Man likes to be in control, especially of the Holy Spirit. Of course, most of us would deny trying to box in the Almighty, because we realize how ridiculous this sounds. Yet, because we really do not like to change, we end up resisting even God. We like our comfort zone. We especially don’t like the rug ripped from under us and that approach is usually how God must snag our attention.
The Holy Spirit is not stagnant. He is not the God of the past, but God of the present, alive, a dynamic powerhouse seeking to heal, transform and draw us ever closer to His heart.
This week I was wondering why so many Traditionalists are against Vatican II, labelling all the popes which came after as illegitimate and even heretics, especially Pope Francis. When I researched the question, an insightful homily popped up by Pope Francis from May 29, 2013. He called our resistance to change “being stubborn; this is called wanting to tame the Holy Spirit, this is called becoming fools and slow of heart.” The pope points to Traditionalists who resist changes, but even worse, to Modernists who twist the teachings of Vatican II to suit their own purposes, entrenching Traditionalists even further.
What a conundrum!
Throughout his pontificate, Pope Benedict also praised the council for its teachings on the interpretation of Scripture, religious freedom and relations with non-Christian religions. He lamented what he described as widespread distortions of the council’s teachings which upset Traditionalists, blaming the “council of the media” as being responsible for “many calamities, so many problems, so much misery.” He explained further, “Vatican II can be properly understood only in continuity with the church’s millennial traditions, not as a radical break with the past.”
Preaching on St. Stephen’s words before his martyrdom, Pope Francis addressed those who resist, twist, or ignore the impetus of the Second Vatican Council, which he described as “a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit”. He applied St. Stephen’s words to those who resist change, “You stiff-necked people…you always resist the Holy Spirit.” Again on the road to Emmaus, it was Christ who lamented, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!”
“The followers of Christ are slow to grasp and respond to the will of God, we fail to trust Christ completely, we do not wish to be moved by the Holy Spirit in new and surprising ways.“
He also rebuked the scribes and Pharisees of today, those who set themselves against the Holy Spirit’s work through the acts of the Council. Those who resist change impede authentic Catholic renewal by denying the validity or appropriateness of the Conciliar texts. The Traditionalist, those who claim to be more Catholic than the pope or council, call the council illegitimate and stand on ceremony, fossilifying the Church’s pre-Vatican II culture in accordance with their own comfortable piety.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.(Mt 23:29-33)
Traditionalists ignore the contemporary Magisterium, replacing it with the spirit of some earlier age. However, Modernists are also to blame, because they use theology for their own convenience, twisting the legacy of the Council and ignoring the Magisterium. The real Conciliar texts are a great gift of the Holy Spirit for authentic Catholic renewal. Pope Francis rebukes both groups, because the Council was a wholly legitimate and continuous growth or development of the Church, which everyone is bound to accept and act upon.The very same points were made by Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Every pope since the Council has insisted upon its faithful implementation.
Finally, I have an inkling of what Pope Francis….and the Holy Spirit…. are up against.
Father forgive us for trying to control you; grant us humble and contrite spirits so we may follow your lead.
Photography by Chelsea Zimmerman