I put this question, or at least a version of it, to a well-travelled clerical friend of mine recently, and his answers were perplexing.
He mentioned a recent ordination to the priesthood. While that is truly wonderful, and an extraordinary grace for any parish; it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit's work over a ten year or longer period.
He mentioned the good work the nuns were doing in the parish. Again, that is awesome. But it too is the fruit of the Holy Spirit's work in the hearts of women born some 10 years ago or more.
Then he mentioned a rather exciting regional meeting of bishops from several countries happening within the next 12 months. Absolutely wonderful, and it will hopefully be very fruitful for the whole region, but that's the Holy Spirit's work at a hierarchical level and not a local level.
Next year his parish celebrates 50 years of existence. This is a wonderful opportunity to give thanks and praise to God for the blessings and achievements of the past 50 years. Many special graces can come from an event like this, especially if time is taken to think through how the Holy Spirit has worked historically in this local area with a view to discerning His longer term plans. But again, it's not really about what the Holy Spirit is blowing on at the moment.
Why was I perplexed? Because his answers focussed on the activity of priests, religious and bishops who are a tiny proportion of a parish containing thousands of lay people in it. Because there is a big difference between serving a parish and empowering and encouraging a parish to respond to what the Holy Spirit is calling them to do.
It is really difficult to co-operate with the Holy Spirit's plans if you are having trouble noticing where He has been active. A pastor is best placed to notice these things, because he usually gets the best information.
For example if there has been a noticeable uplift in the numbers of couples coming to talk to him about how to grow in their marriages – that's a clue that the Holy Spirit is working locally in the area of marriage. If you notice that, you can put more emphasis on marriage enrichment courses and programmes and can preach more on communication, listening, forgiveness and showing love in daily acts of kindness.
For example in confession there has been an increase in people returning to the sacrament of penance and confessing struggles with addictions of various kinds – that's a clue that the Holy Spirit is wanting to do a major work to set people free in this area. If you notice that, you can invite people into the parish who are gifted by God in setting people free from addictions. Also you can put on an afternoon of prayer inviting the whole parish to come and pray that their loved ones be set free from addictions, and see what happens. If it goes well, and people testify to God setting them free, do it again in a month's time.
But if you are not noticing and paying attention, how can you even begin to co-operate with what the Holy Spirit is blowing on?
Some things might take a bit more digging and research to uncover.
For example, do you know what spurred your recent batch of RCIA candidates to begin the final leg of their journey home to the Catholic Church? Maybe over half of them had an encounter with the Mother of Jesus. If so, put extra effort into the next major Marian feast day, do a parish novena leading up to it, put on a free movie about an approved Marian apparition on the feast day, and a talk about how to pray the rosary.
For example, do you know what spurred your newest arrivals at daily Mass to attend? Go talk to them and find out. Maybe they were all positively influenced by another parishioner. If so, go and talk to this parishioner about how God has been leading him/her and see if there is any way you can support them in their efforts (eg books, pamphlets, rosary beads to give away, or direction to good resources for the most common questions people ask him/her).
Other clues to the Holy Spirit's action in your parish could just come up in conversation, or could be relayed to you by staff members. For example two women having opportunities to meet with long estranged family members could be a clue that the Holy Spirit is currently working on the restoration of family relationships. Finding a third person in this situation would be a call to action. One way to partner with this movement of grace would be to let parishioners know that the next Saturday morning Mass would be offered for the restoration of family relationships, and use one of the Eucharistic Prayers of Reconciliation, the Proper set out 'for family' or 'for relatives and friends', and specially written prayers of the faithful.
Another way to get an idea of what the Holy Spirit is blowing on; is to have a listening session. What you want to do is to identify people in the parish who have solid prayer lives and sacramental lives and are in various service roles in the parish. Invite them in groups of ten for morning or afternoon tea. Then when you are together, ask them what God has been doing in their lives recently, and pay close attention to any patterns that emerge or murmurs of agreement when something is shared that the rest can relate to. If you hear common threads of God asking them to slow down and spend more time with Him, organise a one day retreat. If you hear common threads of God asking them to trust Him more, find some stories from the internet or elsewhere about how God worked wonders when people trusted in Him, print them off, and share them around as encouragement.
Obviously if you can pick up on the Holy Spirit's clues, what you do to partner with His action in your people's lives is going to be many times more effective than a 'let's try this new programme and hope it works' approach.