“Who are we to close the doors” to the Holy Spirit?
This was the question that Pope Francis repeated this morning during his homily at Mass at Casa Santa Marta, a homily dedicated to the conversion of the first pagans to Christianity. The Holy Spirit, he reiterated, is what makes the Church to go “beyond the limits, go ever forward.”
The Spirit blows where it wills, but one of the most common temptations of those who have faith is to bar its path and drive it in one direction or another – a temptation that was not alien even in the early days of the Church, as the experience of Simon Peter in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows.
A community of pagans welcomes the proclamation of the Gospel and Peter is an eyewitness to the descent of the Holy Spirit on them. First, he hesitates to make contact with what he had always considered “unclean” and then he suffers harsh criticism from the Christians of Jerusalem, shocked by the fact that their leader had eaten with the “uncircumcised” and had even baptized them.
It’s a moment of internal crisis that Pope Francis recalls with a hint of irony:
“That was unthinkable. If, for example, an expedition of Martians were to come tomorrow, and some of them were to come to us, here… Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them… And one says: ‘But I want to be baptized!’ What would happen?”
Peter understands his error when a vision enlightens him to a fundamental truth: that which has been purified by God cannot be called “profane” by anyone, the Pope explains. And in narrating these facts to the crowd that criticized him, the Apostle calms them all with this statement: “If, then, God gave them the same gift He gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?”
“When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say: ‘No, Lord, it is not prudent! No, let’s do it this way’.
“And Peter in that first diocese – the first diocese was Antioch – makes this decision: ‘Who am I to admit impediments?’ A nice word for bishops, for priests and for Christians. Who are we to close doors? In the early Church, even today, there is the ministry of the ostiary [usher]. And what did the ostiary do? He opened the door, received the people, allowed them to pass. But it was never the ministry of the closed door, never.”
Again Pope Francis repeated: God has left the guidance of the Church “in the hands of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, he continued, “will teach us everything” as Jesus said, and “remind us what Jesus taught us”: that the Holy Spirit “is the living presence of God in the Church.
“He keeps the Church going, keeps the Church moving forward. More and more, beyond the limits, onwards. The Holy Spirit with His gifts guides the Church. You cannot understand the Church of Jesus without this Paraclete, whom the Lord sends us for this very reason. And He makes unthinkable choices, but unimaginable! To use a word of St. John XXIII: it is the Holy Spirit that updates the Church. Really, he really updates it and keeps it going.
“And we Christians must ask the Lord for the grace of docility to the Holy Spirit,” the Pope said in closing. “Docility in this Spirit, who speaks to us in our heart, who speaks to us in all of life’s circumstances, who speaks to us in the Church’s life, in Christian communities, who is always speaking to us.”