Thursday, 12 May 2016

Them and us? Or just us?

Christians have a propensity to divide despite the fact that Jesus' expressed will and prayer is that we "should all be as one" (John 17:21). Somehow it makes us feel good and righteous to be able to point out the flaws and doctrinal inaccuracies of others while ignoring the ones that belong to us and are staring us in the face.

This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the day when the Spirit fell on the gathering of disciples as they met and prayer together in the Upper Room. What followed next was an explosion of spiritual energy and power which is even today still sending out ripples across the world and upsetting the carefully laid plans and intentions of the Church to have things their own way. I love the picture once painted by Rev David Watson of someone opening a window on a windy day only for all the carefully folded and stacked papers in the room to be sent flying everywhere. No wonder some of the more staid and tradition bound churches like to keep the Holy Spirit out. Goodness knows what will happen to our preconceptions, misconceptions and personal conceptions of the way things should be.

In recent years I have read a lot about other denominations and in particular those two great monoliths the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches. And what has surprised me is that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and doing wonderful things among the more open-hearted and minded among them. An example of what I mean can be found below. Leaving out all references to Roman Catholicism you could easily mistake it as being written by some fervent Pentecostal or renewed Evangelical:

"Without Pentecost, the Gospel is not truly Good News.  For the seven gifts and Pentecostal charisms given by the Holy Spirit on this birthday celebration of the Church Catholic are essential for the success of our mission and indispensable for a joyful, victorious Christian life.

As a teen, I thought the clergy were supposed to do everything. We laity were just called to pray, pay, and obey. Oh yes, and keep the commandments, of course. The original 10 seemed overwhelming enough. Then I discovered the Sermon on the Mount and nearly passed out.

Perhaps this is why many inactive Catholics are so resentful of their upbringing in the Church. For them, religion means frustration, failure, and guilt.

Somehow they, and I, missed the good news about Pentecost. OK, we Catholics celebrate the feast every year and mention it in Confirmation class, but lots of us evidently didn't “get it.”

Because if we “got it,” we’d be different. Bold instead of timid, energetic instead of anaemic, fascinated instead of bored. Compare the apostles before and after Pentecost and you’ll see the difference the Spirit makes.

The gospel is Good News not just because we’re going to heaven, but because we've been empowered to become new people, here and now. Vatican II insisted that each of us is called to the heights of holiness (Lumen Gentium, chapter V). Not by will-power, mind you. But by Holy Spirit power. Holiness consists in faith, hope, and especially divine love. These are “virtues,” literally “powers,” given by the Spirit. To top it off, the Spirit gives us seven further gifts which perfect faith, hope, and love, making it possible for us to live a supernatural, charismatic life. Some think this is only for the chosen few, “the mystics.”  To the contrary, Thomas Aquinas taught that the gifts of Isaiah 11:1-3 (wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord) are standard equipment given in baptism, that all are called to be “mystics.”

Vatican II also taught that every Christian has a vocation to serve. We need power for this too. And so the Spirit distributes other gifts, called “charisms.” These, teaches St. Thomas, are not so much for our own sanctification as for service to others. There is no exhaustive list of charisms, though St. Paul mentions a few (I Corinthians 12:7-10, Romans 12:6-8) ranging from tongues to Christian marriage (1 Cor. 7: 7). Charisms are not doled out by the pastors; but are given directly by the Spirit through baptism and confirmation, even sometimes outside of the sacraments (Acts 10:44-48).

Do I sound Pentecostal? That’s because I belong to the largest Pentecostal Church in the world. Correcting the mistaken notion that the charisms were just for the apostolic church, Vatican II had this to say: “Allotting His gifts “to everyone according as he will” (1 Cor. 12:11), He [the Holy Spirit] distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. . . . These charismatic gifts, whether they be the most outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation, for they are exceedingly suitable and useful for the needs of the Church” (LG 12).

Powerful gifts, freely given to all. Sounds like a recipe for chaos. But the Lord also imparted to the apostles and their successors a unifying charism of headship. The role of the ordained is not to do everything themselves. Rather, they are to discern, shepherd, and coordinate the charisms of the laity so that they mature and work together for the greater glory of God (LG 30).

So what if you, like me, did not quite “get it” when you were confirmed? I’ve got good news for you. You actually did get the Spirit and his gifts. Have you ever received a new credit card with a sticker saying “Must call to activate before using?” The Spirit and his gifts are the same way. You have to call in and activate them. Do it today and every day, and especially every time you attend Mass. Because every sacramental celebration is a New Pentecost where the Spirit and his gifts are poured out anew (CCC 739, 1106).

That’s why the Christian Life is an adventure. There will always be new surprises of the Spirit!
Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

See what I mean? There is nothing here that would make me tut or shake my head because of its heretical teachings. In fact quite the contrary I found it interesting, informative and challenging.

So in this week leading up to Pentecost may God make us more and more open to where the Spirit is at work and let us not grieve or quench him in our own lives by ignoring the new things he is doing with old wine skins, including our own.

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