We in the church would be able to discover and experience the Spirit of the Lord more easily and more powerfully if we were not afraid of Him. He is in fact the Spirit of life, of freedom, of confidence of hope and joy, of unity, and thus of peace. We might therefor suppose that the human person longs for the Holy Spirit more than anything else. But he is the Spirit who constantly breaks through all frontiers in order to make these gifts, who seeks to deliver up everything to the incomprehensibility which we call God; he is the Spirit who gives life through death.
It is not surprising that we are afraid of Him. For we always want to know what we are involved in, we want to have the entries in our life’s account clearly before us and to be able to add them up to a figure that we can clearly grasp. We are frightened of experiments whose outcome cannot be foreseen. We hate to be overtaxed and like to measure our duty by what we are prepared to accomplish without great efforts. We want the Spirit therefore in small doses, but He won’t put up with this. We trust him only insofar as he is expressed in literary form, in law and tradition, in institutions that have proved their worth. We want him to be measured by these standards, to prove His identity as Holy Spirit through these, although in fact it should be the other way around.
We are afraid of the Spirit. In a word, he is too incalculable for us. We believe only in theory and not in practical life that God is infinite incomprehensibility into which the Holy Spirit wants to hurl us. We make our permanent home in what should be merely a starting point or take-off runway for this movement of human beings through faith, hope and love, into the immense incomprehensibility of God.
It is no better when we give the name of church to this country which we don’t want to leave, when we forget that the church too has validity before God and human beings only to the extent that she produces through word and sacrament this hope and faith and the love in which human persons entrust themselves unconditionally to the Holy Spirit of God.
Even in the life of the church as such this fear of the Holy Spirit can be found. Fear can be perceived among the “traditionalists.” They fear risks and experiments the results of which are not known in advance. They don’t want to hear any formulation of faith with which they have not been familiar with since childhood onward, as if a proposition and the Spirit which it attests were simply identical. They want to have unity in the variety of the church in such a way that they can thoroughly understand this unity and take it under their own control. The tradition which they defend–as such rightly–is for them the land of the fathers, now definitely acquired and only needing to be inhabited and governed, not a station on a pilgrimage, beckoning them on further, even though the course in the direction in which they had hitherto been moving. And if they admit and profess in theory the doctrine of divine unrest, known as the Holy Spirit, it is only in order really to have the right to refuse the demands of this incalculable Spirit in practical life.
On the other hand, we get the impression that those also are often afraid of the Holy Spirit who proudly call themselves or are suspected by others of being “progressives.”
From The Great Church Year, Karl Rahner, New York, NY, 1993. pages 217-18.