A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about women in the Church called ‘Great Things’. It was about two things: the need for change, so that the light that women bring to the Church can be on the lampstand, not under a tub, and the need to remain always in the way of Jesus, who tells us that ‘anyone who wants to be first among you must be your servant’.
Although the post was about the position of women in the Church, it sprang in part from a deeper journey. Over the last two years, I have come to realise that I am not just writing about peacebuilding, but being called by the Lord to become more and more nonviolent. Through being accompanied and changed by those without power, I have sensed the Lord calling me to share in his powerlessness, his refusal to retaliate. Somewhere in that bearing and hoping, that nonviolence and absolute trust in God, is the passage from death to resurrection that is at the heart of the paschal mystery. As the children’s classic We’re Going on a Bear Hunt puts it: ‘We can’t go over it… we can’t go under it… oh no! We’ve got to go through it!’
This growing sense that I am called to nonviolence, as well as my experience in Guyana struggling against embedded injustice, has led me to reflect often on Pierre Favre’s maxim about ‘doing good with a good spirit’.
This is Pope Francis on the subject:
‘We can also take a step forward in doing good with a good spirit: “thinking with the Church”, as St Ignatius says. It is also a distinctive service of the Society [of Jesus] to
facilitate the discernment of how we do things. Faber formulated it by asking for the grace that “all the good that can be realized, thought, and organized, be done with a good spirit, not a bad spirit”. This grace of discerning, which is not limited to thinking, doing, and organizing the good, but also doing these things with a good spirit, is what roots us in the Church in which the Spirit works and distributes his various gifts for the common good. Faber used to say that in many cases those who wanted to reform the Church were right, but God did not wish to correct the Church using their methods, the methods they proposed.’
(Pope Francis, Address to GC36, 24th October 2016)
‘Doing good with a good spirit’ has come back to me often over the past few weeks, when there has been so much written and said about women in the Church, from the Osservatore Romano article on women religious in the Vatican, to the Voices of Faith conference, at which Mary McAleese described the Church as ‘a primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny,’ a ‘male bastion of patronising platitudes’, confined ‘to recycled thinking among a hermetically sealed cosy male clerical elite flattered and rarely challenged by those tapped for jobs in secret and closed processes.’
I found those words painful. Yes, we need change in order to have the ‘more incisive presence’ of women in the Church that Pope Francis has spoken about – change that is by no means confined to the hierarchy, as I’ve said elsewhere. But I also believe that we must have ‘good with a good spirit’. This is not about ‘play nice and you’ll get what you want’, which women hear so often. It is a sort of active Gamaliel principle: if it is of God, it will happen, but God’s work must be done in God’s way. That means with mercy, with charity, with patience, with understanding for the sheer humanness of others – whether or not those attitudes are ever reciprocated or even recognised. It’s true that frustration and anger are not always of the bad spirit, but we have to be –I have to be– sensitive and humble enough to spot when the bad spirit is using our frustration and anger for his own ends, rather than God’s. We must do good with a good spirit.
Mary Ward wanted change, and she challenged the Church of her day to recognise that ‘there is no such difference between men and women, that women may not do great things’. She pushed the limits –and ended up in prison– but was also deeply obedient, all her life, trusting that the God who gave her her vocation, who ‘would not deceive me, nor could he be deceived’, also spoke in the Church, even in ways that were hard to understand or accept. She always strove to ‘do good with a good spirit’ and lived, I think, in that bearing and hoping which is at the heart of the paschal mystery. She died in failure, in trust, in hope. We live.
The Church needs all of us if it is to remain faithful to the Lord: instinctive conservatives and instinctive innovators, people who will push and people who will hold back. Sometimes it also needs conflict, as the Lord struggles through us to show us the way forward. I do not wish to accuse anyone of bad faith, and perhaps this path of nonviolent change is my particular vocation only. But whatever we do, please – let us ‘do good with a good spirit’.