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Dr Philippa Martyr: The Spirit’s tough, but not a disruptor

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Pentecost by Jean Restout, wikicommons

Do you know who the Holy Spirit is? Could you recognise Him in action?

The Plenary Council set out to discern what the Holy Spirit was saying to the Church in Australia. We all watched the process lurch along.

We saw the struggle between ordinary believing Catholics and those who were planning a future lay-run corporate Church. We saw the neglect of pressing concerns and the limited focus on tangential issues.

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A group of strong people were on their knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney throughout the Plenary Council sessions. There were also people all over Australia praying their hearts out.

In my opinion, this protected the Plenary Council from the planned excesses of our “reformers”. I’m not sure anyone’s thanked these people yet.

The obvious divisions led predictably to chaos and ended with a whimper. Some people, for some reason, claimed that this was the action of the Holy Spirit as ‘the disruptor’, and seemed to think it was a good thing.

The Church has never given that title to the Holy Spirit, and with good reason. Disruption at this level can indeed proceed from spirits, but they’re not usually the holy variety.
The Holy Spirit is the love flowing between the Father and the Son.

We find the authentic Holy Spirit in the magisterium of the Church, in the sacraments, and in the lives of the saints. He – and that is His preferred pronoun – will never teach anything that contradicts sacred Tradition or the Scriptures. He is not divided against Himself (Matthew 12:25). He is pure Love. But love comes in many different forms. It’s not always the gooey sweet variety that we all like.

Love is not always ‘nice’. Sometimes love cuts like a sword and purifies like fire.

The Plenary Council used the Scriptural tag “Listen to what the Spirit is saying”, taken from the Book of Revelation. In it, the seer John is asked to pass on messages from God to seven local church communities (Revelations 2-3).

A group of strong people were on their knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney throughout the Plenary … sessions. In my opinion this protected the Plenary from the planned excesses of our “reformers” …”

None of the messages is particularly flattering. In most of them, the Holy Spirit dishes out scalding judgement and warnings because these churches are failing. The church in Ephesus is good on rebuking heresy but has grown cold-hearted. The church in Smyrna is poor and is about to undergo horrible persecutions.

The church in Pergamum is a mixed bag and needs to weed out some heretics. The church in Thyatira has a local lady ‘prophet’ who is causing trouble and misleading people about sexual morality.

The church in Sardis is dead on the inside and needs to wake up before it’s too late. The church in Philadelphia is growing weaker and needs to hang on just a bit longer.
But the most scathing words come for the church in Laodicea. It’s a nice church full of nice people. They’re so nice that they’ve grown completely lukewarm.

The Holy Spirit tells them He’s ready to spit them out of His mouth. But He also tells them:
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev 3:19-20)

The Holy Spirit can apparently really dish it out when He wants. He doesn’t mince his words.

I think the greatest gift that the Church received at the Plenary Council was the gift of Truth. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of Truth – of Christ Himself who is THE Truth.
The Holy Spirit held up a very unflattering mirror to us at the Plenary Council sessions. We saw ourselves as we really were. We copped a painful blast of Truth, and it’s made a lot of people very uncomfortable.

But it’s a good discomfort. The fatal mistake now would be to try to lull ourselves back to sleep by talking about how ‘united’ we all are.

We’re nothing of the sort. The Church in Australia today is in as much trouble as all seven churches of Revelation. We’ve got all their problems and more.

If we really are going to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church in Australia, we’d better prepare ourselves for some strong language from Him. Those words of rebuke will be pure Truth, and pure Love.

We may not enjoy them – but only foolish people think that the measure of love is how good it makes you feel.


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