Editorial — Open to the Spirit

Last week, 16 Jesuit novices struck out, each on his own, for a 30-day pilgrimage with just $35, a book of prayers and a bag of clothes. Their well-being for these 30 days is dependent upon the generosity of the people they encounter and public libraries, where they can check email and Facebook.

Inspired by Thomas Merton, Jesuit Novice Thomas Arms left his community in Minneapolis and headed to Louisville on a bus, arriving here on Tuesday morning, April 19. He hopes during his pilgrimage to encounter people having an impact on the community because of their faith.

It looks like he’s on track to do just that, and more.

After arriving in downtown Louisville, Arms walked to the Cathedral of the Assumption and the Thomas Merton historical marker at Fourth and Muhammad Ali streets. Next he met up with a local priest, whom he had arranged to meet via mutual friends, and caught a ride to the Abbey of Gethsemani. There, the novice tapped the hospitality of the Trappists for a couple of days and did a bit of work in exchange.

After leaving Kentucky’s Holy Land, he hitched a ride to Eastern Kentucky, where he met Jesuit Father Albert Fritsch and Glenmary Father John Rausch, who serve in Appalachia.

Where Arms’ pilgrimage will take him, only God knows. But he’s sure to find the people he is looking for. And he’s also bound to inspire the people he’s meeting.

Arms comes across as earnest, eager, interested in those he meets and modest — he is begging for rides, room and board after all. He also possesses courage and a great faith in people.

Imagine leaving home for a month with just $35 and pockets full of hope.

Arms is living on faith and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which seems to be revealing a network of Catholics along the way — people who, because of their faith, are effecting change in the environment, accompanying the poor and influencing the spiritual lives of people around the globe.

Those of us with financial stability don’t leave much to providence these days. We lay plans for nearly every moment, scheduling our lives into predictability and safety. Certainly these qualities can be good, especially for children.

But there’s something to be said for leaving some time and space for the unpredictable, for the grace of the Holy Spirit to influence our lives. 

People without financial means live this way on a regular basis, though not often by choice. They rely on volunteers who regularly schedule time to serve lunch at the Cathedral of the Assumption, for example. And they rely on small kindnesses, handed out regularly and randomly by good-hearted strangers.

Pope Francis extolled these “little gestures” — and the faith from which they flow — during his homily on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia on Sept. 27:

“Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name — a small gesture — will not go unrewarded,’ says Jesus. These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do.

“Jesus tells us not to hold back these little miracles. Instead, he wants us to encourage them, to spread them. He asks us to go through life, our everyday life, encouraging all these little signs of love as signs of his own living and active presence in our world,” the pope said.

Pope Francis concluded by asking, “How are we trying to live this way in our homes, in our societies?” Let’s ask that question in earnest and pray for openness to the Holy Spirit.


Marnie McAllister
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Marnie McAllister
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