Renewal helps guide spirits back home - Catholic Courier

Renewal helps guide spirits back home

The exclamation point in the title of the diocesan spiritual renewal — “Spirit Alive!” — is there for a reason, as Father Alexander Bradshaw aptly demonstrated March 9.

“The spirit is alive,” Father Bradshaw shouted from the pulpit. Citing the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15:11-32, he emphasized that “the spirit is burning like a fire in each one of us and invites to come home, be with our community and be with our father who loves us unconditionally.”

Father Bradshaw’s stirring remarks were made during a prayer service at Greece’s Our Mother of Sorrows Church, where he serves as pastor. The event was one of numerous regional services of reconciliation and hope that took place around the diocese during Lent, as the three-year spiritual renewal got under way.

The renewal seeks rejuvenation of the Holy Spirit in all Catholics — no matter how attached or disconnected they may be about their faith, according to Maribeth Mancini, cochair of Spirit Alive!

“It’s for wherever you are in your journey — for those who feel they have a good relationship with Christ, to those who are wondering where they fit in. All of us are in need of healing,” said Mancini, who also serves as director of the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

“I judge this to be a tremendously important moment in the life of our diocese — and in the lives, I hope, of all the men and women and the boys and girls of all of our locations, and all of our situations and ways of life,” Bishop Matthew H. Clark said at the beginning of a 90-minute DVD retreat he made especially for Spirit Alive!

Opportunities are many

Though highly important, Mancini said participating in Spirit Alive! doesn’t demand a big chunk of time and shouldn’t be intimidating to anyone who feels, “I don’t have time for one more commitment in my hectic life.”

The renewal’s Web site,, offers suggestions for integrating Spirit Alive! into daily life whether people feel they have no time, a small amount of time or considerable time to spare. For example, someone with no time could affirm Jesus’ presence at the beginning of each day, say grace aloud before each meal, or bless his or her families or children as they leave for the day. Someone with little time might spend some prayerful reflection on the upcoming Sunday readings, strive to attend an occasional weekday Mass in addition to the Sunday obligation or reflect at the beginning of each meal. And, a person who has substantial time could keep a prayer journal chronicling how he or she is coming to know Jesus better, make a trip to the Abbey of the Genesee in Livingston County or go on a weeklong retreat.

The Web site offers resources for such groups as families, school-age children, teens, young adults, small Christian communities, Spanish-speaking populations, and catechetical and other parish leaders.

A unique offering also is available in the form of a DVD of a retreat Bishop Clark conducted this Lent. The bishop’s reflections can be viewed privately or within discussion groups; for instance, the DVD was shown at St. Mary Church in Bath during an afternoon program on March 15 and was followed by reconciliation and Mass. Mancini added that this approach can reach shut-ins and rural areas, bringing the bishop to a far-reaching audience as never before.

The 90-minute DVD presentation is divided into four lessons: “Jesus’ Invitation to Us,” in which the bishop urges viewers to welcome all types of people, especially those who wouldn’t be welcome elsewhere; “Eucharist: A People Gathered,” in which he stresses Sunday Eucharist as being at the very core of our Roman Catholic lives and adds his hope that more people regain the thirst to attend weekly Mass; “Making Jesus Part of Everyday Life,” in which Bishop Clark offers different ways to pray, such as using drive time in the car to pray quietly and to prayerfully reflect on each day’s events at its conclusion; and “Committing Yourself to Life in the Spirit,” in which he speaks about opening ourselves to spiritual renewal by always remembering God’s love for us.

Whereas the Web site and DVD retreat effectively employ modern technology, an old standby — the telephone — will be used for a “Catholic Call-In” on April 22. This first-time offering invites people to call the number 1-800-4SPIRIT between the hours of 2 and 8 p.m. with questions about the church and its teachings on such topics as marriage, annulment and who has the right to receive Eucharist. Mancini noted that a number of priests, deacons, pastoral associates and women religious will be answering the calls, and that the call-in will be available for Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking people.

During the upcoming Pentecost season, Spirit Alive! participants will be asked to maintain the renewal’s first-year focus on deepening our relationships with Christ by making some sort of pilgrimage. Opportunities will include a special diocesan pilgrimage on June 7 at New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls, as well as the International Eucharistic Congress set for June 15-22 in Quebec City.

Many events also are in the works for Spirit Alive!’s second phase, which is centered on Scripture and will take place during Advent 2008 and Pentecost 2009, as well as the third and final movement on discipleship and stewardship, which will occur during fall 2009 and Pentecost 2010.

Mancini said organizers are striving to keep Spirit Alive! fresh and invigorating throughout its duration.

“The diocese didn’t want a canned program,” she explained. “It’s very exciting. We have two challenges — one, to keep the energy and enthusiasm up; and two, to not let this become old news.”

Reaching out to all

At the parish level, Spirit Alive! is being communicated via frequent bulletin updates and announcements from the pulpit. Mancini acknowledged that Easter Sunday is an ideal time to promote the spiritual renewal, based on the large volume of worshippers who aren’t regular churchgoers. Word also is extending well beyond churches: Mancini noted that Spirit Alive! billboards are already up in many parts of the diocese, and newspaper and television advertisements have been planned as well.

Despite this high level of publicity, Mancini doesn’t want Spirit Alive! to be forced upon people, particularly those who have been away from the church for years.

“I’m looking at this as an invitation,” she said. “No matter who you are, you’re going to fit in. Everybody’s journey is different, but we’re all on the journey.”

Bishop Clark has observed that Spirit Alive! will not only satisfy our thirst to know God, but also help overcome polarization stemming from such painful issues as church consolidations and priestly sexual abuse. Mancini added that the spiritual renewal also might serve as a comfort for those struggling with the recent announcement that 13 diocesan schools in Monroe County and one in Livingston County will close later this year.

“It doesn’t make the hurt go away, but it helps as we walk through it. It gives them the opportunity to begin walking through their pain,” she said. The renewal is “not the only way, but it is a way to lay their hurt before the Lord.”

Bringing one’s hurts before God also has been the objective of services of reconciliation and hope, which were presented at 13 churches throughout the diocese between Feb. 17 and April 6. Mancini said the gatherings, which combined Liturgy of the Word with the opportunity for private confession, have greatly advanced the renewal’s goal of bringing people back to church “so they’re connected in a way they weren’t connected before.” She added that more such services will be scheduled for latter portions of Spirit Alive!

More than 300 people — a solid mix of children and senior citizens, families and individuals — attended the March 9 service at Our Mother of Sorrows Church. A total of 17 priests representing numerous parishes in the Monroe-Northwest Region were on hand to administer the sacrament of reconciliation and also to be available for anyone who simply wanted to talk to a priest.

Drawing upon the example of Lazarus being raised from the dead, Father Bradshaw told the congregation that with “anything dead inside of us, Jesus calls out and applies the spirit.” He added his wish that “this time of reconciliation and hope be a turning point in our lives,” pointing to “the love and mercy and compassion and forgiveness of God which is so abundant and so immeasurable” as a catalyst.

“God’s love for us goes on and on and on and on,” Father Bradshaw said.

Rowan Humphries, 10, acknowledged that she didn’t expect to hear such an uplifting message at a reconciliation service, having instead anticipated a more solemn tone.

“(Father Bradshaw) was very happy and excited about it,” she said.

Rowan attended the March 9 event with her brother Brendan, 7, and mother, Regina, who noted that her daughter had been persistent about getting them to come that day: “Rowan’s been a good influence,” she said.

Regina Humphries added that she feels the spiritual renewal as a whole is a highly worthwhile undertaking.

“I think it’s about getting back in touch with our faith and making it more a part of our daily lives. That’s why we came here, to remind ourselves of that,” she said.

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