If you are in tune with the Holy Spirit, then you should feel the groaning of the Spirit. St. Paul said, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but . . . we also groan within ourselves, as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom. 8:22) Do you experience the groaning of the Spirit in your soul?
All creation is groaning because it is broken by sin and longing for redemption. It is “groaning in labor pains,” because God is bringing us to new birth. It’s not just hurting, but it is hurting with hope. In our day, the groaning of creation has intensified due to indifference to the least. Let’s look at three areas of indifference in our contemporary world – the unborn, refugees and people sold in human trafficking.
Recently, 8 states have initiated legislation to broaden access to abortion. Meanwhile, 9 states have passed laws to outlaw or forbid abortion past a certain point in pregnancy. In February, the Senate failed to pass a measure to require that babies born alive after an abortion be given medical attention and “the same protection of law as any newborn.” The Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act failed in a 53-44 vote. It needs 60 votes to pass.
The legal battles are one way that “creation is groaning in labor pains.” There are over 600,000 abortions a year in the USA. Some are groaning over these children while others manifest a growing indifference to them.
God is deeply concerned for both the children and the mothers, and so are we. As a Church, we groan with labor pains for the unborn children and the women involved in abortion. We groan with the Spirit who “intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” (Rom. 8:26) Since the Spirit is groaning for us, we should pray with great hope.
God has the same concern for people already born and living in dire straits. In the world today, there are 25.4 million refugees and 40 million internally displaced persons who have not left their country’s borders but were forcibly moved from their community often due to violence or war. Yet in the last two years, the whole world is accepting fewer refugees. Since 1980, the U.S.A. has always led the world in accepting refugees, but we have declined drastically, from resettling 84,994 in 2016 to only 22,491 in 2018.
Pope Francis says that there is an indifference to the poor today. The last five years have seen the greatest rate of increase of refugees on record, but throughout the world, nations are accepting fewer and fewer.
However, some small countries are showing amazing generosity in temporarily hosting refugees. Turkey hosts 3.5 million. Jordan hosts 2.9 million. And Lebanon hosts 1.4 million, which is 16% of its population. Imagine the burden on a little country like Lebanon. Cheyenne has 63,000 people. If we were hosting 16% of our population, we would have over 10,000 refugees in some kind of temporary shelter.
If we are groaning with the Holy Spirit for these people, then at minimum, we would be supporting agencies like Catholic Relief Services which provides basic needs to refugees in their camps. Even more, we should advocate for them and ask our legislators why our country is not welcoming more refugees. If you are united with the Spirit, then you groan to give new life to the poor. The opposite of that groaning is indifference.
I mentioned abortion and refugees together because Catholic moral teaching urges us to see the dignity of every human person. In his apostolic exhortation on holiness, Pope Francis wrote: “Our defense of the innocent unborn needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, [and] the victims of human trafficking.” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 101)
Many religious Sisters have been working against human trafficking. In May 2019, Pope Francis launched the “Nuns Healing Hearts” campaign in honor of the tenth anniversary of Talitha Kum, the international network of women religious against human trafficking. According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year – 80% are female and half are kids.
Over the last ten years, two thousand women religious have ministered to survivors of human trafficking. The sisters live in their poor communities, meet the victims in the streets, and help them begin a new life. The Sisters are in tune with the Holy Spirit. They feel the groaning of the Spirit to redeem those being trafficked.
Are you in touch with the groaning of the Spirit, or are you indifferent to the millions of people in dire straits or being killed as refugees, the unborn and their mothers, or slaves of human trafficking? To be confirmed with the Holy Spirit means to hear the cries of these people. And it means to pray with great hope and endurance because God is greater than sin and evil.
The prophet Ezekiel prophesied with hope to the people of his time. They had been defeated and taken captive to Babylon. They were crushed. Listen again to what God told the prophet Ezekiel. “These people have been saying, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.’ Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.” (Ez. 37:11-12)
We have a greater gift than the people as exiles in Babylon. The Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead has been poured into our hearts. It fills our dry bones when terrible things happen. It gives us hope and endurance.
Last Sunday, an old friend texted me about her newborn granddaughter. Prior to birth the baby had aspirated meconium, and she was in serious condition. Her grandmother was groaning in prayer for this child. God groans for refugees and the unborn with the same affection, and more. God’s groaning is filled with hope – with the power of the resurrection. The Lord says to us, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.”
First of all, let that hope be yours. Where are you feeling like your bones are dried up? Is there a sin that has darkened your heart? Is there a relationship that feels irreparable? Does a close friend have cancer? Are you disheartened by the struggle of evil in the world? Brings your dry bones to the Lord. Ask the Spirit to breathe new life into you.
Then bring the Spirit’s message of hope to the world ….. like the sisters who are working against human trafficking. God gives us his Spirit to say, “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.”
“We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but . . . we also groan within ourselves, as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom. 8:22)