Healing of Memories

(Homily for Pentecost Sunday)

Fr. Bob Spitzer, S.J. (President of Gonzaga University) tells about a powerful prayer to the Holy Spirit. It involves asking for healing of hurts and memories – not just for ones own self, but for those one has harmed. To illustrate, he told how he once made an offhand remark to someone -and afterwards deeply regretted it. Unable to call the man, he went to the chapel and asked the Holy Spirit to heal any harm he had done.

A few days later, Fr. Spitzer ran into him. “You know, Father,” the man said, “I have been thinking about what you told me. At first I was kinda angry, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized what you were getting at. You helped me a lot.”

As Fr. Spitzer said, “It was the Holy Spirit.”

All of us have said and done things which hurt others. Perhaps it was a blunder, but perhaps more deliberate. We cannot undo all the damage on our own, but we can pray to the Holy Spirit for the healing of those memories.

This applies to priests in a particular way.* The scandals of the last six months have brought home how deeply we can harm other human beings. Sexual abuse of a child is the most hideous example, but not the only one. Some are guilty of serious betrayals of trust in our office of teaching and celebrating the sacraments. And all of us have let people down in terms of basic pastoral care. True, these abuses will not lead to criminal law suits, but the damage has been done.

I do not propose a massive guilt trip. We have enough burdens at the moment. Thank God, we can turn to the One who lifts heavy weights. Since Fr. Spitzer described his prayer to the Holy Spirit, I have said it many times for specific people I have harmed – and in a more general way for those I hurt without even being aware. You know something? The prayer works! Some of my strongest allies are people I thought I had irreparably alienated. It was the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul tells us we do not know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit prays in us with "sighs too deep for words." (Rom 8:26) That truth was brought home to me dramatically by a beautiful lady of our parish. When I visited her at Providence Hospital, she knew her death was near. I asked her how she was doing with prayer. She told me quite honestly that she was so tired and confused she was unable to pray. Then she mentioned that the hospital chaplain had told her, “Do not worry. I will pray for you.”

I offered to do the same. Taking her hand, I said an Our Father, Hail Mary, then prayed as best I could while she closed her eyes.

In some way we all rely on others to pray for us. It's called the Communion of Saints. But that communion only works because of the Holy Spirit.

“Come, Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful. And enkindle in us the fire your love.”


*We pay a heavy, very heavy price for the super-human dignity of our calling. The ridiculous is always so near to the sublime. And the world, usually so indulgent to foibles, hates our instinctively.

--Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest

Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Pentecost 2011: It Was the Holy Ghost
2010: The Power of the Holy Spirit
2009: The Soul's Most Welcome Guest
2008: Double Gift
2007: With You Always
2006: He Testifies to the Truth
2005: The Greatest Unused Power
2004: A Man Open to the Holy Spirit
2003: To Drink of One Spirit
2002: Healing of Memories
2001: Hateful Comparisons & Precious Gifts
2000: The Spirit & The Flesh
1999: Each in His Native Language
1998: Empty Rites?

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (Parish Remembered in Will, Support for Archbishop, Samwise)


Pictures of New Parish Puppy

my bulletin column

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Footnote to comments on World Civilization Course: There is a lot one could say about this high school textbook. It purports to be comprehensive, but it leaves a lot out. For example, its ample index does not have an entry for Mother Theresa or Pope John Paul II. Even from a secular point of view they are two people who had a deep and ongoing impact on our world. By way of contrast, the textbook did have a section on Betty Friedan! Subsequently I came across this quote from University of Wisconsin Professor Stanley Payne about the current state of history studies:

Major themes are replaced by comparatively minor considerations, which emphasize small groups, deviants and cultural oddities. Most studies are required to fit somewhere within the new sacred trinity of race, class and gender - the new "cultural Marxism." Research that does not conform to these criteria is increasingly eliminated from the universities, where hiring practices in the humanities and social science have become blatantly discriminatory. (from "Controversies over History in Contemporary Spain")

Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith - Presentation for Monroe Christian Pastors. (For pdf format click here)


Glibness is the great danger in answering people's questions about religion. I won't answer yours because you can answer them as well yourself but I will give you, for what it's worth, my own perspective on them. All your dissatisfaction with the Church seems to me to come from an incomplete understanding of' sin. This will perhaps surprise you because you are very conscious of' the sins of Catholics: however what you seem actually to demand is that the Church put the kingdom of heaven on earth right here now, that the Holy Ghost be translated at once into all flesh. The Holy Spirit very rarely shows Himself on the surface of anything. You are asking that man return at once to the state God created him in, you are leaving out the terrible radical human pride that causes death. Christ was crucified on earth and the Church is crucified in time. and the Church is crucified by all of us, by her members most particularly because she is a Church of sinners. Christ never said that the Church would be operated in a sinless or intelligent way, but that it would not teach error. This does not mean that each and every priest won't teach error but that the whole Church speaking through the Pope will not teach error in matters of faith. The Church is founded on Peter who denied Christ three times and couldn't walk on the water by himself. You are expecting his successors to walk on the water. All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful. Priests resist it as well as others. To have the Church be what you want it to be would require the continuous miraculous meddling of God in human affairs, whereas it is our dignity that we are allowed more or less to get on with those graces that come through faith and the sacraments and which work through our human nature. God has chosen to operate in this manner. We can't understand this but we can't reject it without rejecting life.