.
We all have those seemingly endless moments of waiting—either in a mile-long line to fuel a car or to be relieved of some cloud that hovers over our lives today.
If we are to move past those anxieties, you and I need to continually follow the lead of our Blessed Mother and the earliest architects of the Church—the Apostles. We do need to turn over the anxieties of now in anticipation of intervention and guidance from the Holy Spirit.
We should not be surprised at what follows. Nothing short of another Pentecost!
And after all, when all is said and done, isn’t the waiting worth it!