I just returned from a business trip in Hannover, Germany, but it turned out to be a spiritual journey, as well. I arrived in Hannover late last Sunday morning and, having not yet attended Mass, asked the hotel attendant where the nearest Catholic church was. Although she spoke English, she wasn’t aware of one close-by. I didn’t have a car, so I decided to go for a walk and prayed for the Spirit to guide me. Sure enough, my global positioning spirit found St. Maria in Hannover. I may not have understood the words of that noon service, but the presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable in the people, who sang and participated with great reverence.
Their spirit stayed with me for the remainder of my trip—and prepared me to appreciate the message of this Sunday’s readings, which are all about finding and following the Holy Spirit.
I did a lot of driving and walking while in Germany and saw many other beautiful churches. After getting home and looking through this Sunday’s readings, two of those churches came to mind: the High Cathedral of St. Peter in Cologne, Germany and the ‘Nicolaikapelle’ (Nicolai Chapel) in Hannover. Both churches were built in the 13th century, but the former still stands in grand beauty (although with constant scaffolding) while the other is now a preserved ruin, having been destroyed in 1943 by an Allied air raid. Both are lasting tributes to the Holy Spirit, however, and stand as reminders that if we do our part to offer the Spirit shelter in our souls, we can preserve ourselves.
Preservation requires work on our part—an active invitation to the spirit to stay with us, as this Sunday’s first reading from Acts tells us (acts 8:5-8, 14-17):
“When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Preservation requires hard work, whether we’re trying to save our churches or ourselves, and the second reading from Peter (1 pt 3:15-18) reminds us that Christ provided the model for self-preservation:
“For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.”
And our gospel reading from John (jn 14:15-21) tells us how the shelter we offer the spirit can be maintained to last forever:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always … he remains with you, and will be in you.”
Regular visitors to Cologne’s High Cathedral of St. Peter know that scaffolding is always present, as a reminder that spiritual repair and maintenance work is an ongoing project. And visitors to Hannover’s Nicolai Chapel understand that even if all you have left to work with are ruins, you can still make those ruins a memorial of hope. Happy Memorial Day.