Is the Spirit doing a new thing?

In his prologue St John states there existed, from all time, distinct persons within the Godhead. Love ever flowed from Father, to Son, to Spirit and back. God is relational at his core. This movement of love later flowed into creation. He wanted us to share the divine love and return it via lives devoted to him. That is what God desires. That we live by his love. A process we call sanctification.

But man has often refused and dragged creation down in the process. Through sin we witness a dislocation of God’s intended purpose. To heal this rupture God took residence in a Virgin womb and later won salvation on a cross. So we now live in a world where sanctification is possible but not guaranteed. The offer to live in God’s life is there but not many take it.

A fact obvious in a world where pain exists due to sin. War, poverty, cruelty, neglect, pornography, abuse; what are these but fruits of a stubborn refusal to love God above all things and neighbour as self? And I wish I could say sin only exists outside the church. But, as the vile abuse crisis made clear, it exists in the church as well. The grim reality being that saints are clearly very few in number.

More common are lukewarm Christians who seek to follow God but on their own terms.  Thus heresies beset the church in all ages. For what are heresies but the denial of what God has revealed? Always in the church is that seducing voice telling us to pick and choose what to emphasise-what to downplay. If the cross seems heavy, lighten the load.

Because the modern world is in thrall to the sexual revolution, today’s heresy tends to centre on personal morality. With many now claiming God, being merciful, doesn’t expect us to exercise control in matters of sex. Purity, celibacy and chastity have fallen from fashion, are no longer held to be achievable virtues but impossible dreams. Don’t worry, we are assured, the Spirit is ‘doing a new thing’; feel free to question scripture and tradition. For only when this narrative is swallowed can we embrace what the world demands; a celebration of Pride week, re-marriage of divorcees without annulment, living together before marriage, abortion, etc….

On Trinity Sunday, amidst clamour for change within the church, it behoves us to ask if the Spirit might be doing a new thing? Certainly concrete appeals fail, doctrine, scripture, tradition all deny the innovators, but what of that illusive Spirit? Might the Spirit be transforming hearts and minds to make the church more appealing to the modern age? Might it be time to shake of rigidity and join the party? Certainly we would gain popularity!

And, more importantly, how to test the claim? How to ensure the desired innovation is indeed an authentic movement of the Spirit and not just the will of modern man dressed up in theological language? Trinity Sunday is the answer. For the feast exists to remind us God is unity in distinction; three in one and one in three. Meaning there cannot be conflict in the Godhead…

So if the Spirit seems to suggest change contradicting the Son, we can say with certainty “this is not from God!” It simply cannot be the Holy Spirit- even if the Pope in Rome claims it so! No matter the seniority of those urging reform the claim hits the buffers. Why? Because Christ is the head of the church and could not ever contradict the Holy Spirit. God does not do U-turns.

Jesus and the Spirit cannot be divided for they are one. So the church is free to change her disciplines, from a celibate priesthood to eating fish on Friday, but she cannot change her established doctrines which have their root in the Gospels. All change must develop out of the established magisterium. We are called to be guardians of a deposit of faith not innovators of it.

So beware voices crying out for softening of established practice but without recourse to clarity of doctrinal teaching. Such voices must be resisted, I think, because they lead to a place where ‘what is taught’ and ‘what is practiced’ must stand in impossible contradiction and tension. And then, instead of ushering in a new movement of the Spirit, we end up with an obvious movement of the world. A loss for God’s revealed truth in favour of the thinking of the fallen world. It is nothing more than the ancient rebellion made new!

The feast of the Trinity is a stern reminder; you cannot play one aspect of the Godhead off against another. God is unity in three persons. And if we want to be drawn into divine love, if sanctification of our souls, not appeasement of this world, is our desire, then it is He- not the world -we must listen to. No matter how much this witness might cost us. The Spirit is not for turning.

And the implication of this in our dealings with the world should be obvious. We can walk alongside people and offer the healing power of the confessional. We can seek to be merciful by making annulment procedures simple and free to access. We can ensure same sex attracted people- and indeed all people- feel valued, respected and wanted. We can work tirelessly to be compassionate and loving. But all of this must lead to an embracement not denial of the teaching of the Gospel. For this is our path, given by God himself, to sanctification. This is the Christian way and it never was easy and comfortable which is why the cross is our symbol. But those who ever embraced that cross discovered a prize worthy of true celebration.

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