Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, program and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences.
This is also the case when it comes to God. Often we follow him, we accept him, but only up to a certain point. It is hard to abandon ourselves to him with complete trust, allowing the Holy Spirit to be the soul and guide of our lives in our every decision. We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind our all too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own.
Yet throughout the history of salvation, whenever God reveals himself, he brings newness - God always brings newness -, and demands our complete trust: Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved; Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand; Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads his people to freedom; the apostles, huddled fearfully in the Upper Room, go forth with courage to proclaim the Gospel.
This is not a question of novelty for novelty’s sake, the search for something new to relieve our boredom, as is so often the case in our own day. The newness which God brings into our life is something that actually brings fulfilment, that gives true joy, true serenity, because God loves us and desires only our good. Let us ask ourselves today: Are we open to “God’s surprises”?
Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new? We would do well to ask ourselves these questions all through the day.
Pope Francis, Homily, Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2013
Reflection – We’ve been reading some of the latest material from Pope Francis for our post-lunch spiritual reading here at Madonna House, and it has stimulated much discussion and interest. I want to spend the remainder of this week, which in the traditional calendar is the Octave of Pentecost, looking at this homily, and at a wonderful Q & A session the Pope had with representatives of the ecclesial movements who met in Rome last weekend.
It is this same group who are the audience for this homily, too. And so the newness the Pope is talking about can first be seen to refer to groups like MH or Focolare or Communion and Liberation: this new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church that has brought forth new forms of consecrated and lay life in the world, straining existing canonical categories and not infrequently raising eyebrows and furrowing brows – what is your group, anyhow? A monastery? A religious order? A commune? A mistake?
But the Pope here seems to be cautioning groups like mine, and of course the whole Church listening in on this homily, to never settle down to just being what we are, doing what we’re doing. God is always doing something new on earth. God is always pushing the envelope, pushing the boundaries, pushing, pushing, pushing us to some new way of loving, some new response to the real circumstances our brothers and sisters find themselves in.
Now, sometimes when words like ‘newness’ get thrown around, we can get thrown off the scent. Too often in the last 50 years the word ‘new’ has been put to the service of a certain ecclesial agenda of throwing all our doctrines and especially our moral teachings out the window and embracing the mores and mentality of the prevailing culture. This is not remotely what Pope Francis is talking about, as anyone who has paid attention to the whole of his teaching well knows.
Of course this attitude of refashioning a Church around the latest ideas and currents of thought becomes precisely what he is preaching against, precisely a matter of having “everything under control… [where] we are the ones who build, program and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences.” The newness of God is something quite different.
It does not resemble a political program, or an ideological agenda, or anything of that kind. It is a matter of deep prayer, deep compassion, deep love, and a deep willingness to let God set the agenda for our own personal life and the life of whatever community or family we find ourselves in. To trust that it is when we lose control of life—when situations and circumstances arise that take us into uncharted territory or painful confrontations with the unknown, it then that the newness of the Spirit is dawning upon us, and then that we should be vigilant, looking for the new path of love and hope in the world opening up before us, Red Sea-like, in the darkness of the night of the world.