Openness to the Spirit

At the Last Supper Jesus promised the gift of his Spirit. “I still have many things to say to you”, Jesus said, “but they would be too much for you now. When the Spirit of truth comes, she will lead you to the complete truth, since she will not be speaking as from herself, but will say only what she has learnt. She will explain to you the things to come” (John 16,12-13). John’s Gospel calls the Spirit of future times the Paraclete, the ‘interpreter’; because in the changed circumstances of the future Jesus’ message would need to be re-interpreted according to ‘the signs of the times’. See note 1 below. And this Spirit would manifest itself not only in church leaders but in all members of Jesus’ community.

This is what Paul wrote to a typical Christian community: “There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit . . . One may have the gift of preaching with wisdom given him or her by the Spirit; another may have the gift of instruction given by the same Spirit; and another the gift of faith given by the Spirit; another again the gift of healing, through this same Spirit; one, the power of miracles; another, prophecy; another, the gift of discerning spirits; another the gift of tongues and another the gift to interpret them” (1 Corinthians 12,4-10). The Spirit speaks, prays, acts through all members of the community of faith.

The reality of today’s Catholic Church is that the Spirit is suppressed in many ways. Lay people have no channel to voice their insights and take decisions. Theologians are muzzled. Free expression through normal church media is virtually non-existent. Even Bishops Conferences and the Central Synod of Bishops cannot genuinely make their own contributions. Paul’s warnings: “Do not extinguish the Spirit! Do not treat the gift of prophecy with contempt!” (1 Thessalonians 5,19), are not heeded at all.


“It would be false, if one were to suppose that the charismatic element in the Church is reserved to her official ministry . . . Such a conception would be totalitarian if anyone were to think, explicitly or tacitly, that the Church is not liable to err in any of her actions; if it were supposed that all living impulses of the Church can and may only originate from her official ministers, that any initiative in the Church is only legitimate if it springs expressly or at least equivalently from above and only after it has been authorized, that all guidance of the Holy Spirit always and in every case affects ecclesiastical office, God directing his Church only through her hierarchy and that every stirring of life in the Church is the mere carrying out of an order or a wish “from above”. Such a false totalitarian view inevitably equates office and charisma, if any importance is left to this latter. But this is just what is not the case. For there are charismata, that is, the impulsion and guidance of God’s Spirit for the Church, in addition to and outside her official minstry.” Karl Rahner  Read more here.

The God of Jesus Christ, who challenges all power structures, gets lost in the presence of powerful authority structures demanding submission and obedience . . . How can a Christian community which sets out to be in the image of the triune God create churches and societies of inequality, of domination and control? If the Church truly worshipped a Trinity of equal persons in loving relationship, could it institute a stratified church, enforced by a hierarchy silencing prophetic critique? When Jesus is seen as the Christ whose Spirit empowers all people not to dominate others but to enliven them, we could create a church of people living in community, rather than a hierarchical church in which a few have power over the many.

Marie Louise Uhr — Read her words!

For the Vatican, conscientious dissenters are a thorn in the flesh . . . The call of conscience poses a dilemma to a Christian in a totalitarian Church. Though the temptation to allow our moral thinking to be done for us by ‘headquarters’ – the Vatican – is very strong and though the pronouncements of the Pope and the teaching of the Church must be given serious consideration, such items must be submitted to our conscience before we arrive at our personal conscientious decision.

Father Michael Keane — Read more!

NOTE 1. Vatican II often spoke of the ‘signs of the times’:
*** “The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which people ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.”
Gaudium et Spes § 4. 
*** “Priests must sincerely acknowledge and promote the dignity of the laity and the part proper to them in the mission of the Church. And they should hold in high honor that just freedom which is due to everyone in the earthly city. They must willingly listen to the laity, consider their wants in a fraternal spirit, recognize their experience and competence in the different areas of human activity, so that together with them they will be able to recognize the signs of the times.”
Presbyterorum Ordinis § 9.
*** “Religious freedom has already been declared to be a civil right in most constitutions, and it is solemnly recognized in international documents . . . This council greets (it) with joy as among the signs of the times.”
Dignitatis Humanae § 15.