Between Ascension Day and Pentecost we implore the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The gifts of Pentecost were not given to make the apostles and inhabitants of Jerusalem feel cosy. The universal Church looks outwards from herself ad gentes, to the unconverted multitudes of the pagan world. The Paraclete does not drive the Church back within herself. The Spirit drives us further and further outwards, into what is so often a faithless wilderness, so that we might play our small part in converting that desert into the Lord’s own vineyard.
In reaction to human error and foolishness, divine providence has various ways of spurring the Church onwards into a renewed sense of her true identity and mission. Some of those ways are disturbing. Every few centuries the Church loses about one half of her children. In the 4th century Arianism all but replaced Christianity. The Great Schism of the 11th century inflicted a tragic wound still far from healed. The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century jolted the Body of Christ as never before, although part of the outcome was a wonderful reactive flowering of Catholicism. Much foolishness in the 20th century weakened the People of God in ways that are only now starting to be properly understood.
One recalls the words which Robert Graves put on the lips of the Emperor Claudius: “Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.” Such hatchings are distressing and their healing slow, but for those with sufficient honesty to admit it, there are now some encouraging signs that God the Holy Spirit has already begun to bring about our much needed detox.
So many things can poison the well. The Holy Father Pope Francis has spoken very plainly about how self-obsession and introversion can poison our spiritual life and our mission. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (November 2013) he wrote:
“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”