By Sister Carol Curtis, OSU
After the Feast of the Ascension remain together in prayer with as much strength of spirit as possible until Pentecost, the day of the sending of the Holy Spirit, beseeching that great promise made by Jesus Christ to his well-disposed people. [Rule 4:15-16]
Attending together the sending of the Holy Spirit, Angela gathers the Company, strong in prayer, at the source of its charism. We sense the intense vitality of expectation swelling among them like buds in springtime. This simple convocation, remain together in prayer, sketches Angela Merici’s ideal of a contemplative and apostolic community, an image of the Church in communion and mission. Angela moves in the power and inspiration of the Spirit, even as she abides in that Spirit. Sharing her sure hope of the great promise of Jesus Christ to his people, we will consider the role of the Spirit in her Writings, as it recalls the Paraclete of John’s Gospel, the spiration of Love of the Father and Son, standing beside us always [Jn 14:16].
Our liturgical celebrations of Ascension and Pentecost depend on Luke’s account, while Angela’s own mention of the feasts is hidden in a humble rubric on fasting and a specification for prayer: seven Paters and Aves in honor of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit [Rule, chs. 4-5]. In fact, the Rule, Counsels, and Legacies, each have only a few explicit references to the Holy Spirit. In the 13th century Pentecost Sequence [Veni, Sancte Spiritus], however, we hear attributes of the Holy Spirit which resonate in Angela’s own expression: radiant light, Father of the Poor, kind Comforter, strength, confidence, gentle, moderate, mild. Reminiscent of the Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel [chs. 14-17], the Paraclete breathes throughout her spirituality: indwelling each one, gathering all into unity, and teaching every Truth [Jn 16:13; Rule 8:4]. Notably, according to John, the Passion of Jesus itself culminates in his handing over his spirit. [Jn 19:30]
Isaiah [11:2] names the Spirit’s gifts upon God’s Chosen One: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety, and awe (fear of the Lord). God gifts the person with a capacity to discern (conscience) and freedom to decide (free will) how to respond to the different invitations of grace and challenges of daily living. According to times and circumstances, is Angela’s repeated refrain, expressing delicate respect for persons and distinct situations above any hardline rule. Her boldness is greater than autonomy; it is parrhesia, the candor of conversation with God: Pray in the way and as much as the Spirit and conscience will dictate. [Rule 6: 7] This is an astounding personal echo of the early church pronouncement: We and the Holy Spirit have decided… [Acts 15:28] This interplay of the Holy Spirit and conscience is not merely a passive discernment, but a creative listening, an interior obedience realized in conscientious doing:
Above all, obey the counsels and inspirations which the Holy Spirit continually sends into the heart, whose voice we will hear all the more clearly the more purified and clean our conscience, since the Holy Spirit is he who teaches us every truth.
[Jn 16:13]. [Rule 8: 14-16]
Although conscience is personal, Angela recognizes the Spirit’s action within the community, also, as she addresses the leaders (colonelli): May the strength and true consolation of the Holy Spirit be in you all, so that you can sustain and carry out vigorously and faithfully the charge laid upon you. [Counsels, Prologue, 3-4] The consolation of the Paraclete is fortified with truth, a strength which gives stamina and vigor, for divine Truth is the bedrock of human faithfulness. Angela respects the ancient way and custom of the Church, established and confirmed by so many Saints…; yet not as a static tradition, but a springboard: under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit… live a new life. [Counsels 7:22]
In his farewell discourse, Jesus promises another Paraclete to remain with you always [John 13-16]. In Angela’s own Legacies, she confidently commends the vagaries of the Company’s future to the sure guidance and ready assistance of the Holy Spirit working in tandem with the Lady-Governors: provide for everything as the Holy Spirit inspires you; decide, among yourselves, according as charity and the Holy Spirit will enlighten and inspire you [Legacies 7:7; 9:6-7]. Angela lived in a time of upheaval and catastrophic circumstances, yet in her Last Legacy, as she hands over governance to the Matrons, she reassures them that their Advocate will engage with them, suggesting according to the times and circumstances. Thus, she invites them to eagerly step into the unknown: Rejoice, go forward willingly. [Last Legacy, 14] As they embrace their mission, they will taste the fruit of true joy, the infallible sign of the Holy Spirit.
May this strength and true consolation of the Holy Spirit be in us all.
[Counsels, Prologue, 3]