Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Beauty of Orthodoxy: The Holy Spirit as The "Great Separator."

Would it be a surprise to you if I told you that the Holy Spirit is not merely the "great unifier" or "guarantor of unity" in the Church but is also equally the "great separator" and "guarantor of diversity" in the Church? An "orthodox" (meaning "theologically sound") approach to the Holy Spirit which is representative of scripture and tradition must account for the Spirit who separates and who creates not only unity but diversity.

A fascinating story from today's first reading from Mass illustrates this point well ( in his letter to the Galatians, Paul recounts a very tense and confrontational exchange with the Apostle Peter. Paul had been "set apart" or "separated" by the Spirit for the unique mission of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles. This mission was validated by Peter and the other Apostles who came to discern that the Spirit was at work in the Gentiles bringing them to faith in Christ. However, it didn't take long for some Jewish members of the early community to try to impose their customs on the Gentile members. This became a point of great contention and eventually led to an open confrontation between Paul and Peter in which Paul accused Peter (in very public fashion) of hypocrisy: it seems that Peter was no longer following his own Jewish customs but was supporting the Jews who were mandating that the Gentiles "fall in line" and essentially become converts to Judaism!

We know, of course, that this tense interaction likely helped Peter and the other Apostles accept the reality that God was calling the Gentiles to Christ through the Spirit precisely as they were and was not also calling them to become something other than a Gentile Christian. This story illustrates the marvelous fact that the Holy Spirit unites through the embrace of plurality/diversity and does not impose uniformity. As a matter of fact, true unity can only come as a result of creatively and carefully holding the tension between diverse parts. Time and again we see the Spirit "separating" for the sake of creating a greater and richer unity-in-diversity. At Pentecost the Spirit sends "fire" down on the Apostles and they are given the gift of being able to speak different languages. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul refers to the diversity of the gifts of the Spirit which build up the Church (1 Corinthians 12) and create true unity.

Unfortunately, the Christian tradition (especially in the West) has often lost sight of the fact that the Holy Spirit is not only the great unifier and guarantor of unity but is equally the great separator and guarantor of diversity. From time to time movements arise within the Church which are intolerant of diverse expressions of the faith, especially in terms of theology, prayer, and worship. Such movements proclaim that they are at the service of unity but are actually imposing uniformity. Uniformity, far from being at the service of unity and communion, actually diminishes or destroys unity and communion by suppressing or oppressing diversity. In an age of globalization, with its heightened sense of diversity and the tension this brings, we are in desperate need of reaffirming the ancient and orthodox principle that the Holy Spirit is the mystery of a God who exists in a mode of unity-in-diversity and calls us to hold that same, creative and transformative tension for the building up of the Church and the life of world. Pat, TOR