No comments yet

Pentecost Homily, 28.05.23: The Spirit who overcomes Catholic divisionism

I don’t know if you follow Catholic commentary on the internet regarding current affairs in the Church. Sometimes, I am dismayed by how negative and polarised it can be. You can almost feel the fear and anger behind both what’s being said and how it’s being said. If we think that the apostles were locked in the upper room out of fear, it seems today as if there are numerous little “upper rooms” on the internet where like-minded people huddle together in fear, casting aspersions on anyone who doesn’t think or speak as they do when it comes to Catholicism. Surely this can’t be right!

We need all that to be blown away by the mighty wind of Pentecost or, to use a gentler image, we need it melted away by the breath of peace with which Jesus greets the apostles in the upper room. We need to open the doors and windows to focus again, not on ourselves or on our divisions, but on Christ and to use tongue and time, not to lambast one another, but to witness to Him. The Devil is laughing up his sleeve when we fight with each other instead of speaking of Christ and proclaiming Him.

Because Christ is risen, fear really has no place in the Catholic heart. The Spirit breathed on the chaos of human languages at the birth of the Church so that the Word of Christ could proclaim to all peoples the marvels of God. This Pentecost, we ask Him to breathe once more on the Church to turn the chaotic fear and divisions within Catholicism into something new: into a beautiful variety of perspectives on the self-same marvels of God, but perspectives which complement and complete each other, not which threaten or intimidate one another. The Truth of the Faith is and can only be One, but it is one with the beauty of the diamond, not with the dullness of the boulder. Instead of perceiving only the negative in the other’s view, we need the Spirit of generosity and courage to see what is positive. The Spirit brings growth from decay, harmony from dissonance. As one author puts it, the “truth is symphonic”, not a monotone. If, in that symphony, something is truly out of rhythm or out of tune, it will become evident. It is then up to the conductor, the teaching authority of the Church, to see what can be done, if anything, to reattune it to the rest. And if it is truly out of order, then those who are playing out of tune need to have the realism and humility to let it go.

There can only be one Truth because there is only one Christ, who says of Himself, “I am the Truth.” But woe to us if we try to dumb Christ down to our limited perspectives, no matter how learned or magnificent we think they are. Pope Benedict XVI loved to repeat that “the Truth precedes us.” I would add that the Truth surpasses our grasp while shedding light on our capacity to grasp; it is not something we invent. Even less is it something we can manipulate to suit our own tastes or to accommodate our own sins or unwillingness to repent. The marvels of God performed in the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ for our salvation are not fodder for our private theories or theologies, or to justify our personal world view. They far surpass our little minds and hearts while at the same time opening them up to the great sweep of eternity. The Truth is only our servant when we treat it first as our master. If it truly is the Truth, it always has a capital T. What I mean by that is that it will be compatible with Christ.

We need the courage, the fortitude, the boldness of the Holy Spirit to submit to the Truth, to be overwhelmed by it and not to try and domesticate it. We have to come out of our own personal or cliquish upper rooms where the air can become stale and suffocating as the result of only talking and listening to ourselves. We need the fresh air of the Spirit to lead us out to see that there is a bigger picture, a bigger Church, a bigger world, a bigger hope. The word courage comes from the Latin word cor, meaning heart. Courage and fortitude and boldness won’t work if they don’t come from the heart, not only in terms of sincerity, but also in terms of love. We are not just encouraged by the Spirit, but impelled and commanded by Him to speak and do the Truth in love. Things can easily get all too comfortable in our own familiar upper rooms, where we get used to the sound of our own voices and of those who sound like us, where we have the same scapegoats and dead horses and recite the same litanies of criticism; and where we can tragically mistake our own fear for certainty, our cowardice for virtue, our narrow-mindedness for genius.

We need the Spirit to revive us with that sudden, powerful, noisy wind from heaven to take up our monotones into the great chorus of truth and to give us a new voice, new melody, new language, new narrative: the narrative of speaking about Christ, and not about our views on Christ or on the Church or on this or that, about the marvels of His love, and not about how marvellous we think we may be; we need that openness to the many waters of the same Spirit we have all been given to drink, to rejoice in the many gifts and services to be done. At the same time, we need that gentle breath of Jesus to take away our fears, to fill us with joy and to give us the strength we need for whatever mission in life He gives us.

In two weeks’ time, I hope to launch formally the Eucharistic Revival of our parish. Today, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will come and stay with us in power for as long as the Lord wants this Revival to last. My prayer is also that He will release anew within each one of us the fervour and zeal of our baptism and confirmation. May the graces of courage, fortitude and boldness arise anew to the surface in our community so that, in love, we can recover the will and strength to be witnesses in and beyond it to the marvellous deed which is the Eucharist. Though many members, we are one Body; though many viewpoints, there is one Truth; though many gifts, there is one Spirit. May He revive and enliven us as the Lord Jesus desires and enrich us with abundant new graces of living faith, living hope and and living love.