In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that the Spirit of truth testifies to him. But also, that the Apostles testify to him because they have been with him from the beginning.
In today’s world, some seem to invoke the Holy Spirit as the reason for changes. Others invoke tradition as a reason for keeping things exactly the same.
From Church teaching, we know that the Holy Spirit speaks to us. One of the ways of describing the Church is as the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul talked of gifts of the Holy Spirit. We know that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church today as it did at Pentecost.
At the same time, we know that the Apostles testify to Jesus. We look toward both Sacred Scripture and Tradition as sources of truth in the faith. Tradition with a capital “T” is handed down from the Apostles to the successors of the Apostles. We respect all teaching handed down over the centuries. There is a reason why something was the way that it was.
To say that we must choose between the Holy Spirit and tradition is a false choice. If we say that the Holy Spirit speaks to us today and allows us to completely break from the past, then we must ask where the Holy Spirit was in those prior years. Did the Holy Spirit abandon those who had come before us?
Saint John Henry Newman found a way to avoid this false choice with what he called the “development of Christian doctrine.” It allows for continual development of doctrine by allowing change that is not a rupture with the past. It allows us to value what the past can tell us without being resistant to change. He gives seven tests for determining authentic development that would require considerable explanation to cover fully. But we should understand that we do not have to choose between change and respect for tradition.
Are we able to see the stirrings of the Holy Spirit in us today? Can we respect and understand…and value…the Catholic development of teaching over nearly two millennia that opens up what Christ first taught us? Are we open to change in a way that is still consistent with what came before?