by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
This this weekend we celebrate the fulfillment of what Jesus promised his first disciples, and us their successors, at the Last Supper: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to be with you forever” (John 14:16). And “I have much more to tell you… When he comes, the Spirit of Truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own… but he will declare to you the things that are coming”. (John 16:12-13) We celebrate that marvelous event called Pentecost when a powerful Presence overwhelmed those disciples and drove them into the streets of Jerusalem to proclaim Christ’s message.
The Church celebrates this world-shaking moment in salvation history on one day only, compared with the entire liturgical seasons of Christ’s nativity and his resurrection. That is a teaching tool provided for us by the Church: The work of the Holy Spirit, in the end, is a day to day, routine, rarely dramatic affair. In fact, immediately on Monday the day after Pentecost we begin the long liturgical season called Ordinary time.
We are fortunate to live during this era of salvation history when recognition of the role which the Holy Spirit plays in all of creation has once again found a central place. As theologian Elizabeth Johnson puts it: For various historic reasons the churches have until recently forgotten “the cosmic presence and activity of the Sprit from the beginning, throughout history, unto the end.”
In our time, not only has theology retrieved the significance of the “Lord and giver of life” as stated in the Nicene Creed, but we have seen dramatic examples of its workings. The Second Vatican Council, Catholic Social Teaching, nonviolence, and the New Cosmology come immediately to mind. We know of countless “smaller” results of the Spirit’s influence in our own lives, as well as in movements toward structural justice, peace and the care for creation. Significantly, we have found In all these promptings of the Holy Spirit one constant – change.
Saint John Newman has put this most clearly in his historic essay “On the Development of Christian Doctrine,” where he made the compelling case that divine revelation is not finalized but has expanded and deepened over centuries and will continue to do so, as long as human history lasts. As Newman famously said: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
Surely this challenging dynamism, together with raw fear of anything new, are what have sparked so much opposition to our Holy Father. Francis clearly senses the Spirit’s presence in every aspect of the “new Church” which he yearns to see emerge. Many ecclesial bureaucrats cannot imagine or abide it.
Some corollaries to this reflection on the event we celebrate this weekend:
- First, responding to the Spirit-filled invitation to change always depends ultimately on human free will. This is evident in the deviation and detours and sheer rejection surrounding current “new graces” of the Holy Spirit.
- Again, a sure sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a sense of peace and quiet in the soul.
- Further, we have recognized the work of the God’s Spirit in the origins and history of Pax Christi. In this country we give thanks for Her inspiration in current efforts to make our movement ever-more inclusive, multi-cultural and reliant on young people. Whatever our chronological age we are a future-oriented movement. We will continue to change, always in unexpected ways, as history unfolds and social analysis, guided by the Holy Spirit, shows us new pathways.
Pope Saint John XXIII, to everyone’s enormous surprise, spoke of the revelation he experienced, and which impelled him to call for the Council. And he opened that ground-breaking gathering with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to “renew your wonders in our day as by a New Pentecost.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.