Pope Francis on the Holy Spirit

Author: Fr Peter Hocken

Photo: © Mazur/

Pope Francis on the Holy Spirit

Fr Peter Hocken reflects on Pope Francis' theology and thinking about the Holy Spirit, and its significance ahead of CCR's 50th anniversary

There is no one major document from Pope Francis on the Holy Spirit, but the references are constant, especially in homilies and addresses to Catholic audiences.

There are four closely related ideas that recur in the teaching of Francis on the Holy Spirit:

  1. Creativity of the Spirit;
  2. Newness of the work of the Spirit;
  3. The need to be totally open to the Holy Spirit;
  4. The surprises of the Holy Spirit.

Very appropriately these ideas were all expressed in the Holy Father’s Pentecost homily in 2013: “Are we open to 'God’s surprises'? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit?.... Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do we resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?”

Creativity and newness belong to the character of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God. “The Spirit of God hovered (was moving) over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1.1).

Because the creativity of the Spirit is an infinite creativity, it is not in the character or nature of God just to repeat. What God creates, what God does, is always new, always fresh.

This applies to everything, not just to the exercise of charisms but to the Spirit’s work in the liturgy. No Mass is just a repetition of a previous Mass, no baptism just a repeat of a previous baptism.

God's surprises

Are we open to God’s surprises? We like regularity. We like to know what will happen next. But God breaks into our self-regulated patterns and our routines.

“The Holy Spirit annoys us," says Francis, "because he moves us, he makes us journey, he pushes the Church to go forward.” (April 16th, 2013).

“Dear brothers and sisters, we are afraid of God’s surprises! He always surprises us! The Lord is like that.” (Easter Vigil 2013).

“Our God is a God who always does new things. And he asks from us docility to this newness.” (20th January 2014).

“The Spirit is what brings newness, moves situations forward, creates new spaces, brings the wisdom that Jesus promised: 'He will teach you'." (8th May 2015).

The surprises of God are wonderful! The Renewal itself is one of these surprises. When we open our hearts and our minds to God’s surprises, we will soon be opening our mouths to praise the Lord.

“Docility to the Spirit gives us joy.” (14th April 2016). 

Unity & Diversity

Because the Lord’s works are ever new, the creativity of the Holy Spirit produces ever richer diversity: “It is he (the Holy Spirit) who brings forth a rich variety of gifts, while at the same time creating a unity which is never uniformity but a multifaceted and inviting harmony.” (Evangelii Gaudium 117).

While the Church in the postconciliar and ecumenical era has often emphasised that Catholic unity is never uniformity, there is something fresh in this teaching of Francis.

Maybe we have given the impression as Catholics that, while some diversity is necessary, we do not want too much! But when we start like Francis from the nature of God as Creator, then we cannot say there can be too much diversity.

For Francis, it is the same Spirit who “alone can raise up diversity, plurality and multiplicity” who “at the same time (is) bringing about unity.” (Evangelii Gaudium 131).

Recognising the diversity that the Holy Spirit creates enables Pope Francis to approach Pentecostals as fellow Christians made different through the Holy Spirit, rather than people whom we see first as “non Catholic”.

God’s surprises include break-throughs in Christian reconciliation.

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