A Good (not a Nice) Shepherd

A Good (not a Nice) Shepherd

Pentecost Sunday

Fifty days after the ancient passover took place the promulgation of the Old Law on Mount Sinai; so fifty days after the new passover, that is the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, takes place the promulgation of the new and eternal covenant through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Today, the Church, the new Israel, is founded, heiress to all the promises made to the patriarchs and prophets. Today, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity is revealed to the world, as the Lord and Giver of Life, as the Creator Spirit, the very Life of the Church, the source of all its graces and powers.

If we put together all the titles and power of the Holy Spirit that the Church has gathered together in this Sunday and throughout the octave of the coming week, we find ourselves in the presence of a magnificent mosaic that leaves us at once marvelling at the grandeur of God, magnalia Dei, and deeply consoled to know that this Divine Spirit dwells in the depths of every soul in a state of grace, establishing that soul in imperturbable peace, a peace that the world cannot know.

In the Gospel for the Mass of the vigil, we heard Our Blessed Lord tell us: I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever. The spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, nor knoweth him: but you shall know him; because he shall abide with you, and shall be in you (Jn 14:16-17). The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit, Our Lord tells us. Why? Because it does not see or know him. What does this mean? Why does the world not see or know the Holy Spirit? St Thomas tells us that the world of which it is here question is the “worldlings”, that is, those people who love this world and its pleasures. As long as one loves the world in this way, seeking to live as if God did not exist, one cannot receive the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit is Divine Love, and one cannot love both God and the world. St Augustine, for his part, tells us that “love of the world has no eyes for the invisible, and the Holy Spirit can only been seen invisibly.” And St Thomas to comment further: “Just like an infected tongue that cannot taste good food because of its sickness, so an infected soul, corrupted by the world, cannot taste heavenly sweetness”.

What that means for us, my dear friends, is that if in our spiritual life we do not relish things divine, it can only be because our palate is infected with love for the world and its pleasures. And that is why there can be no authentic spiritual life without consistent self-denial, and the more thoroughly we deny ourselves, the more open we become to seeing and tasting the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. It is then that life in the Spirit becomes one in which, even though we are bounced around on the waves of this passing life like everybody else, there is an abiding peace in the depths of our soul, there is a deep joy that remains even when on the outside there are so many causes of sorrow. On this feast, let us humbly ask the Holy Spirit to always enlighten us and draw us to a deeper communion of grace and love and peace, for that is what He longs to give us.

This feast also reminds us that the Holy Spirit is given to the Church to guide her and keep her in the truth, lest error taint the purity of her doctrine that leads souls to a blessed eternity. The First Vatican Council taught: “The Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles.” (Pastor Aeternus, ch. 4).

In every age, the Holy Spirit raises up leaders in the Church who faithfully expound the truths of the faith. You are no doubt aware that His Grace Archbishop Porteous recently published a pastoral letter addressing some of the issues that face us today. It is an excellent piece, and I invite you to read it carefully and spread it far and wide. (There are copies at the back of the church). Unsurprisingly, His Grace has once again become the object of recriminations from many sides. Sadly there do not seem to be many other episcopal voices coming to stand beside him. Courage and fortitude, sadly, are not common. Many seem to follow the model, not of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, but of the Nice Shepherd who presides over an ever more inclusive community and refuses to exclude the wolves, because they want to be seen by the world as open-minded. G. K. Chesterton had some harsh words about those who are so open-minded that their brains fall out.

His Grace makes the point that Christianity is based on a Revelation of God that builds upon the reality of nature. Reason and Faith stand or fall together. Interestingly, at least one critic of the Archbishop, while acknowledging his right to plead for the independence of Catholic schools in teaching what they believe, accuses him of not seeing that the Catholic faith is nothing more than another ideology that in former times was imposed on people, but has now given place to a different ideology.

Such a statement reveals profound ignorance if not sheer stupidity. Indeed, the Catholic faith, as the Archbishop says, is based on reason, the objective data of what the world reveals to us, including the existence of a supreme intelligence who designed it. Whatever therefore the Church teaches is ultimately grounded in reality, not in ideas that are separate from reality, for that is what an ideology is. I create an idea, I pluck it out of thin air, and I build a world view around it, that’s what an ideology is. Gender theory is an ideology, for it plucks out of one’s mind that sex is just a mental construct that can be changed according to one’s whims. Radical feminism is an ideology because it is based on the idea plucked out of thin air that women, in order to be happy, have to act like men. Catholicism is not an ideology. It is reality; it is based on the philosophy of realism that recognises the difference between babies and kittens, between boys and girls, between husbands and wives, between mothers and fathers.

It is no surprise that a person who has lost contact with reality cannot see the logic of the faith. And so the clash is inevitable. If someone has so left the realm of reason that they are unable to see the finality of nature, then we really cannot dialogue. If someone denies, in spite of science, that the fruit of human generation can only be human and therefore worthy of legal protection, then we really cannot discuss. If someone refuses to acknowledge the reality and the unchangeableness of biological sex and its finality, we really cannot talk at all. If someone denies the principle of non-contradiction, that things can only be what they are, it would be a waste of time and effort to try and convince them.

The revelation that God has so kindly bestowed upon us, and which reaches its culmination on Pentecost Sunday, is there to help the Church to help humanity to acknowledge the reality of the fundamental goodness of our world, of the beatitude that God calls us to and wants to share with us, if only we will have enough humility to accept that we are not creators but creatures, that one cannot possibly love God if one destroys the beautiful creation He has given us.

The hymn Veni Creator Spiritus reminds us that it is the Holy Spirit who created the universe, who knit it together, who lovingly formed the human body, intricately giving to man the strength to beget, protect and provide for his offspring, and to woman the tender affection for the life that is begotten in her, the capacity to nurture lovingly and lead into the fulness of life the fruit of her womb. How grieved must the Holy Spirit be to see how we so abuse His gifts! The millions of babies who will never see the light of day because their parents failed to see the Gift of God, those legions of young people today who are fooled into thinking they can change their sex as they change their clothes, and who, some years down the track, will inevitably accuse their parents and doctors and teachers of having abandoned them to an ideology of death.

Catholicism is a religion of life. It comes from eternal life, and leads back to it. Let us thank God for giving Archbishop Porteous the courage to speak out, and may He raise up many more shepherds to do the same and to lead our wayward world away from the evil spirit that kills and destroys and back to the God of our fathers, to the Lord and Giver of Life. Veni, Sancte Spiritus.