Relying on the Holy Spirit is a dangerous game. That may sound an odd remark given that Jesus assures us that the Spirit will bring the Church and its members to the truth. But, while the action of the Spirit can be clearly seen in, for instance, an infallible teaching, there are innumerable cases when the Holy Spirit may or may not be at work.
Take for instance someone who prays hard to the Spirit to know if he has a true vocation. When he arrives at certainty how does he know it is the Spirit speaking or whether it is an outcome of a quirk of his character or of his previous experience? A more general example is provided by the formation of conscience. There, we are told, God speaks to the heart, but, notwithstanding our prayers for guidance, are we sure that we arrive at the right answer? We would not, for instance, be surprised to hear two people in good faith disagreeing on a point of doctrine, faith or morals – both believing that they have the Holy Spirit behind them.
We are told to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” Good advice, but what is the test? And in what form is the answer? We would expect the Spirit to be most immediately active when the whole Church is praying for the selection of the next Pope. But Pope Benedict, when Cardinal Ratzinger, said on Bavarian television “It would be a mistake to believe that the Holy Spirit picks the pope because there are too many examples of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have chosen.” If the Church can’t always get it right, why would we think that we can?
You will notice that this posting has a large number of question marks. But please don’t assume that I lack faith in the Holy Spirit. The doctrine is a mysterious one, surrounded by apparent difficulties. I think it would help us all to explore it further and to see if we can unearth some answers.