The Holy Spirit is known by many titles: the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Lord and Giver of life, etc.
But here’s one title that you’ve probably never heard before: the Divine Disturber! The Holy Spirit—the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity whom we honor on Pentecost Sunday—is the Divine Disturber.
This thought came to me after I read something written many years ago by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—the future Pope Benedict XVI. It’s a meditation on Pentecost which he composed back in the late 1970s, when he was still a bishop in Germany.
In the middle of that meditation he says these words: “Christ is the Messiah, a victorious King, who has fought and won the decisive battle of world history, the battle with death. Now he exercises the victor’s right to distribute the spoils of war. But what are these spoils? The answer comes: The gift of God is God himself, the Holy Spirit.”
But then he goes on to say that this is not the kind of gift we would normally expect from a conquering king! He writes, “We would expect quite different gifts from a redeemer. . . . We would expect a house, money, good food, travel, success, other people’s esteem, comfort, peace, security. But not the Holy Spirit. For in reality the Holy Spirit is largely the opposite of all these things: he makes us restless with our possessions, our comfort, our respect that is so often based on dubious compromises. He is a tempest. He does not let us settle down in our comfort, but exposes us to ridicule by putting us in the service of truth and obliging us to exercise the self-control which loves the other person ‘as myself’.” (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Seek That Which Is Above”, Ignatius Press, pp. 74-75.)
In other words, we wouldn’t expect Jesus, our conquering Savior, to send us a “Divine Disturber” after his incredible Easter victory.
But that’s exactly what he’s done.
And, in reality, it’s the best thing he possibly could have done, even if we don’t always realize it or appreciate it. Because the Divine Disturber is the one who gives us new life in the sacraments, gets us on the road to heaven, and keeps us there (if we let him). And if, perchance, we get off the narrow road that leads to the kingdom of God, he’s the one who gets us back on it through the sacrament of Reconciliation (once again, if we let him).
But getting us on the road to heaven and keeping us there—or getting us back on the road after we’ve fallen into serious sin—may mean that the Holy Spirit will have to unsettle us in some way. That is to say, he will have to exercise his role as the Divine Disturber!
For example, have you ever heard a homily from your pastor that really got you angry? Fuming mad?
Well, there are at least two possible reasons for that. Either your pastor didn’t listen to the Holy Spirit and preached his own version of the Gospel (which can and does happen), or he got it right and the Holy Spirit was convicting you of sin and challenging you to change your life for the better.
In most cases, it’s either one or the other of those two possibilities.
The Holy Spirit, through the great Archbishop Fulton Sheen, had this convicting and challenging effect on a man named Louis Budenz back in the 1940s. At the time, Budenz was the editor of The Daily Worker, a newspaper published by the Communist Party USA. In that publication, Budenz frequently attacked Sheen, because of the bishop’s very strong and vocal opposition to communism.
So one can imagine how Sheen felt when Budenz called him one day, out of the blue, and asked him to dinner. To put it mildly, the bishop was shocked! He couldn’t believe it, but he accepted the invitation anyway. (He later found out that it was the Soviet government that had ordered Budenz to meet with him.)
At the beginning of the meal the topic was communism—which was precisely the way Budenz wanted it. But after a few minutes Sheen said to him, “I’m really not terribly interested in your communism. I want to talk to you about your soul.”
So he did. He talked to him about Jesus Christ, and faith, and eternal salvation—and Budenz hated every minute of it.
Later that night, he went home and said to his wife, “I was never so angry in my life.” Many years later his wife told Bishop Sheen that from that moment on, whenever Sheen’s voice was heard on the radio in their house (Sheen, remember, had a radio show at the time), Budenz would fly into a rage! He’d scream, “Turn that radio off! I can’t stand to hear that man’s voice!”
Seven years later, however, Sheen received a letter from Budenz: “Dear Bishop Sheen, I would like to talk to you—about my soul.”
And he did.
Not long afterward, both he and his wife abandoned their atheistic communism and became Catholics. They were two of Bishop Sheen’s most famous converts.
The Holy Spirit disturbed Louis Budenz and his wife out of their sin and into the Church—and he kept them there until death.
That’s the power of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.
In one way or another, we all experience this “disturbing” presence of the Spirit in our lives. Just ask Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. In the late 1970s, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he actually prophesied his own experience of the Divine Disturber. He did it in the Pentecost meditation that was quoted earlier.
Did you pick up on that?
Recall again his words—which he wrote at least a quarter-century before he became pope. He said, “[The Holy Spirit] is a tempest. He does not let us settle down in our comfort, but exposes us to ridicule by putting us in the service of truth and obliging us to exercise the self-control which loves the other person ‘as myself’.”
It’s common knowledge that, as far back as 1991 when he was working for Pope John Paul II as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wanted to retire. He wanted to go back to Germany to live a quiet life in his final years. He wanted to spend his time studying and writing books on theology, since he loved to do both.
That was his will.
But the Divine Disturber would not let him! The Holy Spirit would not allow him to “settle down in comfort” (to use his own words). The Spirit had other work for him to do, as we all know, in “the service of truth”.
So the next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re challenged to come out of yourself and serve someone else in need, know that it just might be the Holy Spirit working in your life as he worked in Pope Emeritus Benedict’s life. It just might be the Spirit exercising his role as the Divine Disturber!
And remember, the challenge the Spirit gives by disturbing and unsettling us is not only for the good of others; it’s also for our own personal good. It’s for our growth in holiness. As St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”
So on this coming Sunday, when we commemorate that blessed and glorious day when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary and the Apostles in the upper room, let’s remember to thank the Spirit for the many spiritual gifts and charisms that he gives to us and to the Church—the most important of which are faith, hope and charity. But let’s not stop there. Let’s also remember to thank the Holy Spirit for the many times he has “disturbed” us in our lives: for the many times that he’s convicted us of our sins, and shaken us out of our spiritual complacency, and challenged us to reform our lives and to serve others.
Because the bottom line is this: The Holy Spirit comes to disturb us in a good way here on this earth, so that we will not be disturbed in a bad way for all eternity.
Father Raymond Suriani is a retired pastor of St. Pius X Church in Westerly.