Watch out against the sin of resisting the Holy Spirit and always be open to the surprises of God.
This was the exhortation of Pope Francis in his homily at Mass, Monday morning, in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta residence in the Vatican. He was commenting on the episode of the Acts of the Apostles where St. Peter confronts the first Christian community regarding being open to pagans who joined the Church. Reflecting on the Acts of the Apostles episode, the Pope stressed that the Holy Spirit always moves the Church and the Christian community.
God always surprises us as He is a loving God who accompanies us
The Pope said the Holy Spirit works miracles and creates new things and “obviously some feared these novelties of the Church.”
“The Spirit is the gift of God, of this God, our Father who always surprises us. The God of surprises… Why? Because He is a living God, who dwells in us, a God who moves our hearts, a God who is in the Church and walks with us and in this journey He surprises us. It is he He who has the creativity to create the world, the creativity to create new thing every day. He is the God who surprises us.”
This, the Pope explained, can create “difficulties” like Peter faced when he was challenged by other disciples because they knew that “even pagans had welcomed the Word of God”. For them, Peter had gone too far and they reprimanded him because according to them he was “a scandal” even to the point of saying, “You, Peter, the rock of the Church! Where are you leading us to?”
Don’t resist the Holy Spirit, saying “it’s always done this way”
Peter, the Pope recalled, narrated his vision, “as a sign of God” that helped him “take a courageous decision.” Peter “was able to welcome God’s surprise.” Hence, faced with the many surprises of God, “the apostles came together, discussed and came to an agreement” in order “to take a step ahead that the Lord wanted.”
“From the times of the prophets until now, the sin to resist the Holy Spirit had always been there: this resistance to the Spirit. This is the sin with which Stephen accuses the members of the Sanhedrin: “You and your fathers have always resisted the Holy Spirit.” No, it has always been done this way, and must be done so. They tell Peter not to bring these newness, to remain calm… take a tranquilizer and calm the nerves… be calm … so the voice of God is shut. In the psalm the Lord speaks to the people: “Do not harden your hearts like your fathers.”
Ask for the grace of discernment to distinguish between good and evil
Commenting to Monday’s Gospel that speaks of the Good Shepherd, the Pope said that the Lord always asks us not to harden our hearts. “What the Lord wants,” he said, “is that there are others” other flocks “that do not belong to Him, but that there will be only one fold and one shepherd.” The Holy Father said that these pagans were condemned; even when they became believers they were regarded as “second-class believers – no one said it but it was a fact.”
The phrase, “It has always been done like this” shuts and resists the Holy Spirit, and this kills freedom, kills joy, kills fidelity to the Holy Spirit who always acts in advance and carries the Church forward. But then the question – how can I know if it is from the Holy Spirit or from worldliness, the spirit of the world or spirit of the devil? For this, one needs to ask for the grace of discernment – the tool that the very Spirit has granted us. “How should one discern in every occasion? The answer, the Pope said, is the way the apostles did it: they came together, talked and saw the path of the Holy Spirit. Instead, those without this grace or those who did not pray for it remained closed and still.”
The truths of the Church forge ahead and develop with time
Pope Francis said that among the many innovations Christians must “learn how to discern, discern one thing from another, discern newness, the new wine that comes from God and the newness that comes from the spirit of the world and the devil.” “Faith,” he stressed, “never changes. It’s always the same. But it broadens and grows into a movement.” Here the Pope recalled St. Vincent of Lerins, a monk of the early centuries, who said, “The truths of the Church forge ahead: they are strengthened with years, develop with time, become profound with age, and because they grow stronger with time and years and broaden with time and become more prominent with the age of the Church.” The Pope concluded urging those present to ask for the grace of discernment in order not to mistake the path and be trapped in“immobility, rigidity and closing of the heart.”