Pentecost Sunday marks the Church’s birthday, and, as members of this Body of Christ, we too celebrate our ecclesial natal day. On that first Pentecost, the Spirit came to brood over the disciples with the power of wind and the light and warmth of fiery tongues. On that day the Holy Spirit changed the direction of the disciples’ lives. Their folly gave way to wisdom, their fear, to fortitude.
These graced gifts have been handed down through the centuries to every person according to the individual’s particular needs, abilities, and station in life. Every person has also been commissioned to transmit those graces to others through the goodness of their lives.
The Church has lived through many internal problems and scandals. From its beginnings however, the Spirit has continued to work for unity and not divisiveness. Love embraces unity, not uniformity, reason within the assent of faith, also known as faith seeking understanding. The entire Church is animated by the Holy Spirit. This means that the “sense of the faithful” (sensus fidelium) includes clergy, consecrated religious, and laity. But the “sense of the faithful” should not be confused with polls or public opinion. “To think with the Church” (sentire cum Ecclesia) is to be receptive and not allergic to the guidance of its pastors. The Church is a mystery and sacrament, a communion, a herald, and a servant, the Body of Christ and the People of God, united in the formal, juridical structures of church governance (Avery Dulles, Models of the Church, 32). But it is not a democracy.
The Advocate (Latin: ad-vocatus; Greek: parakletos)
An advocate (from the Italian, avvocato, meaning lawyer) functions as an arbiter of justice. A lawyer-advocate counsels others, comforts and consoles, supports, and protects his or her clients.
In the early part of the Johannine gospel, the Spirit remains passive. But at the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that he will ask the Father to send them the Advocate, who will not come until he (Jesus) goes away (Jn 14:14; Jn 16:7). Then the Spirit will teach the world everything. There were many things that the Twelve could not bear until the Advocate came (Jn 15:15; 10:25).
When Jesus died, he breathed out his Spirit, the life-giving energy and source of creative movement in the world. God’s Spirit has always broken into our world in visible and tangible ways as new shoots push up through the ground. The Spirit-Advocate serves as our jury and judge, teaches us right from wrong and helps us interpret the glamour of sin and the deceits of Satan “who prowls about disguised as an angel of light” (2 Cor11:14; 1Jn 4:1).
A Universal and Apostolic Faith
St. Paul identifies the Christian as being sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13). Baptism immerses the Christ-ed person into the Christian life, and this means into the fullness of the paschal mystery.
There is no such thing as a private Catholic faith. As a member of the Body of Christ, a Catholic is an ecclesial person, an ambassador representing this Body. Every Catholic institution, teaching from the heart of the Church (ex corde Ecclesiae), is pledged to build up the Body. The Spirit resides not in a hermeneutics of suspicion but in a hermeneutics of trust.
For years, Catholics were expected to live their beliefs more faithfully than other religious traditions. Statistics however report that Catholics are no more virtuous than others, and in many cases, people of little or no faith deserve more admiration because of their good example. The Acts of the Apostles records one convert after the other who was changed after hearing the apostles glorify God by the example of their lives.
Government Coercion of Conscience
Destroying Christianity has been a bold but failed experiment. Still, the practice of Christianity is a crime in countries across the globe, reports a worried Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, the Vatican’s Permanent Observer to the UN. In his recent address at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, he declared that watching the horrors of sectarian violence–torture and death of people suffering for merely practicing their faith–is “etched deeply” in his memory. He warns American Catholics that it is not impossible for persecution to happen here at home.
Under atheistic communism in the last century, freedom of worship was permitted by the state so long as it was done in private. As a result, Orthodox churches in Russia were turned into toilets and other public facilities or they were demolished beyond recognition. Priests, considered mentally-incompetent and dangerous to the state, were rounded up, never again to be seen. In Poland, bishops were forbidden to train and ordain new priests. The same situation occurred in the former Czechoslovakia and in Hungary. Religion was locked up. The same wretched experiment continues in Asia, most notably in China, in Muslim countries, in Near Eastern and African countries.
Under the guise of serving the public good, religious freedom can be denied even in democracies which are committed to upholding the dignity and religious freedom of its citizens. A man-made religion can coerce conscience and force one to submit to the state; a state that prohibits religious freedom provokes its people. The more the attempt to squash religious freedom, the greater is the determination to free the religious spirit. Faith in God and respect for religious freedom go hand in hand.
On May 14 2012, Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, speaking at the Brampton Oratory, a Catholic prep school his boys attended, noted the importance of the “the role of religion in public and private life, warning that a world without faith would be on a path to tragedy and disaster.” He further reported that, as prime minister, when he wanted to end his speeches with a wish such as, “God bless Britain,” he was advised to abandon this line of thinking.
Recently, Carl Anderson, the leader of the Knight of Columbus, who also spoke at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, called for “a new great awakening in America,” an America where Catholics “play a greater role than ever before.” Anderson reminded the members that “today we find a new hostility to the role of religious institutions in America at a time when government is expanding its reach in extraordinary ways.”
Instead of leaving the Church free to do its work, the current Administration has seized the initiative by interfering with the Church’s internal governance, by defining what Catholic ministry is and the scope of that ministry. Disobedience to the state will result in penalties against the Church.
If the Holy Spirit continues to “renew the face of the earth,” who can question this same infinite power to hand on the universal and apostolic faith–through us? This is not an empty, pious velleity but an act of faith in a force more powerful and more beautiful than we can imagine. Like the Twelve, we await the “Heavenly King, consoler and Spirit of truth, present in all places and filling all things, the treasury of blessings and giver of life” (Byzantine Daily Worship, 899).
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.