by Phil Kingston (Published with permission of the author. It also appeared in The Universe in August 2017)
About 35 years ago I became a supporter of Cafod. Whilst my heart was clearly being stirred, my faith then was more from my head than my heart. I later joined a parish Charismatic Prayer Group and was introduced to a new understanding of the Holy Spirit. Through an Alpha course I came to appreciate more this prayer of the heart. However, in both the parish group and the Alpha course, I didn’t experience much interest in work for peace and justice, especially the social-structural approach of Catholic Social Teaching.
Since then I have tried always to link prayer and activism. I have come to recognise the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, just as Jesus promised. This has been accompanied by puzzlement because both in homilies and talking with Catholics, including JPCC activists, I have heard little about the actions of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Assuming that this is a general aspect of British Catholic culture, it is extraordinarily different from that described in the Acts of the Apostles where the Holy Spirit’s presence shines throughout. A practical fruit of this was an amazing sharing where ‘those who had acquired land or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of the sale to be distributed by the apostles according to each one’s need’.
Pope Francis, in his clear and homely way, often speaks about the Holy Spirit. E.g. as: ‘’our travelling companion…. the sweet guest of the heart’’; One who gives strength ‘’to speak the truth without compromise’’. ‘’For anyone who is born of the Spirit, he or she follows without knowing where it will end.’’ And ‘’The cross cannot be taken away from the life of a Christian, (so) ask God for the grace of not being afraid because the Lord said: the Spirit will tell us what to answer.’’
I was a shy person for much of my early life. I now do things which I wouldn’t previously have considered, and I give thanks to God and the support of many people for that. I have become more willing to follow Jesus, both in his speaking truth to power and his non-violent actions in the Temple forecourt. My experience of the Spirit’s prompting is that when it arrives it usually feels exactly right; but that this is often quickly followed by thoughts like ‘people will think I’m nuts if I do that’’. I check this out with others who I believe are Spirit-filled, and usually recognise that my fear of consequences and of not being accepted are impeding the prompt. I have come to trust that if I follow it, then, according to the discernment of others, an aspect of God’s reign generally results. I ask if readers of this will consider writing about their own experiences of the Holy Spirit, via Readers’ Letters?
Pope Francis has called the entire Church to respond to the 19th November first World Day of the Poor. In a statement in which he twice refers to the Holy Spirit, he also says ‘’Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty’’ and adds ‘’St. John Chrysostom’s admonition remains ever timely: If you want to honour the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honour the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness’’.