Media CenterCarolyn Woo’s CNS Column – Come, Holy Spirit

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By Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo

May 2015

Recently, Fr. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, passed away at the age of 97. During my years at Notre Dame, Fr. Ted became a mentor and a friend whose guidance has been imprinted on every decision I made since our first meeting in 1997. His hallmark advice was to invoke the Holy Spirit at all times. "Just pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ " he would say. In fact, Fr. Ted would emphasize that there are no situations in which it would be inappropriate or unnecessary to call on the Holy Spirit.

As May brings the feast of Pentecost, I thought it would be apt to reflect on the gift of the Holy Spirit in my daily routine. While I had learned about the Holy Spirit in catechism lessons and had a sense of its presence, until Fr. Ted's advice I did not actively invoke the Spirit. At Notre Dame, I developed the habit of stopping at the grotto in the morning for prayer and reflection, departing with the plea, "Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and Blessed Mother: today is a work day and we all need to go to work." At the office, I would bring a cup of coffee into the tiny Rosary chapel down the hall – as I do now to St. Stephen's chapel at Catholic Relief Services -- take in the aroma of the brew, place my hands around the cup to feel its warmth, and "talk" about the day with the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and Blessed Mother. I feel I am at the kitchen table of my home, sharing the itinerary of a day: what happened the day before, what I look forward to, what I dread, what I am unsure about.

When I am dealing with "unwinnable" situations (regular fare of administrators), I note explicitly that God does not ask us to win, just to show up, give our best, do what we think is right and, most important, to remember that the Holy Spirit will be with us. I sometimes leave a chair empty for the Holy Spirit, a physical reminder casting back to the Sisters' admonition at high school dances that the couple should hold each other at arms' length, leaving room for the Holy Spirit. I am keenly aware of my own shortcomings and find peace when I have asked the Holy Spirit to take over: please possess me.

The next morning, after grappling with the unwinnable, when we "visit" again in God's "family kitchen", I muse on those occasions when I did not control my emotions as I had wished, showing exasperation, frustration and even tears. I wonder whether I had been strong-will and ignored the spirit, or whether the unintended expressions were the spirit at work. In any case, life is too busy to look back so I shift gear towards the new day.

It is interesting that commencement season falls around Pentecost. Graduates are anxious because they do not know the future. My one piece of advice is the one Fr. Hesburgh gave me, to invoke the Holy Spirit, be joined at the hip, to know that you do not go at it alone. Let yourself feel the excitement of being sent into the world. I recommend John Cardinal Newman's poem, "Lead, Kindly Light", in which he tells us that by surrendering himself to God he recognized that he did not need to see the whole plan, just one step was enough for him. Life's journey does not come with a map as that would be someone else's journey. You get to make your own map. But it does come with a compass in God's loving commands and a companion whose power exceeds any superhero Marvel comics could dream up.

Bon Voyage!

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo is the president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service. You can follow Dr. Woo on Twitter at @WooCRS.

Read Dr. Woo’s previous columns