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Holy Spirit, synodality and family


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Ramiro Pellitero

Professor at School of Theology

How does the presence and action of the Holy Spirit change the world? It would seem to be an unimportant question internship. But if nothing had changed, so many Christians who have improved the world would not have done so. And we would not still be called to improve the world, side by side with others.

Among the Pope's teachings during the past weeks, the "red thread" of the Holy Spirit's action in the Church and in Christians stands out. His action continues to be present among us, as a creative impulse that blows from many points and finds varied channels in the life of the Church and of each Christian. The ongoing synodal process is a channel for this, as is the action in favor of the family.

Holy Spirit, creative heart

In the liturgical celebration of Pentecost (cf. Homily, May 28, 2023), the Pope underlined three moments in the action of the Holy Spirit: in the world he created, in the Church and in our hearts.

The Holy Spirit has intervened in creation and continues to be creative. From chaos and disorder he produces harmony, because "he himself is harmony" (St. Basil, In Psal. 29, 1: a text, let us note, that promotes the praise of God, as if the holy doctor were telling us that harmony is based on knowing and loving God and making him known and loved).

Against this backdrop, the Pope looks at our current status : "Today in the world there is much discord, much division. We are all connected and yet we find ourselves disconnected from one another, anesthetized by indifference and oppressed by loneliness." There you can see the action of the devil (a word that literally means "he who divides"). Wars, conflicts, divisions, discord that we ourselves cannot overcome. That is why "the Lord, at the culmination of his Passover, at the culmination of salvation, poured out upon the created world his good Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who opposes the spirit of division because he is harmony".

And so it is linked to his action in the Church. An action that did not begin by giving instructions or norms to the Christian community, but by descending with his gifts upon the apostles. He did not create a uniform language for all, nor did he eliminate differences or cultures, but he "harmonized everything without homologizing, without standardizing".

Docility to the Holy Spirit

At Pentecost," the Pope observes, "all were filled with the Holy Spirit"(Acts 2:4). "Thus begins the life of the Church, not by a precise and articulated plan, but by the experience of God's love itself. And this indicates to us that we Christians must know and feel ourselves as brothers and sisters, "as part of the same body to which I belong", that is, the Church. And the path of the Church, as the Synod we are currently engaged in underlines, is a path according to the Holy Spirit. "Not a parliament to claim rights and needs from agreement tothe diary of the world, not the occasion to go where the wind takes us, but the opportunity to be docile to the breath of the Spirit".

St. Paul VI pointed out that the Holy Spirit is like "the soul of the Church. In fact, this is an expression of the Fathers of the first centuries, especially St. Augustine. And Pope Francis makes it his own in order to affirm that the Spirit is "the heart of synodality, the motor of evangelization". "Without Him," he adds,"the Church remains inert, faith is a mere doctrine, morality only a duty, and pastoral care a simple work." With him, on the other hand, "faith is life, the love of the Lord conquers us and hope is reborn". He is capable of "harmonizing hearts".

This is the path the Pope proposes: docility to the Holy Spirit, welcoming his creative power, capable of harmonizing the whole; opening, with forgiveness, space for the Spirit to come; promote reconciliation and peace, and not negative criticism. It is a call to unity: "If the world is divided, if the Church is polarized, if the heart is fragmented, let us not waste time criticizing others and getting angry with ourselves, but let us invoke the Spirit".

Shaking off fear

On the same day, during the recitation of the Regina Caeli (Sunday, May 28, 2023), the successor of Peter insisted that "with the gift of the Spirit, Jesus wants to free the disciples from fear, from that fear that keeps them locked up in their homes, and frees them so that they can go out and become witnesses and heralds of the Gospel".

And the Pope was looking at this being "closed in". Because we too often close in on ourselves, in the face of some difficult status , a problem staff or a family problem, a suffering that makes us lose hope... And then we become entrenched in this labyrinth of worries. And then fear controls us. A fear to face the daily battles, to be disappointed or to make mistakes. A fear that blocks and paralyzes us, and also isolates us, because it separates us from the stranger, the different, the one who thinks differently. And it can even be a fear - which is certainly not the holy fear of God - that God will get angry and punish us.

But the Holy Spirit freed the disciples from fear, and launched them to forgive sins and proclaim the Good News (which means the Gospel) of salvation. Therefore, what we have to do - insists Francis - is to invoke the Holy Spirit: "In the face of fears and closures, then, let us invoke the Holy Spirit for ourselves, for the Church and for the whole world: so that a new Pentecost may drive away the fears that assail us - drive away the fears that assail us - and rekindle the fire of God's love".

A synodality of the Holy Spirit

In the same vein, the Bishop of Rome addressed the participants in a national meeting of diocesan referents of the synodal journey in Italy (speech at classroom Paul VI, 25 May 2023). He began by saying that the synodal process is making possible the participation of many people around crucial themes and added that he wanted to propose some criteria to them, responding to their concerns.  

Walking together and open

In the first place, he encouraged them to "continue walking" under the guidance of the Holy Spirit guide , serving the Gospel in a spirit of gratuity, freedom and creativity, without being weighed down by Structures or formalisms.

Second, "tobuild the Church together", all as co-responsible missionary disciples of the mission statement, without falling into the temptation of reserve evangelization to some pastoral agents or small groups (cfr. Evangelii Gaudium, 120). "Every baptized person" -the Popepoints out-"is called to participate actively in the life and in the mission statement of the Church, starting from the specifics of his or her vocation, in relation to others and to other charisms, given by the Spirit for the good of all".  

Thirdly, to be a "Church open" to the gifts of those who perhaps do not yet have a voice or are ignored, or feel left out, perhaps because of their problems and difficulties. However, Peter's successor stresses, "the Church must let the heart of God be transparent: a heart open to all and for all", as seen in the words of Jesus in Mt 22:9: "Go now to the crossroads and as many as you meet, call to the marriage feast".

Call everyone, everyone!

That is to say - Francis interprets - to call everyone: sick and not sick, righteous and sinners. "This iswhy we must ask ourselves how much space we make and how much we really listen, in our communities, to the voices of young people, of women, of the poor, of those who are disappointed, those wounded by life and those angry with the Church." And, thus, he emphasizes: "As long as their presence is like a sporadic grade in the whole of ecclesial life, the Church will not be synodal, but a Church of the few". The Pope's insistence that everyone (in a representative way) should be able to participate in synodality is striking.

And, taking up arguments he has used on other occasions, he refers to the obstacle of self-referentiality as a disease of certain Christian communities (my parish, my group, my association...). He qualifies it as "mirror theology" or "defensive neoclericalism", both in clergy and laity, which would be generated by a fearful attitude of complaint before a world that "no longer understands", in which "young people are lost" and the desire to underline one's own influence is imposed.

Fourthly, to combat this attitude, the Successor of Peter proposes "joy, humility and creativity," the awareness that we are all "vulnerable" and in need of one another. He proposes "towalk seeking to generate life, to multiply joy, not to extinguish the fires that the Spirit kindles in hearts [...], to allow ourselves to be enlightened in our turn by the radiance of their consciences that seek the truth".

Fifth and last, Francis challenges us to "be a 'restless' Church with the concerns of our time", to allow ourselves to be questioned by them, to bring them before God, to immerse them in the Passover of Christ... rejecting the great temptation of fear. It is necessary, he insists, to show our vulnerability and at the same time our need for redemption. And, for this, listen to the testimonies, go out to meeting to announce the joy of the Gospel, trusting in the Holy Spirit who is "the protagonist of the synodal process".

Hence the Pope concludes with the conviction that the Synod is not our doing. "The Synod will go forward if we open ourselves to him, who is the protagonist. And with regard to fear, he adds: "We must not be afraid when disorders caused by the Spiritarise ; but be afraid when they are caused by our selfishness or by the spirit of evil".

promote synergies in favor of the family

Coherent with this "call to all", and in the context of the global Pact educational that Francis is taking up again after the pandemic, is the part corresponding to the family.

In a message for the launch of the Family Global Compact, released on May 30 but signed on May 13-2023, the Pope encourages promote synergies between the pastoral care of the family and the centers of study and research on the family present in Catholic - or Catholic-inspired - universities around the world.

"In this time of uncertainty and lack of hope" Francis renews his call to "a more manager andgenerous effort, which consists in presenting [...] the motivations for opting for marriage and the family, so that people will be better disposed to respond to the grace that God offers them"(Amoris laetitia, 35).

He specifies the role of the universities: "They are entrusted with the task of developing profound analyses of a theological, philosophical, juridical, sociological and economic nature on marriage and the family in order to support their effective importance within contemporary systems of thought and action".

And he sums up in broad strokes the current status : "According to the programs of study , there is a context of crisis in family relationships, fueled by both contingent difficulties and structural obstacles, which makes it more difficult to form a family serenely if there is a lack of adequate support fromsociety. Thisis also why many young people reject the decision to marry, opting instead for more unstable and informal affective relationships".

But it is not all shadows: "Research, however, also shows how the family continues to be the priority source of social life and reveals the existence of good practices that deserve to be shared and disseminated globally. In this sense, families themselves can and should be witnesses and protagonists of this pathway".

The Bishop of Rome proposes that this World Pact for the Family should not be a static program, but a path articulated in four steps: 1) a "new impetus to the networks between university institutes inspired by the Social Doctrine of the Church"; 2) "a greater synergy, in terms of contents and objectives, between Christian communities and Catholic universities"; 3) "favoring the culture of the family and of life in society", with concrete proposals and objectives; 4) sustaining these proposals and objectives "in their spiritual, pastoral, cultural, juridical, political, economic and social facets".

As a conclusion to the message, it is worth retaining this final paragraph, with its Christian roots and solid anthropological and social foundation:

"In the family, a large part of God's dreams for the human community are realized. For this reason, we cannot resign ourselves to its decline because of uncertainty, individualism and consumerism, which propose a future of individuals who think only of themselves. We cannot be indifferent to the future of the family, a community of life and love, an irreplaceable and indissoluble covenant between man and woman, the place of meeting between generations, the hope of society. The family, let us remember, has positive effects on everyone, inasmuch as it is the "generator of the common good". Good family relations represent an irreplaceable richness not only for spouses and children, but for the entire ecclesial and civil community".