And The Spirit Will Teach You Everything

pentecost-canzianiI spend most of my writing time talking about politics. If you devote any of your time reading about the state of our union, you undoubtedly know that the contentious nature of our politics has never been greater than it is today.

We come to our faith in the hopes of calmer and more peaceful time.

Yet, the same divisions that divide us politically, tend to filter into our faith traditions as well. We are divided there as well.

We divide over doctrine assuredly, and we divide over what constitutes proper obedience to God. We interpret differently about all too many issues, and miss along the way the truth that is offered to us in simple and complex stories, meant not to suffice as some history, but rather to teach important moral truths about us and our relationship to our God.

Yet, time and time again, when we look carefully, we find answers to our differences.

Today, on Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, that mysterious aspect of the Triune God that is in some sense ephemeral to us. Jesus we can “get”, for Jesus took human form, and we relate to Him in that fashion, as a person. We tend of course to do the same with God the Father, fashioning Him a “throne” and giving him a hands to hold us. The Spirit, however,  is wispy and not within our grasp physically.

Yet for us, the Spirit is perhaps the most approachable of the aspects of the Trinity. It is described in powerful language of wind and fire, things that were life-giving and life-sustaining. Wind moved the fields of grain, helped them to grow strong and thrive. It moved ships at sea, bringing us to safe harbor. Fire provided warmth, safety from wild animals, and the cooking medium for our food.

But I do not try to define the Spirit so much as acknowledge that it was a powerful physical presence to those who felt it that first Pentecost. They were astounded at its power, and perhaps, it was the seminal reason for the success of the early church. It more than anything gave proof to the teachings of the apostles who related stories of this mysterious but now departed “savior.”

And the Spirit is indeed powerful. Many attribute the Spirit for the Second Vatican Council, and its radical realignment of the Church. Many find the Spirit at work in important events of our time, drawing us together, bringing forth an unthought of consensus in our darkest of hours.

Paul said, that “No one can say Jesus Christ is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

That is an amazing statement and should give us serious pause.

What Paul says is that if someone declares themselves to be a Christian, they can only say that because they are filled with the Spirit of God. They have been, in a sense, stamped with approval. Who are we, then, as mere mortals, those who are to be guided by that Spirit, to dispute what the Spirit has decided?

Does not God have the ability and power to move within any person God chooses? Does God have the ability and power to deny a person the Spirit? If the answer is yes, then we must seriously ask ourselves whether it is our place to claim that this person or that person, this group or that, fail to meet some standard we have erected as to what is “Christian” and what is not. We work against the Spirit when we do this. (To say nothing of judging how the Spirit does or does not move within the hearts of other faiths not Christian)

In our drive to “understand” we take upon ourselves the audacious “right” to decide that God would or would not come to “this type of person” or “that type of group”. We not only decide what God would or would not do, based upon our human thinking, but then we “act” for God in refusing such persons or groups the full welcome due them as members of our faith communities.

I was much taken aback when I learned that at the Cathedral home of Cardinal Dolan, the following took place:

After Timothy Cardinal Dolan wrote a column comparing practicing homosexuals and others who approach Holy Communion in a state of serious sin to children who fail to wash their hands before supper, homosexual Catholics and their supporters showed up for Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with filthy hands as a form of protest, and were denied entry.

Joseph Amodeo, the organizer of the protest, said that the act of dirtying their hands was an attempt to tell Cardinal Dolan that those who practice the gay lifestyle should be accepted as they are.

The small group of about ten protesters was intercepted by NYC police, who informed them that the Cathedral would not allow them to protest the Mass. Undaunted, Amodeo and his allies proceeded to St. Patrick’s anyway, where they were informed that they were welcome at Mass, provided they washed their hands.

Amodeo said he was “astounded” by the request.

“What astounded me most was when he said that we could enter the cathedral so long as we washed our hands first,” Amodeo wrote in The Huffington Post. “Even now, writing those words I find myself struggling to understand their meaning, while coming to terms with their exclusionary nature.”

This is taking over what belongs to God in the most awful way to my mind. Surely Jesus can come to those persons Jesus chooses under the bread and wine without the help of the Cardinal or any one for that matter. Surely Jesus can refrain from joining to any person under the bread and win without help of the Cardinal as well.

We do well to remember that we are creature, not mini-gods. None of us, from the laity to the clergy stands in any different place vis-a-vis our Creator.

The Spirit goes where it will, and it affects what It chooses. Let not we poorly understanding humans get in the way.



3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aliceny
    May 19, 2013 @ 11:07:27

    Most of what you say here is informative, inspirational, and theologically correct.
    Cardinal Dolan was wrong and hurtful in what he said. It certainly is not the first time that he has expressed stupid, thoughtless opinions. The protesters, however, were equally wrong in their disrespect for the Sacrament.

    You are correct in your observation that, basically, we are not God and cannot exercise His prerogeratives. No person should be refused the Eucharist. Except, perhaps, as one Jesuit friend suggested: a falling-down drunk who has no idea of what he/she is doing, or a person who is known to use the host for satanic or other evil or immoral purposes.

    It is unfortunate that homosexuals have adopted the term “gay” to describe themselves. They have appropriated a once-lovely adjective.
    I do not understand what makes a person homosexual. To date, no one really has that answer — including psychiatrists and geneticists. It is a well documented fact that our Catholic seminaries are rife with homosexuals – both celibate and practicing.

    I find “gay parades” and other ‘in your face’ public demonstrations where the participants simulate sexual contact and other such immoral and flagrant actions to be offensive. They do nothing to help me to understand them or what they are trying to accomplish.
    If non-homosexual persons displayed such behavior in public they would be arrested. And rightly so.

    I am virulently opposed to same-sex marriages and child adoption by homosexuals as well. In time, Sherry, we will see that such beliefs and actions are contrary to our understanding of Scripture, Jesus’ teachings, and the Catholic Church Magisterium. We will also see an end to the once-held immutable belief in the sanctity of the Sacrament of marriage and the family.


  2. Tim
    May 19, 2013 @ 14:00:50

    Sherry, thank you for this insightful contemplation of the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives and community. I’m convinced that Its power to transform our thoughts and actions has been minimized by our reluctance to acknowledge it as the truly binding force that brings all believers together. This is a tragedy.

    The Cardinal Dolan story is a sad one, indeed. And immediately I was reminded of the moment when the Pharisees confronted Jesus because the disciples didn’t wash up before dinner. I’m sure that the LGBT folks who staged their protest had this in mind and that their point was totally lost on the Cathedral authorities who mistook it as a political, rather than theological, statement. Those dirty-handed Christians were in good company!

    As a gay Christian, I understand the vast divide between identity and “lifestyle”–a heinous word that implies sexuality is a thing one can appropriate, rather than a gift one receives at birth and must learn to accept and cherish by God’s grace. The etiology of same-gender affection–nature? nurture? who knows?–becomes a secondary concern at best when one realizes it is no different than race, gender, or other circumstances of birth such as nationality, family, geography, class, religious heritage, etc. It is what we are given to work with and our primary task is learning to honor our making (whatever that may be) with integrity and faith in our Maker’s purpose. For me, it has been a treasure that has deepened my response to God and Christ’s calling to discipleship in the world. Without it, I would be that most lamentable of beings, the straight white male, whose sociopolitical privilege has proven to be a blind spot that occludes his sense of obligation to the oppressed and disenfranchised around him. I awaken every morning with gratitude that I am gay, that I have known struggle–inner, social, and spiritual–and that my personal experiences have given me a sense of duty for others who are unjustly vilified, stereotyped, and rejected.

    I share aliceny’s inability to understand certain behaviors put on parade–albeit my quandaries go beyond outrageous public displays. They also encompass the abuse of privilege and active pursuit of inequality under the guise of righteousness. War-making, disregard for the poor, subjugation of women and people of color, religious inculturation of prejudice and sexism, intolerance and misguided assumptions that alienate people of all faiths–in other words, actions and attitudes that destroy hope and dignity–I find all of these things very confusing. Of this I am sure, however, that the message of Pentecost–in which a group of illiterate Galileans were suddenly empowered to speak the gospel in languages any listener could understand and respond to–is the call for a radically inclusive gathering that welcomes everyone to the table. As my pastor put it so beautifully today, “There is plenty of room around Pentecost’s Fire Place for everyone.”

    I don’t have to agree with you always. I don’t even have to “like” you. (Lord knows Peter had few friends after his scandalous denial of Jesus; he was certainly the most suspect member of the group, given that he evidenced little backbone before the Holy Spirit came.) But this great and glorious Spirit that calls us from wherever we are enables us to sit together at table and join the saints of all the ages at Christ’s feast. If only we can get that far, imagine the work we can accomplish as one in building God’s kingdom!

    The message of this great feast is not “Who’s in, who’s out.” It’s a leveling question that asks, “Are all of you all in?” And that answer just has to be “Yes!”

    Happy Pentecost, my friend!

    Blessings and much joy,


    • Sherry
      May 20, 2013 @ 08:30:07

      As always my dear Tim, you stun me with the accuracy and calm of your answer. I tend to get angry. You have the beautiful grace to teach amist the stones falling around you. You as always, say it so much better and with such love. I am gifted to call you my friend. !END


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