Fr. Arnold Janssen was one of the greatest devotees of the Holy Spirit ever in the Catholic world, at a time when the third Divine Person was rarely venerated and even in some way neglected. One has to recall that the first papal document entirely devoted to the Holy Spirit (encyclical Divinum illud munus) appeared only in 1897. Arnold personally petitioned the Holy See to come out with an encyclical on the Holy Spirit eight years earlier. A century later, on the threshold of the third Millennium, the Founder’s concern still seemed well timed and relevant. The Pope then, John Paul II, asked for a new discovery of the presence of the Holy Spirit as one of the most important tasks of our time.
As SVD’s we need to be aware of our spiritual foundation, in which the Holy Spirit is our Father and true Founder as he leads us to a close and intimate kinship with the Divine Word, the most important performer in our missionary task. Hence, the Founder wanted us to become true sons of the Holy Spirit and by no means should devotion to the Holy Spirit be overshadowed by any other devotion: “Fostering special devotion to the Holy Spirit is the aim of our Society. Let this always remain our aim and let no one deviate from it.”
This reflection explores the Founder’s devotion to the Holy Spirit as “one of the greatest graces of my life” in three steps: Spiritual divide, Practical expression and Lifegiving novelty
Between 1883 and 1884, the veneration of the Holy Spirit grew in the life of Arnold Janssen. This growing veneration was particularly influenced by stimuli and concrete suggestions of the Vincentian Fr. Ferdinand Medits, and the visionary, Miss Magdalene Leitner.
His veneration can be seen more as an organic development, not a rupture, that can be traced back in the chronological sequence of planted seeds waiting to blossom. The very first seed planted in Arnold was his father’s ardent devotion to the Holy Spirit (every Monday he attended Mass in honor of the Holy Spirit). This led to Arnold’s resolution just before deacon ordination (March 1861) to celebrate Mass every Monday in honor of the Holy Spirit.
Moreover, his predominant devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (up to 1883) intensified his devotion to the Holy Spirit. Arnold wrote in the June issue of the Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart (1874): Therefore let us venerate and love the Holy Spirit above all, venerate and love Him especially in the Sacred Heart of Jesus through whose mediation we receive Him. In the Divine Heart, we venerate the fullness of the Holy Spirit, whom the Father and the Word sent to his humanity. Through the Holy Spirit, the Sacred Heart was made the furnace of charity and the treasure of all graces (Const. 1885).
Thus, the Divine Heart – the altar of the Divine Love – is the masterpiece of the Holy Spirit, who is the embodiment of this undeserved and unconditional love of God for all. Studying Mathias Scheeben’s “the Mysteries of Christianity” (1865), Arnold recognized the inseparable unity between the Holy Spirit and the Sacred Heart and embodied it in the Society’s medallion and veneration through June devotion (Const. 1922/147) which calls us to the transformation of our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit into the likeness of the Heart of Jesus.
For Fr. Arnold, the Holy Spirit was not a theological abstraction but a life-giving friend with whom he was deeply united in prayers and constant invocations. The Holy Spirit evokes a sense of community experience as he reported on the first General Chapter (1885) to the missionaries in China: “By a special grace of the Holy Spirit our deliberations were marked by an almost miraculous convergence of views so that all our decisions, with a few exceptions relating to more minor matters, were passed unanimously….”.
Arnold’s love for the Holy Spirit inflamed the desire to win the whole world for the Kingdom of God and found multifaceted expressions, namely: special invocation to the Holy Spirit in the Quarterly-Hour-Prayer (1883); regular articles in the Little Messenger of the Sacred Heart (1885) with special supplement: Come, O Holy Spirit (since 1887); personal and Society consecration to the Holy Spirit (1887-1888); Bishop Anzer’s coat of arms with the effigy of the Holy Spirit (1886); foundation of two congregations of women dedicated to the Holy Spirit (1889/1896); the Mass League (1891); every Monday and even more so the third Monday dedicated to the Holy Spirit; votive Masses; breviary office, lectures and conferences, Pentecost’s processions in St. Wendel and St. Gabriel; confraternities in Steyl and St. Gabriel; establishment of the Society’s central sanctuary to honor the Holy Spirit in St. Gabriel (1889) with a magnificent votive church to increase devotion to the Holy Spirit – God of eternal Love (1900); subsequent dedications of mission houses (East Troy, Berlin, Nemi, Warszawa, São Paulo); schools-seminaries-novitiates (Santiago, Santo Amaro, Tagaytay, Calapan, Batu/Malang); churches and cathedrals (Buenos Aires, Yanzhou, Tsining, Techny, Accra, Madang); missions and provinces (South Shandong/China, PNG, Japan, East-German/ Austria, Argentina-East, Belgium, Mumbai, Java); and construction of the SSpS Mother House just as St. Wendel in the form of a dove.
Arnold wanted an image of the Holy Spirit in every mission seminary with a burning votive lamp close to the main entrance. In the early years the priests who entered the Society took their vows in groups of seven to call attention to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Founder was also very pleased whenever the diocesan priests used to say that the brother must come from Steyl since he talks so readily about the Holy Spirit.
The Founder’s ardent and joyful veneration to the Holy Spirit was never isolated but deeply rooted in the Blessed Trinity – the real foundation of his whole spirituality. The veneration to the Holy Spirit plunged him into the depths of the Trinity’s life and gave him a deeper understanding of the Divine Love. He shared the Church’s understanding of the Holy Spirit as a Life-Giver, Inspirer, Animator, Guide, Consoler and Sanctifier of souls. But he also introduced a theological novelty by his unique combination of the devotion to the Divine Word and Holy Spirit (both existed in the church separately).
In fact, the Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity as a principal liturgical celebration of the Society underlines the notion that we give equally a special honor to the Divine Word and the Holy Spirit and consider them as two inseparable Missionaries of the Father. The Divine Word is the titular patron of the Society and He remains with us in the Eucharist. The latter – the life giving Spirit merited for us by Jesus on the Cross – grants us the necessary light, strength, courage and docility to fulfill our missionary task.
Only when we walk in the Spirit, – who dwells in us, can his consuming fire destroys in us the old man and form the new man. The Founder personally experienced transformation, becoming more calm, and joyful. He knew that walking in the Spirit helps us to resist the temptation of activism and a worldly spirit. The Holy Spirit bestows on us light and strength to unite harmoniously our twofold charisma as religious and missionary congregations. This implies that the horizontal (being for others as mission activities) and the vertical (being for God as our religious identity) can mutually strengthen and enliven one another.
Our Founder felt that the future success of the Society would depend on the exercise of this devotion and from the Founder’s example he showed us that a total surrender to the Holy Spirit brings abundant blessings in our missionary work.
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