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Posts Tagged ‘Pope Benedict XVI’

Light of the World

I’m very saddened, but unfortunately not surprised, to see the liberal media bandwagon spinning and twisting the Pope’s comments on condoms.  The reality is the Church continues to rightfully teach that the use of artificial contraception in any form is dangerous due to the “de-humanizing” such practices have on human sexuality – and by extension the human person.  Despite the “spin” on the Pope’s comments by the liberal media and progressive liberal “Catholics,” nothing has changed in Church teaching.  Neither the Church, nor the Pope, approves the use of condoms or other artificial conception in any case.

First, one must understand, as many do not, that the Pope is allowed to express personal opinion on any matter he wishes – just as we all have that right.  Despite what some think, Catholicism does not hold that whatever the Pope says is automatically “official” teaching of the Church.  The Doctrine of Papal Infallibility only applies to teachings related to faith and morals, and even then, it must be specifically and clearly invoked.  Most people don’t know that the popes have very, very rarely exercised this authority, despite their voluminous writings from audiences, homilies, letters, etc.  To make an infallible statement on the teachings of Jesus Christ is a very serious process and never something done in mere casual conversation with a reporter.  In this situation, namely an extended interview with a reporter, the Pope’s comments are personal opinion, not “official” Church teaching.  Even so, again despite the “spin” put on his words, what the Pope said is consistent with Church teaching and actually shows tremendous charity on his part.

Second, most people, including many Catholics, completely fail to understand Church teaching on human sexuality.  Briefly, the Church teaches that since God is infinite love and created everything out of His infinite love, all His creation is good.   It is actually a very old heresy going back to the early days of Christianity to claim the body and sex are somehow “bad” or inherently evil.  We must also understand God created not because He had to create, but because He wanted to create out of His free will and His infinite love – which again reinforces the very goodness of His creation.

When it comes to humans, not only are we part of the goodness of God’s creation, we are even more special since we are created in His image.  How are we taught to treat gifts of great value, like a special family heirloom?  We’re taught to treat it with great care as a sign of respect to the giver of that gift – we honor the person by cherishing the gift he or she gave us.  Our humanity, which includes our sexuality, is the greatest gift we can ever receive, for it is only because of that gift that we exist.  Therefore if we truly desire to love, honor and serve the Lord, we must treat His gift, our humanity, with the absolute greatest respect.  Consequently, we must refrain from doing things which “dehumanizes” or goes against the nature of humanity – which includes things like promiscuous sex, unmarried sex, engaging in homosexual acts, abortion, artificial means to prevent the gift of human life and so forth.  All these things work to destroy our human nature – we need only look to today’s society for abundant proof of this fact.

Pope Benedict XVI, as anyone who reads his writings comes to know, is a very intelligent, scholarly and intellectual person.  While on one hand, this is very good as one can gain very deep insights by reading his work, on the other hand his is not writing which lends itself to the short sound-bites so many rely on as their sole source of information today.  As we see in this situation, one comment in a book-length interview, before the book is even released, is taken out of context and twisted to mean something else.  A society fed on nothing but sound-bites eats it up and never bothers to discover the truth for themselves.

All the headlines completely ignore this line from the Pope’s comments: “[The Church] does not regard it [use of condoms] as a real or moral solution.”  Saying it’s not “a real or moral” solution means it is not the right choice, not an “acceptable” choice and not a moral choice – in other words, it is bad and immoral.  If one bothers to read the Pope in context, he makes it clear up front that he does not approve of condom use by anyone.

However, and here’s where the charity I mentioned comes into play, the Pope goes on to say that if someone infected with a STD uses a condom to prevent disease transmission that fact (again, while not the right choice or moral choice) might indicate the beginning of a proper understanding of human sexuality in that person.  He’s really saying the first step to fixing your problem is the recognition you have a problem in the first place.  If we never recognize we have a problem, especially a moral problem, we can never begin taking steps to resolve that problem.  Only if we begin taking personal responsibility for our actions can we begin moving into the light of understanding and Truth.

Unfortunately, in all the media “spin,” we completely fail to grasp the Pope’s real message, a message applicable to all of us.  For far from being an affirmation of condom use, the Pope’s message is actually an affirmation of hope.  The hope we should all share as Christians that even the greatest sinner will eventually recognize his sins, open his heart to God, beg forgiveness and redemption and thereby gain entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  That is the Pope’s real message.  The headlines should actually proclaim:

“Pope says Hope of Redemption Possible for even the Greatest of Sinners”

Here are some links which further expound on the Pope’s true message:

http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2010/11/excerpt-pope-benedict-xvi-discusses-condoms-and-the-spread-of-hiv.html

http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2010/11/what-does-the-holy-father-really-say-about-condoms-in-the-new-book-janet-e-smith.html

http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2010/11/the_pope_condoms_and_confusion.html

http://www.jimmyakin.org/2010/11/new-developments-on-the-pope-and-condoms.html

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©2010 By Steven Schultz. All Rights Reserved. May Not be Reproduced or Reposted in Any Form without Permission.

     For centuries, faith and reason enjoyed a close, complimentary, mutually supportive relationship.  However, the rise of modern philosophy, with its bad metaphysics, resulted in a growing rift in this relationship.  Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, called for a return to unity in the relationship between faith and reason, and offered his thoughts on how this reunion might be achieved.

     Early Christianity found a ready ally in ancient Greek philosophy, particularly the thought of Plato.  The reason for this alliance rested on the commons goals of Christianity and ancient Greek philosophy, namely a quest for understanding of being.  Both sought to understand ultimate purposes.  Because man’s ultimate purpose is fulfilled in God’s plan of salvation, both streams flowed toward the same final source.  The Greeks did not have perfect answers; however their quest for ultimate understanding and truth at least guided them in the right direction.  The Greek focus on seeking truth allowed early Christians to adopt Greek thought in giving fuller understanding to the message of Jesus and the salvation of mankind.[i]

     This unity of faith and reason reached its zenith with St. Thomas Aquinas.  St. Thomas synthesized the philosophy of Aristotle into Christian theology, providing the best demonstration before or since of the great unity between faith and reason.  As Pope Benedict XVI recently put it:

            In short, Thomas Aquinas showed there is a natural harmony between Christian faith and reason. And this was the great work of Thomas, who in that moment of encounter between two cultures — that moment in which it seemed that faith should surrender before reason — showed that they go together, that what seemed to be reason incompatible with faith was not reason, and what seemed to be faith was not faith, in so far as it was opposed to true rationality; thus he created a new synthesis, which shaped   the culture of the following centuries.[ii]

For a brief, shining moment, thanks to St. Thomas’s insightful demonstration of unity between faith and reason, harmony between theology and philosophy reigned supreme.  Unfortunately, this was not to last.

     The upheaval brought about by the Protestant Reformation introduced a spark of doubt which steadily grew into the full-fledged conflagration of modern thought.  René Descartes, with his institutionalization of doubt, became the father of modern philosophy.  Descartes began with the notion that certitude does not come from knowledge obtained through sense data, but only through innate ideas.  Cogito Ergo Sum – the only thing we know with certitude is our own thought.  This “turn to the subject” led to greater skepticism and deconstructionism and has permeated all modern philosophy since.[iii]

     Immanuel Kant developed idealism in an attempt to save natural science and the validity of human reason.  As a spiritualist, he claimed that while we cannot know the material world through sense data, we can form hypotheses which meet our experiences.  In other words, Kant argued truth is merely the consistency of the model of reality which our mind creates.  Our sense experience tells us nothing about absolute truth, so “truth” becomes more about consistency and is therefore completely subjective.[iv]

     Likewise building on Descartes, David Hume adopted an extreme empiricist position.  Hume’s radical skepticism reduced knowledge to nothing more than sense description.  His extreme position even rejected the notion of causality as understood in natural scenes.  Hume claimed we only know one thing happens after the other, which, according to Hume, does not mean one thing caused the other.[v]

     As modern philosophy stopped concentrating on being and instead focused on human knowing, a growing rift developed between theology and philosophy.  Instead of pondering the human capacity for knowing, modern philosophy has emphasized the ways in which it is limited and conditioned.  Modern philosophy’s rejection of meaningfulness of being has led to a general conception of nihilism and a rejection of all objective truth.  Theology’s insistence on the existence of the greatest absolute Truth places it in direct conflict with modern philosophy.[vi]

     However, Pope John Paul II tells us faith and reason cannot be separated without diminishing the capacity of man to know himself, the world and God in an appropriate way.  Since theology engages philosophy to help man know the truth, the study of philosophy is fundamental and indispensable to the study of theology.  While there should be no barriers to dialogue, there should also not be indiscriminate acceptance of any kind of philosophy.  Consequently, the Magisterium has a right and a duty to discern and promote philosophy not at odds with the faith.[vii]

     In Fides et Ratio, the Pope outlines three requirements.  First, to be consonant with the Word of God, philosophy must return to its classical roots as a method of searching for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life.  Second, philosophy must “verify the human capacity to know the truth, to come to a knowledge which can reach objective truth by means of that adaequatio rei et intellectus to which the Scholastic Doctors referred.”  Consequently, radically phenomenologist or relativist philosophies are ill-adapted to help with deeper exploration of the riches found in the Word of God.  Third, philosophy needs a “genuinely metaphysical range, capable…of transcending empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for the truth.”[viii]

      Through this method, philosophy, as “the mirror which reflects the culture of a people,” can serve the new evangelization in its ability “to explore more comprehensively the dimensions of the true, the good and the beautiful to which the word of God gives access…Reflecting in the light of reason and in keeping with its rules, guided always by the deeper understanding given them by the word of God, Christian philosophers can develop a reflection which will be both comprehensible and appealing to those who do not yet grasp the full truth which divine revelation declares;” thereby returning unity to faith and reason.[ix]


Endnotes

[i] P. De Letter, “Theology, Influence of Greek Philosophy On,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition, Volume 13 (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2003), 918.

[ii] Pope Benedict XVI, On St. Thomas Aquinas, Zenit.org, http://www.zenit.org/article-29447?l=english, accessed 3 July 2010.

[iii] Benedict M. Ashley, OP, “Lecture 3: Why Theology Has Difficulty with Modern Philosophy,” Philosophy for Theologians, DVD, International Catholic University, 2005; Benedict M. Ashley, OP, “Lesson 3: The Intellectual Ambiguities of Contemporary Culture,” Philosophy for Theologians, Lecture Notes, International Catholic University, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02803.htm, accessed 10 May 2010.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (Boston, MA: Pauline, 1998), 14, 111.

[vii] Ibid., 30, 49, 81, 82.

[viii] Ibid., 102-104.

[ix] Ibid., 125-126.

Bibliography

Ashley, Benedict M.  “Lecture 3: Why Theology Has Difficulty with Modern Philosophy,” Philosophy for Theologians, DVD, International Catholic University, 2005.

——.  “Lesson 3: The Intellectual Ambiguities of Contemporary Culture,” Philosophy for Theologians, Lecture Notes, International Catholic University, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02803.htm, accessed 10 May 2010.

Benedict XVI, On St. Thomas Aquinas, Zenit.org, http://www.zenit.org/article-29447?l=english, accessed 2 June 2010.

De Letter, P.  “Theology, Influence of Greek Philosophy On.”  New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition, Volume 13.  Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2003.

John Paul II.  Fides et Ratio.  Boston, MA: Pauline, 1998.

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The Fathers: Vol II

The Fathers: Volume II.  By Pope Benedict XVI.  Our Sunday Visitor, 2010.  170 pages, hardcover.  $14.95

The Fathers: Volume II is a companion to Pope Benedict’s 2008 work, The Fathers, also published by Our Sunday Visitor.  These books cover a series of catechesis on the early Church fathers during his weekly general audiences.  The first volume comprises talks from March 2007 to January 2008 and covers the lives of twenty-six fathers during the third to fifth centuries.  Volume II picks up with talks from March 2008 to October 2009 and the lives of twenty-five fathers through the twelfth century.

Those who have not read Pope Benedict are in for a treat.  While possessing a highly developed intellect, the Pope never-the-less presents these teachings in an easy to understand manner.  Both books consist of a series of brief sketches on important fathers of the Church.

The Pope not only provides us interesting biographical sketches, but also works in an important theological concept with each brief.  For example, while learning about the life of St. Leo the Great, we also learn about his role in the Council of Chalcedon.  From this, we learn how the Council reacted against the heresy of Eutyches, who denied the true human nature of Jesus, to pronounce the orthodoxy of the person of Jesus as fully human and fully divine.

The short nature of these sketches encourages you to read them whenever you have time.  The book may be read cover-to-cover or you can read any chapter which catches your eye.  This makes it an excellent “nightstand book” or a book to carry with you whenever you might have few minutes to spare.

My criticisms of both books are very slight.  First, Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) provides no introduction to these audiences.  Instead, the books jumps right into the sketches.  I believe OSV could have produced an even better product by providing an introduction to help “set the stage” for these sketches and help set them in the fuller context of Pope Benedict’s teachings.  Also, OSV could have made the books even more useful by providing an index.  Finally, I wish OSV would have included some suggestions for further reading on the lives of the fathers covered.  Again, these are relatively minor concerns compared to the overall quality and content of these books.

Catholics who take the time to read even a small portion of the wonderful works our Church provides find great reward.  While offering us the opportunity to learn more about the fathers during the major formative centuries of the Church, these volumes also give us a wonderful introduction to the teachings and thought of Pope Benedict XVI.

This review was written as part of the Catholic books reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Fathers Volume II .

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Pope John Paul II

It is unfortunate so few Catholics read the Church’s own writings.  This is especially true in our age of great confusion and crisis of identity within the Church.  Far too many rely on what they think they know about the Church, which often comes from a childhood Catechism class, dimly remembered.  It is time to turn once again to the wealth of materials the Church presents us in order to truly know our faith and thereby come to love it even more.

Considering Pope Benedict XVI’s recent address on St. Thomas Aquinas and the harmony between faith and reason, it is particularly fitting to consider Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio.  Released on September 14, 1998, this encyclical on the relationship between faith and reason was directed primarily toward the Bishops, philosophers, scientists and theologians, but is very profitable for any Catholic who desires to better understand his faith.

The fundamental theme of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical is the deep connection between faith and reason.  As the Pope puts it: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

Throughout human history, we find all cultures share a fundamental desire to seek answers to ultimate questions about existence and purpose.  We also find the more people know reality and the world, the more they know themselves in their uniqueness with the question of the meaning of things and their very existence becoming ever more pressing.  In other words, we are “programmed” to seek the truth.  This innate desire to discover the truth of things is one of the greatest aspects which define us as human beings. (1)

In Pope John Paul II’s first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, he told us: “We have become sharers in this mission of the prophet Christ, and in virtue of that mission we together with him are serving divine truth in the Church.  Being responsible for the truth also means loving it and seeking the most exact understanding of it, in order to bring it closer to ourselves and others in all its saving power, its splendor and its profundity joined with simplicity.”

Philosophy, as the love of wisdom, shares with theology the search for answers to the ultimate questions of human existence and purpose.  From the early Church fathers to the present day, the Church has held philosophy in high regard as a means of increasing our knowledge of God and aiding in our understanding of divine Revelation.  Indeed, the Pope tells us, “She [the Church] sees in philosophy the way to come to know fundamental truths of human life.  At the same time, the Church considers philosophy an indispensable help for a deeper understanding of faith and for communicating the truth of the Gospel to those who don’t yet know it” (5).

The reason the Church so strongly supports philosophy is because philosophy (rightly done) and theology are mutually supportive endeavors.  Since both arrive at the truth, they cannot contradict one another.  As the First Vatican Council tells us, the truth obtained by philosophy and the truth of revelation are neither identical nor mutually exclusive. (9)

The problem arises, the Pope tells us, due to the state of modern philosophy:  “Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing” (5).  Modern philosophy no longer ponders people’s ability for knowing the truth and instead emphasizes ways this ability is limited and conditioned.  Modern philosophy makes the fundamental error of assuming all positions are equally valid, a position which leads to agnosticism and relativism.

As various schools of modern philosophy have rejected the meaningfulness of being, this has led to society to a general, and dangerous, attitude of nihilism (90).  Nihilism is both a denial of all foundations and a negation of all objective truth.  Not only does Nihilism conflict with the demands and content of God’s word, it also denies humanity and the very identity of what it means to be human.

The Pope warns us, “Is should never be forgotten that the neglect of being inevitably leads to losing touch with objective truth and therefore with the very ground of human dignity.  This in turn makes it possible to erases from countenance of man and woman the marks of their likeness to God, and thus to lead them little by little either to a destructive will to power or to a solitude without hope.  Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try to set them free.  Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.” (90)

We see signs of this illusionary freedom all around us, from abortion as a “right” to science gone mad, and even, quite fearfully, in modern democracy.  The “scientism” school of philosophical thought claims only knowledge derived from the positive sciences is acceptable and says all thought from religion, theology, ethics and aesthetics is mere fantasy (88).  This leads to the belief we see today that if something is technically possible, it’s morally acceptable.  Yet if technology is not ordered towards a higher good, but only utilitarian ends, it can quickly become inhuman and even a potential destroyer of the human race (81).  Similar pragmatic thinking infects modern democracy, which rejects any sort of reference to unchanging values, but instead believes any course of action is acceptable if determined so by majority vote (89).

In Redemptor Hominis, Pope John Paul II says that “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32) is at once a fundamental requirement and a warning.  On one hand, the words define an honest relationship with truth as a condition for authentic freedom.  However, they are also a warning “to avoid every kind of illusory freedom, every superficial unilateral freedom, every freedom that fails to enter into the whole truth about man and the world.”

The solution, the Pope says, is for philosophy and theology to rediscover one another (101).  While the Church does not endorse any particular school of philosophy, the Magisterium does have the right and duty “to respond clearly and strongly when controversial philosophical opinions threaten right understanding of what has been revealed, and when false and partial theories which sow the seed of serious error, confusing the pure and simple faith of the People of God, begin to spread more widely” (49).  Therefore it becomes the Magisterium’s duty to discern and promote philosophy not at odds with the faith (63).

While reemphasizing that the study of philosophy is “fundamental and indispensable” to the study of theology (62) and that it must be carried out in light of valid philosophical tradition (106), the Pope lists three requirements of philosophy (81-83).  First, philosophy must recover as its primary purpose the search for “ultimate and overarching meaning of life.”  Second, philosophy must verify the human capacity to know the truth and the ability to arrive at objective truth by reasonable use of the intellect in the tradition of the Scholastic doctors.  Third, philosophy must regain its genuine metaphysical range “capable … of transcending empirical date in order something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for the truth” (83).

This reunion of philosophy and theology is vital, for as the Pope puts is: “Philosophical inquiry can help greatly to clarify the relationship between truth and life, between event and doctrinal truth, and above all between transcendent truth and humanly comprehensible language.  This involves a reciprocity between the theological disciplines and the insights drawn from the various strands of philosophy; and such a reciprocity can prove genuinely fruitful for the communication and deeper understanding of the faith.” (99)

Different philosophical systems have deceived man into believing he is his own master.  However, it is entering into true Wisdom that we find authentic freedom and full knowledge of God (107).  Consequently, we see much harmony between the vocation of the Blessed Virgin and the vocation of philosophy (108).

The early holy monks called Mary “the table at which faith sits in thought.”  Likewise, the Pope turns our final thoughts toward Mary: “May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, be a sure haven for all who devote their lives to the search for wisdom.  May their journey into wisdom, sure and final goal of all true knowledge, be freed of every hindrance by the intercession of the one who, in giving birth to the Truth and treasuring it in her heart, has shared it forever with all the world.” (108)

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St. Thomas Aquinas

VATICAN CITY, 2 JUN 2010 (VIS) – In today’s general audience held in St. Peter’s Square, Benedict XVI continued with his catechesis dedicated to the great saints of the Middle Ages, speaking on St. Thomas Aquinas, called the “Angelic Doctor” for the elevated nature of his thought and the purity of his life”.

The Pope explained that Thomas was born around 1225 to a noble family in Roccasecca, Italy near the Abbey of Montecasino. He was sent to the University of Naples at a young age where he first became interested in Aristotelian thought and felt a call to the religious life.

In 1245 he went to Paris to study theology under the guidance of St. Albert the Great who held this student in such esteem that he was asked to accompany him to Cologne, Germany to open a centre for theological studies.

“Thomas Aquinas, at St. Albert the Great’s school, carried out a task of fundamental importance in the history of philosophy and theology as well as for history and culture”, the Pope said. “He studied Aristotle and his interpreters in depth” and “commented on a great part of Aristotle’s works, discerning what was valid in it from what was doubtful or refutable, demonstrating its consonance with the facts of Christian revelation, using Aristotelian thought with great breadth and intelligence in presenting the theological writings he composed. In short, Thomas Aquinas demonstrated that a natural harmony exists between reason and the Christian faith”.

“His great intellectual endowment brought him again to Paris to teach theology. That is where he began his monumental literary output: commentaries on the Sacred Scriptures and the works of Aristotle along with his masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae”.

“There were a few secretaries who assisted in drafting his works, among whom was Reginald of Piperno […] who was bound to him by a fraternal and sincere friendship characterized by great trust and reliance. This is a characteristic of the saints”, the pontiff observed. “They cultivate friendship because it is one of the most noble manifestations of the human heart and holds something of the divine within it”.

In 1259 Thomas Aquinas participated in the General Chapter of the Dominicans in Valenciennes, France to establish the order’s constitutions. On his return to Italy, Pope Urban IV charged him with composing the liturgical texts for the feast of Corpus Christi.

“St. Thomas has a profoundly Eucharistic soul”, the Pope affirmed. “The beautiful hymns that the liturgy of the Church sings to celebrate the mystery of the real presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist are due to his faith and theological wisdom”.

In Paris, where he returned in 1269, a great number of students followed his courses, but the “Angelic Doctor” also dedicated himself to preaching to the people, who listened with attention. “It is a great gift that theologians know how to speak with simplicity and fervour to the faithful. The ministry of preaching, on the other hand, also helps those who are experts in theology to develop a healthy pastoral realism and enriches their research with stimulation”, the pontiff remarked.

In the final months of his life, St. Thomas — who died in 1274 at the Abbey of Fossanove, Italy when he was heading to Leon to participate in an ecumenical council — confessed to his friend Reginald of Piperno that, after a divine revelation, he considered his work as “so much straw”, writing nothing further afterwards.

“It is a mysterious episode that helps us understand not only Thomas’ personal humility but also the fact that all that we are able to think and say about the faith, as elevated and pure as it may be, is infinitely surpassed by the greatness and beauty of God who will reveal himself to us in the fullness of paradise,” Benedict XVI concluded.

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Pope Benedict XVI

“A Flame … That, in Burning, Brings Forth the Better and Truer Part of Man”

VATICAN CITY, MAY 23, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today at a Mass he celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of Pentecost.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

In the solemn celebration of Pentecost we are invited to profess our faith in the presence and in the action of the Holy Spirit and to invoke his outpouring upon us, upon the Church and upon the whole world. Let us make our own, and with special intensity, the Church’s invocation: “Veni, Sancte Spiritus!” 

It is such a simple and immediate invocation, but also extraordinarily profound, which came first of all from the heart of Christ. The Spirit, in fact, is the gift that Jesus asked and continually asks of his Father for his friends; the first and principal gift that he obtained for us through his Resurrection and Ascension in to heaven.

Today’s Gospel passage, which has the Last Supper as its context, speaks to us of this prayer of Christ. The Lord Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, follow my commandments; and I will pray to the Father and he will give you another Paraclete who will remain with you forever” (John 14:15-16). 

Here the praying heart of Jesus is revealed to us, his filial and fraternal heart. This prayer reaches its apex and its fulfillment on the cross, where Christ’s invocation is one with the total gift that he makes of himself, and thus his prayer becomes, so to speak, the very seal of his self-giving for love of the Father and humanity: Invocation and donation of the Spirit meet, they interpenetrate, they become one reality. “And I will pray to the Father and he will give you another Paraclete who will remain with you forever.” In reality, Jesus’ prayer — that of the Last Supper and the prayer on the cross — is a single prayer that continues even in heaven, where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus, in fact, always lives his priesthood of intercession on behalf of the people of God and humanity and so prays for all of us, asking the Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The account of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles — we listened to it in the first reading (Acts 2:1-11) — presents the “new course” of the work that God began with Christ’s resurrection, a work that involves man, history and the cosmos. The Son of God, dead and risen and returned to the Father, now breathes with untold energy the divine breath upon humanity, the Holy Spirit. And what does this new and powerful self-communication of God produce? Where there are divisions and estrangement he creates unity and understanding. The Spirit triggers a process of reunification of the divided and dispersed parts of the human family; persons, often reduced to individuals in competition or in conflict with each other, reached by the Spirit of Christ, open themselves to the experience of communion, can involve them to such an extent as to make of them a new organism, a new subject: the Church. This is the effect of God’s work: unity; thus unity is the sign of recognition, the “business card” of the Church in the course of her universal history. From the very beginning, from the day of Pentecost, she speaks all languages. The universal Church precedes the particular Churches, and the latter must always conform to the former according to a criterion of unity and universality. The Church never remains a prisoner within political, racial and cultural confines; she cannot be confused with states not with federations of states, because her unity is of a different type and aspires to transcend every human frontier.

From this, dear brothers, there derives a practical criterion of discernment for Christian life: When a person or a community, limits itself to its own way of thinking and acting, it is a sign that it has distanced itself from the Holy Spirit. The path of Christians and of the particular Churches must always confront itself with the path of the one and catholic Church, and harmonize with it. This does not mean that the unity created by the Holy Spirit is a kind of homogenization. On the contrary, that is rather the model of Babel, that is, the imposition of a culture of unity that we could call “technological.” The Bible, in fact, tells us (cf. Genesis 11:1-9) that in Babel everyone spoke the same language. At Pentecost, however, the Apostles speak different languages in such a way that everyone understands the message in his own tongue. The unity of the Spirit is manifested in the plurality of understanding. The Church is one and multiple by her nature, destined as she is to live among all nations, all peoples, and in the most diverse social contexts. She responds to her vocation to be a sign and instrument of unity of the human race (cf. “Lumen Gentium,” 1) only if she remains free from every state and every particular culture. Always and in every place the Church must truly be catholic and universal, the house of all in which each one can find a place.

The account of the Acts of the Apostles offers us another very concrete indication. The universality of the Church is expressed by the list of peoples according to the ancient tradition: “We are Parthians, Medes, Elamites …,” etc. One may note that St. Luke goes beyond the number 12, which always expresses a universality. He looks beyond the horizons of Asia and northwest Africa, and adds three other elements: the “Romans,” that is, the western world; the “Jews and proselytes,” encompass in a new way the unity between Israel and the world; and finally “Cretans and Arabs,” who represent the West and the East, islands and land. This opening of horizons subsequently confirms the newness of Christ in the human space, in the history of the nations: The Holy Spirit involves men and peoples and, through them, it overcomes walls and barriers.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit manifests himself as fire. His flame descended upon the assembled disciples, it was enkindled in them and gave them the new ardor of God. In this way what Jesus had previously said was realized: “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I long that it already be burning!” (Luke 12:49). The Apostles, together with the faithful of different communities, carried this divine flame to the far corners of the earth; in this way they opened a path for humanity, a luminous path, and they worked with God, who wants to renew the face of the earth with his fire. How different this fire is from that of wars and bombs! How different is the fire of Christ, spread by the Church, compared with those lit by the dictators of every epoch, of last century too, who leave a scorched earth behind them. The fire of God, the fire of the Holy Spirit, is that of the bush that burned without being consumed (cf. Exodus 3:2). It is a flame that burns but does not destroy, that, in burning, brings forth the better and truer part of man, as in a fusion it makes his interior form emerge, his vocation to truth and to love.

A Father of the Church, Origen, in one of his homilies on Jeremiah, reports a saying attributed to Jesus, not contained in the sacred Scriptures but perhaps authentic, which he puts thus: “Whoever is near me, is near the fire” (“Homilies on Jeremiah,” L. I [III]). In Christ, in fact, there is the fullness of God, who in the Bible is compared to fire. We just observed that the flame of the Holy Spirit burns but does not destroy. And nevertheless it causes a transformation, and it must for this reason consume something in man, the waste that corrupts him and hinders his relations with God and neighbor. 

This effect of the divine fire, however, frightens us, we are afraid of being “burned,” we prefer to stay just as we are. This is because our life is often formed according to the logic of having, of possessing and not the logic of self-giving. Many people believe in God and admire the person of Jesus Christ, but when they are asked to lose something of themselves, then they retreat, they are afraid of the demands of faith. There is the fear of giving up something nice to which we are attached; the fear that following Christ deprives us of freedom, of certain experiences, of a part of ourselves. On one hand, we want to be with Jesus, follow him closely, and, on the other hand, we are afraid of the consequences that this brings with it.

Dear brothers and sisters, we always need to hear the Lord Jesus tell us what he often repeated to his friends: “Be not afraid.” Like Simon Peter and the others we must allow his presence and his grace to transform our heart, which is always subject to human weakness. We must know how to recognize that losing something, indeed, losing ourselves for the true God, the God of love and of life, is in reality gaining ourselves, finding ourselves more fully. Whoever entrusts himself to Jesus already experiences in this life peace and joy of heart, which the world cannot give, and it cannot even take it away once God has given it to us. 

So it is worthwhile to let ourselves be touched by the fire of the Holy Spirit! The suffering that it causes us is necessary for our transformation. It is the reality of the cross: It is not for nothing that in the language of Jesus “fire” is above all a representation of the cross, without which Christianity does not exist. 

Thus enlightened and comforted by these words of life, let us lift up our invocation: Come, Holy Spirit! Enkindle in us the fire of your love! We know that this is a bold prayer, with which we ask to be touched by the flame of God; but we know above all that this flame — and only it — has the power to save us. We do not want, in defending our life, to lose the eternal life that God wants to give us. We need the fire of the Holy Spirit, because only Love redeems. Amen.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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