We may only be fighting the Spirit
At Pentecost we implore God to descend upon us the Holy Spirit, as he did on the Apostles. As “The wind blows wherever it pleases” (Jn 3:8), so does the Spirit blow where he wills. It’s an affirmation that we easily make, but we likely have a problem to allow, leave alone facilitate, that Spirit to actually blow where he wills.
At this Pentecost my thoughts go to the many movements in the Catholic Church today. They are visible signs of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of renewal. Yet most of them are viewed with suspicion. Well, whatever reasons we may have, this Pentecost is an occasion to go beyond feelings and impressions. Perhaps we may arrive at something different: to discover the work of the Spirit, which is not that easy to recognise and welcome.
It is helpful to remind ourselves of our past, and perhaps the Franciscans can allow us a window for reflection. They are a great order and their impact in the Church is impressive and wide. However, the Franciscans were not born with such a great reputation.
Today, much better than at their foundation, we can easily appreciate them as a work of the Spirit. Had they not been accommodated and given time to be what they were about, perhaps all that history would have preserved of them is the story of a young rebel who only wanted to act differently.
It all began in that sermon Francis heard: “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts” (Mt 10:9). The passage spoke to him and he decided to act accordingly, abandoning the affluent life of his family to dedicate himself to a life of poverty.
That was a revolt to the luxurious life of most of the clergy at the time, going against the current. For that disturbance, some were ready to use their power to stop that young man who seemed to have lost his bearings. We give credit also to Pope Innocent III who finally allowed and supported Francis to continue with his group. It must have taken Innocent a lot of courage to undertake such a risk.
This is a common experience of prophets in the past, today, and probably tomorrow too. History keeps repeating itself.
The Spirit is still blowing and the Word of God is touching hearts, moving them to witness in the world today as seen in the movements such as the Charismatic Renewal, Neocatechumens, New Way and the Emmanuel Community, to mention just a few. In some of these movements, lay consecrated people — married and unmarried, — witness to the Gospel through a form of community life, prayer and service in the mission of the Church.
Unfortunately, such movements are often victims of slander simply because they disturb. Oh yes, they disturb the traditional way of praying and singing, disturb the balance of power, and live a consecrated life different from the customary. As a result, all the good they do and the new life they bring to the Church are swallowed up in petty issues raised against them, and prejudiced information is all you get time and again. They are considered to be a threat, not to faith but to the institution.
Here we can be instructed by the wisdom of Gamaliel to the Sanhedrin: “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:38-39).
Perhaps at this Pentecost God may grant us the courage and openness to acknowledge the innovative men and women who are accomplishing good works in the world today, even though they may not be sailing along with us.