The Pope: Paul’s Teaching on the Holy Spirit

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today, as in the two preceding catecheses, we again speak of St. Paul and his thought. We are before a giant, not only at the level of the concrete apostolate, but also at the level of theological doctrine, extraordinarily profound and stimulating. After having meditated on the last occasion on what Paul wrote about the central place that Jesus Christ occupies in our life of faith, let us see today what he tells us about the Holy Spirit and his presence in us, as in this also the Apostle has something very important to teach us.

We know what St. Luke tells us about the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles, on describing the event of Pentecost. The Pentecostal Spirit imprints a vigorous drive to assume the commitment of the mission to witness the Gospel on the paths of the world. In fact, the book of the Acts of the Apostles recounts a whole series of missions carried out by the apostles, first in Samaria, then in the strip of the coast of Palestine, as I already recalled in a previous Wednesday meeting.

However, in his letters St. Paul also speaks to us of the Spirit from another point of view. He does not limit himself to illustrate only the dynamic and operative dimension of the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity, but also analyzes his presence in the life of the Christian, whose identity is marked by him. That is, Paul reflects on the Spirit showing his influence not only on the Christian’s action but over his very being. In fact, he says that the Spirit of God dwells in us (cf. Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 3:16) and that “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” (Galatians 4:6).

For Paul, therefore, the Spirit penetrates our most intimate personal depths. In this connection, these words have a relevant meaning: “For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death. … For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!'” (Romans 8:2,15), given that we are children, we can call God “Father.”

We can see, therefore, that the Christian, even before acting, already possesses a rich and fecund interiority, which has been given to him in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, an interiority that introduces him in an objective and original relationship of being a child of God. Our great dignity consists in this: We are not only images but children of God. And this constitutes an invitation to live our filiation, to be ever more conscious that we are adoptive children in the great family of God. It is an invitation to transform this objective gift into a subjective reality, determinant for our way of thinking, for our acting, for our being. God considers us his children, as he has raised us to a similar, though not equal, dignity to that of Jesus himself, the only one who is fully true Son. In him we are given or restored the filial condition and trusting freedom in our relationship with the Father.

In this way we discover that for the Christian the Spirit is no longer the “Spirit of God,” as is usually said in the Old Testament and as Christian language repeats (cf. Genesis 41:38; Exodus 31:3; 1 Corinthians 2:11.12; Philippians 3:3; etc.). And he is not just a “Holy Spirit,” understood generically according to the manner of expression of the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 63:10,11; Psalm 51:13), and of Judaism itself in its writings (Qumran, rabbinism).

Proper to the Christian faith is the confession of a participation of this Spirit in the Risen Lord, who himself has become the “life-giving Spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). Precisely for this reason St. Paul speaks directly of the “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9), of the “Spirit of his Son” (Galatians 4:6) or of the “Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:19). It seems as if he wished to say that not only God the Father is visible in the Son (cf. John 14:9), but also the Spirit of God is expressed in the life and action of the crucified and risen Lord.

Paul also teaches us another important thing. He says that there can be no authentic prayer without the presence of the Spirit in us. In fact, he writes: “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27).

It is as if saying that the Holy Spirit, namely, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, becomes the soul of our soul, the most secret part of our being, from which rises incessantly to God a movement of prayer, of which we cannot even specify the terms. The Spirit, in fact, ever awake in us, makes up for our deficiencies and offers the Father our adoration, along with our most profound aspirations. Obviously this calls for a level of great vital communion with the Spirit. It is an invitation to be ever more sensitive, more attentive to this presence of the Spirit in us, to transform it into prayer, to experience this presence and to learn in this way to pray, to speak with the Father as children in the Holy Spirit.

There is, moreover, another typical aspect of the Spirit that St. Paul has taught us: his relationship with love. The Apostle writes thus: “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). In my encyclical letter, “Deus Caritas Est,” I quoted a highly eloquent phrase of St. Augustine: “If you see charity, you see the Trinity” (No. 19), and then I explained: “The Spirit […] is that interior power which harmonizes their [believers’] hearts with Christ’s heart and moves them to love their brethren as Christ loved them” (ibid.).

The Spirit places us in the very rhythm of divine life, which is a life of love, making us participate personally in the relations that exist between the Father and the Son. It is highly significant that Paul, when he enumerates the different elements of the fruits of the Spirit, mentions love first: ” the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” etc. (Galatians 5:22). And, given that by definition love unifies, the Spirit is above all creator of communion within the Christian community, as we say at the beginning of the Mass with an expression of St. Paul “… the communion of the Holy Spirit [namely, that by which he acts] be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:13).

However, moreover, it is also true that the Spirit stimulates us to engage in relationships of charity with all people. In this way, when we love we make room for the Spirit, we allow him to express himself in fullness. Thus we understand the reason why Paul unites these two exhortations on the same page of the Letter to the Romans: “Be fervent in spirit” and “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:11,17).

Finally, according to St. Paul, the Spirit is a generous pledge which God himself has given us ahead of time and at the same time guarantee of our future inheritance (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14). Thus let us learn from Paul that the action of the Spirit orients our life toward the great values of love, joy, communion and hope. It is for us to experience this every day, seconding the interior suggestions of the Spirit, helped in discernment by the illuminating guidance of the Apostle.

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~ by Rob on November 16, 2006.

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