On Sunday, in his homily for the Mass of Pentecost, Pope Francis presented simple and eloquent synthesis of what he has been saying about the Holy Spirit in recent weeks. He asked us to remember three words: newness, harmony and mission. I appreciate what he is saying and am inclined to interpret it the same way I did in regard to his remarks about the charismatic movement.
Newness as Opposed to Novelty
Pope Francis says that newness is a characteristic of the Holy Spirit. I believe this corresponds to what Pope Benedict called innovation in continuity. Not everything new is a “novelty” in the sense in which the Church discourages such things. There is a distinction to be made which is not always easy. But that is why we have a living magisterium to help us discern the spirits. The fact is that both the penchant for novelty and the stubborn refusal to accept what is new on the pretext that it is not “traditional” are indicative of the same problem: the effort to “program and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences.”
I often think about the argument made which states that the Second Vatican Council caused the crisis that came in its aftermath. Certainly, on the face of it, the line of reasoning enjoys a certain plausibility. But we must be careful not to be guilty of the post hoc ergo proper hoc fallacy. I believe that the crisis of modernity had been coming on for a long time, and not just since the Enlightenment and French Revolution. In the Middle Ages currents were set in motion, such as the Nominalism of William of Ockham, that would stew for a very long time and unravel the fabric of Christendom. The Church rightly opposed these insofar as she was the universal arbiter of such questions, and more or less successfully managed a situation that would inevitably worsen. The Church ceased to hold the place that it had in the old world and that the old methods of maintaining that place would eventually need to be replaced by new methods, ones which took a more nuanced approach to the values of modernity, such as that of human dignity. That this resulted in crisis is understandable, that, therefore, the effort should have never been undertaken or should be abandoned is another matter.
The argument hinges on whether or not the Church would have preserved itself intact if it had not engaged in aggiornamento in the face of changing conditions. I believe there is stronger argument behind the idea that a small remnant Church may have survived mostly without change if the reform had not occurred, than there is that the Church would have remained the dominant social force in the world. But neither option is a solution to the problem of modernity. At some point the Church had to come to terms with the changing conditions. That a crisis ensued from the Church’s adjustment to its changed status vis a vis the rest of the world is not in itself proof that such an adjustment was ill advised. Crisis was inevitable either way.
And so, Pope Francis asks the question:
Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?
The Holy Father very clearly is asking us to get out of our comfort zone and expose ourselves to unpredictable wind of the Holy Spirit. There is no question that that openness to newness is a dangerous thing, and we are understandably afraid of it. But this is precisely what the Holy Spirit does:
We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own.
Harmony as Opposed to Monotony
Openness to what is new in the face of changing conditions and novelty in matters of doctrine are not always easily distinguished. Likewise it is not always easy to distinguish true deep unity in the Holy Spirit from mere external uniformity. Pope Francis says:
The Holy Spirit would appear to create disorder in the Church, since he brings the diversity of charisms and gifts; yet all this, by his working, is a great source of wealth, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity, which does not mean uniformity, but which leads everything back to harmony.
Unity and uniformity are not the same thing. Pope Benedict, in the context of allowing and promoting multiple forms of the Roman Rite said that Catholicity does not mean uniformity. Pope Francis says:
Only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while at the same time building unity.
Pope Francis preached these words in front of the members of the “new movements” that have arisen since the Second Vatican Council. These movements have brought vibrant new life to the Church, but not without also bring problems as well. Regnum Christi under the Legionaries of Christ is one example of a movement that has the blessings of the Church, but whose founder turned out to be an evil man. The life of Regnum Christi has proven to be quite problematic. The Neocatechumenal Way is another movement, which has had its problems, in particular, in respect to the liturgy, but has continued to exist with the support of Pope Benedict. The work of the Holy Spirit is not a “safety first” type of activity. Openness to the work of the Holy Spirit means the possibility of error in matters of discernment. For whatever reason, the living magisterium believes that both the risks and the failures have been worth enduring for the sake of long term success. I believe the reason is that while the principles of the faith remain unchanging, their application is often complex and in particular times prophetic inspiration is necessary.
Obviously, then, not all diversity of form is capable of supporting unity. We have seen much division, but according to Pope Francis diversity becomes “a source of conflict” only when such diversity acts outside magisterial oversight:
Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit.
I believe that those who have great zeal in favor of their programs for reform or restoration must be sensitive to the insights of the living magisterium. In particular, they must be docile to Peter as he has spoken over the last fifty years and make an act of faith that in the future of the Church lies in the harmony of which Pope Francis speaks. It is a dynamic orthodoxy that is the fruit of a long hard fight to defend tradition and at the same time adapt in those things that are both necessary and legitimate. We have an opportunity now to learn from the mistakes of both extremes and come out of the crisis in a true state of renewal.
Mission as Opposed to Zealotry
Pope Francis says that the Holy Spirit ”saves us from the threat of a Church which is gnostic and self-referential, closed in on herself.” A gnostic Church is elitist, living at a fairytale and pharisaical standard—eminent in every virtue but charity. A self-referential Church is one that is so preoccupied with its own identity and is incapable of responding in realtime to what is happening on the ground with the actual people who are affected by the decisions it makes. This is not about the principles, or about issues of natural law and the like. It is about being in touch with what is actually happening and not being preoccupied with ideology and pet theories about the panacea that will fix everything.
What this means is that we need to chuck the checklist and measuring stick by which we assess everyone and everything and begin to discern where the Holy Spirit is moving in the vessels of clay around us who may have far more wisdom than we give them credit. There is no safe place in this vale of tears. The little groups and cliques, the sects and cults we create are not the Roman Catholic Church. They are the societies of convenience that we create in our own likeness.
The way around this problem is to repudiate all ideology that is not in accord with tradition as it is protected, handed on and developed by the living magisterium. The mistakes on both sides of the spectrum, (left/right; progressive/traditionalist) have to do with this lack of docility to what the Spirit is saying to the Church as it is mediated to us by the Holy Father. Instead of putting our trust in Peter we have opted for heretics, schismatics, false prophets, ideologues, gnostics, cult leaders, revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, megalomaniacs and know-it-alls. We cease to be missionary to the extent that we commit ourselves to the false-messianism of zealotry.
What we need is the Holy Spirit whose inspiration is authenticated by our fidelity the Vicar of Christ.
Update: In respect to the willingness of the Church to takes risks and suffer the consequences in order to address the real needs of the times, Pope Francis said:
“The Church must go out from herself. Where? Towards the existential outskirts”, even if that means risking accidents along the way, in the outward journey. To those who worry about what can happen to the Pope responds : “I prefer a thousand times a Church damaged by an accident, than a sick Church closed in on itself”. Faith- he added – is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do the same, help others to encounter Jesus.
This homily was given last week during the Novena in preparation for Pentecost, but is still appropriate for the Solemnity:
Sermon for Pentecost Sunday
I, Jesus, have sent my angel, to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the root and stock of David, the bright and morning star. And the spirit and the bride say: Come. And he that heareth, let him say: Come. And he that thirsteth, let him come. And he that will, let him take the water of life, freely. . . . Come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 21:16-17, 20).
A postconciliar Mariology that is both traditional and one that addresses the present crisis of modernity is one that sees Mary in relation to both Christ and the Church. In the context of Pentecost, this means that She is both Spouse of the Holy Spirit and Teacher of the Apostles.
Pope Benedict has said that the Marian principle of the Church is even more fundamental than the Petrine, because the Church is not an idea, but a person, and at Pentecost (as on Calvary) Mary is Mother of the Church from the top down. If this is true at every moment of Christian history, it is particularly true in this age of Marian prophecy (Rue de Bac, Lourdes, Fatima, Bl. John Paul II).
The Immaculate-Meditatrix directs human acts and serves as the living model of pastoral prudence and prophetic inspiration, reform and innovation in continuity. This is an integrated and holistic approach to Mariology, and one that is vitally necessary in order to address the disintegration of modernity. It is Spirit-filled: faithful to the deposit of the faith and responsive the souls that need to be saved in real-time.
Most of all in and through Her and Her Spouse, we must continue in hope for a New Pentecost that looks forward toward the East, not one that faces the western darkness of hopelessness or presumption.
But Our Lady respects our will. Consecration to Mary is an act of the will. It is consent in the Marian “yes” of salvation history. That is all that stands between us and our destiny of light or darkness: one little yes.
The Spirit and the Bride say “come”.
Today in the second reading from the Office of Readings was from sections 4 and 12 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium. It is apropos to the Novena in preparation for Pentecost and provides me with the opportunity to develop ideas I introduced in my last post. There I posited that in the light of the teaching of the postconciliar popes the traditional and charismatic approaches to spirituality should not be considered fundamentally opposed, though much of what goes under the title of both “traditionalism” and “pentecostalism” is problematic.
I believe this is the sense of sections 4 and 12 of Lumen Gentium in which the Council indicates two things: that the Church is equipped and directed by both “hierarchical and charismatic gifts”; that it is “not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, “allotting his gifts to everyone according as He wills, He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank.”
Sermon for the Ascension
“Before beginning this celebration, I bring you a greeting. Before I left this morning, I was with Pope Francis, and I told him: ‘Holy Father, I have to leave soon. I’m going to Rimini where there are thousands upon thousands of faithful of the Charismatic Renewal: men, women and young people.’ With a great smile, the Pope said: ‘Tell them that I love them very much!’ Upon leaving the Holy Father, Archbishop Fisichella recounted, the Holy Father added: ‘Look, tell them that I love them very much because I was responsible for Charismatic Renewal in Argentina, and that’s why I love them very much.’”
I would suggest that the influence of the charismatic movement is evident in many of the words and actions of Pope Francis. In particular, the following strikes me noteworthy: Continue reading
I just noticed this quote from Pope Francis:
Let us all remember this: one cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life. Those who listen to us and observe us must be able to see in our actions what they hear from our lips, and so give glory to God! I am thinking now of some advice that Saint Francis of Assisi gave his brothers: preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words. Preaching with your life, with your witness. Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church’s credibility.
I have heard others a number of times take exception to both the attribution of the words emphasized above to St. Francis and to the soundness of the exhortation. The argument has some merit. The Franciscan sources do not support the attribution to St. Francis, and it is true that the words can be construed to mean that it is sufficient to be a witness to Christ by one’s life. Efforts to evangelize are not essential.
But while St. Francis may have never said the words, they are an excellent summary of his spirituality. Pope Francis interprets the meaning of the phrase exactly. Whoever first used the words did in fact understand St. Francis. Perhaps it was one of the novices who were led by St. Francis through the streets of the town in their poor habits, telling them: “We are going to preach the gospel.” After having returned to the friary without having spoken to anyone along the way, a novice asked St. Francis why they had not preached the gospel, St. Francis simply answered, “We did.”
The Franciscan spirit is in the first place a way of life and a witness. St. Francis was never afraid to speak out, but he was just as content to be driven out of town as he was to preach with apparent success. He was not all that impressed by eloquence and declared to the friars that it was not the preachers who converted anyone but Christ alone and that the friars who were faithful to the Rule did more for the conversion of sinners than anyone else. He called them his “Knights of the Round Table.”
At times when he got up to preach, he could not think of anything to say and just sat back down, and did so without thinking much of it. The Franciscan Order has always had a tremendous commitment to the apostolic life, but has always been its best, when it hung its hat on nothing but fidelity to the evangelical way of life, by living “the gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ in obedience, without property and in chastity” (Rule, c. 1).
But stating that fact that witness has more power than words has never been an excuse in Franciscan circles to omit the work of evangelization. The fact that the idea is misinterpreted is not the fault of St. Francis, and neither is it a reason to deny its validity. Pope Francis, who is obviously committed to evangelization and reform, far from being confused about St. Francis is showing himself to be very astute in Franciscan spirituality.