Audiences 2005-2013 25042
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our last Catechesis I explained that from the outset the Church has had to face unexpected situations on her journey, new issues and emergencies to which she has sought to respond in the light of faith, letting herself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Today I would like to pause to reflect on another of these situations, on a serious problem that the first Christian community of Jerusalem was obliged to face and to solve, as St Luke tells us in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, concerning pastoral charity to lonely people and those in need of assistance and help.
This is not a secondary matter for the Church and at that time risked creating divisions in the Church; the number of disciples, in fact continued to increase, but the Greek-speaking began to complain about those who spoke Hebrew because their widows were left out of the daily distribution (cf. Ac 6,1). To face this urgent matter which concerned a fundamental aspect of community life, namely, charity to the weak, the poor and the defenceless, and justice, the Apostles summoned the entire group of disciples. In that moment of pastoral emergency the Apostles’ discernment stands out. They were facing the primary need to proclaim God’s word in accordance with the Lord’s mandate but — even if this was a priority of the Church — they considered with equal gravity the duty of charity and justice, that is, the duty to help widows and poor people and, in response to the commandment of Jesus: love one another as I have loved you (cf. Jn 15,12), to provide lovingly for their brothers and sisters in need.
So it was that difficulties arose in the two activities that must coexist in the Church — the proclamation of the word, the primacy of God and concrete charity, justice — and it was necessary to find a solution so that there would be room for both, for their necessary relationship. The Apostles’ reflection is very clear, they say, as we heard: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Ac 6,2-4).
Two points stand out: first, since that moment a ministry of charity has existed in the Church. The Church must not only proclaim the word but must also put the word — which is charity and truth — into practice. And, the second point: these men must not only enjoy a good reputation but also they must be filled with the Holy Spirit and with wisdom; in other words they cannot merely be organizers who know what “to do”, but must “act” in a spirit of faith with God’s enlightenment, with wisdom of heart. Hence their role — although it is above all a practical one — has nonetheless also a spiritual function. Charity and justice are not only social but also spiritual actions, accomplished in the light of the Holy Spirit.
We can thus say that the Apostles confronted this situation with great responsibility. They took the following decision: seven men were chosen; the Apostles prayed the Holy Spirit to grant them strength and then laid their hands on the seven so that they might dedicate themselves in a special way to this ministry of charity. Thus in the life of the Church, the first steps she took, in a certain way, reflected what had happened in Jesus’ public life at Martha and Mary’s house in Bethany. Martha was completely taken up with the service of hospitality to offer to Jesus and his disciples; Mary, on the contrary, devoted herself to listening to the Lord’s word (cf. Lc 10,38-42). In neither case were the moments of prayer and of listening to God, and daily activity, the exercise of charity in opposition. Jesus’ reminder, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Lc 10,41-42) and, likewise, the Apostles’ reflection: “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Ac 6,4), show the priority we must give to God. I do not wish here to enter into the interpretation of this Martha-Mary passage. In any case activity undertaken to help one’s neighbor, “the other”, is not to be condemned, but it is essential to stress the need for it to be imbued also with the spirit of contemplation. Moreover, St Augustine says that this reality of Mary is a vision of our situation from heaven, so on earth we can never possess it completely but a little anticipation must be present in all our activities. Contemplation of God must also be present. We must not lose ourselves in pure activism but always let ourselves also be penetrated in our activities by the light of the word of God and thereby learn true charity, true service to others, which does not need many things — it certainly needs the necessary things — but needs above all our heartfelt affection and the light of God.
In commenting on the episode of Martha and Mary St Ambrose urges his faithful and us too: “Let us too seek to have what cannot be taken from us, dedicating diligent, not distracted attention to the Lord’s word. The seeds of the heavenly word are blown away, if they are sown along the roadside. May the wish to know be an incentive to you too, as it was to Mary, this is the greatest and most perfect act”. And he added that “attention to the ministry must not distract from knowledge of the heavenly word” through prayer (Expositio Evangelii secundunm Lucam, VII, 85 PL 15, 1720).
Saints have therefore experienced a profound unity of life between prayer and action, between total love for God and love for their brethren. St Bernard, who is a model of harmony between contemplation and hard work, in his book De consideratione, addressed to Pope Innocent II to offer him some reflections on his ministry, insists precisely on the importance of inner recollection, of prayer to defend oneself from the dangers of being hyper-active, whatever our condition and whatever the task to be carried out. St Bernard says that all too often too much work and a frenetic life-style end by hardening the heart and causing the spirit to suffer (cf.II, 3).
His words are a precious reminder to us today, used as we are to evaluating everything with the criterion of productivity and efficiency. The passage from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us of the importance — without a doubt a true and proper ministry is created — of devotion to daily activities which should be carried out with responsibility and dedication and also our need for God, for his guidance, for his light which gives us strength and hope. Without daily prayer lived with fidelity, our acts are empty, they lose their profound soul, and are reduced to being mere activism which in the end leaves us dissatisfied. There is a beautiful invocation of the Christian tradition to be recited before any other activity which says: “Actiones nostras, quaesumus, Domine, aspirando praeveni et adiuvando prosequere, ut cuncta nostra oratio et operatio a te semper incipiat, et per te coepta finiatur”; that is, “Inspire our actions, Lord, and accompany them with your help, so that our every word and action may always begin and end in you”. Every step in our life, every action, of the Church too, must be taken before God, in the light of his word.
In last Wednesday’s Catechesis I emphasized the unanimous prayer of the first Christian community in times of trial and explained how in prayer itself, in meditation on Sacred Scripture, it was able to understand the events that were happening. When prayer is nourished by the word of God we can see reality with new eyes, with the eyes of faith and the Lord, who speaks to the mind and the heart, gives new light to the journey at every moment and in every situation. We believe in the power of the Word of God and of prayer. Even the difficulties that the Church was encountering as she faced the problem of service to the poor, the issue of charity, was overcome in prayer, in the light of God, of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles did not limit themselves to ratifying the choice of Stephen and the other men but “they prayed and laid their hands upon them” (Ac 6,6). The Evangelist was once again to recall these gestures on the occasion of the election of Paul and Barnabas, where we read: “after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Ac 13,3). He confirms again that the practical service of charity is a spiritual service. Both these realities must go hand in hand.
With the act of the laying on of hands, the Apostles conferred a special ministry on seven men so that they might be granted the corresponding grace. The emphasis on prayer — “after praying” — they say, is important because it highlights the gesture’s spiritual dimension; it is not merely a question of conferring an office as happens in a public organization, but is an ecclesial event in which the Holy Spirit appropriates seven men chosen by the Church, consecrating them in the Truth that is Jesus Christ: he is the silent protagonist, present during the imposition of hands so that the chosen ones may be transformed by his power and sanctified in order to face the practical challenges, the pastoral challenges. And the emphasis on prayer also reminds us that the response to the Lord’s choice and the allocation of every ministry in the Church stems solely from a close relationship with God, nurtured daily.
Dear brothers and sisters, the pastoral problem that induced the Apostles to choose and to lay their hands on seven men charged with the service of charity, so that they themselves might be able to devote themselves to prayer and to preaching the word, also indicates to us the primacy of prayer and of the word of God which, however, then result in pastoral action. For pastors, this is the first and most valuable form of service for the flock entrusted to them. If the lungs of prayer and of the word of God do not nourish the breath of our spiritual life, we risk being overwhelmed by countless everyday things: prayer is the breath of the soul and of life. And there is another precious reminder that I would like to underscore: in the relationships with God, in listening to his word, in dialogue with God, even when we may be in the silence of a church or of our room, we are united in the Lord to a great many brothers and sisters in faith, like an ensemble of musical instruments which, in spite of their individuality, raise to God one great symphony of intercession, of thanksgiving and praise. Many thanks!
To special groups:
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Finland, Sweden, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.
Lastly, I address my thoughts to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds.Dear young people, may you attend the school of Christ to learn to follow faithfully in his footsteps. May you, dear sick people, accept your trials with faith and live them in union with those of Christ. I hope that you, dear newlyweds may become generous servants of the Gospel of life.
Saint Peter's Square20512
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our recent Catecheses we have seen how through personal and community prayer the interpretation of and meditation on Sacred Scripture open us to listening to God who speaks to us and instils light in us so that we may understand the present.
Today, I would like to talk about the testimony and prayer of the Church’s first martyr, St Stephen, one of the seven men chosen to carry out the service of charity for the needy. At the moment of his martyrdom, recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, the fruitful relationship between the Word of God and prayer is once again demonstrated.
Stephen is brought before the council, before the Sanhedrin, where he is accused of declaring that “this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, [the Temple] and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us” (Ac 6,14). During his public life Jesus had effectively foretold the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem: you will “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2,19). But, as the Evangelist John remarked, “he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (Jn 2,21-22).
Stephen’s speech to the council, the longest in the Acts of the Apostles, develops on this very prophecy of Jesus who is the new Temple, inaugurates the new worship and, with his immolation on the Cross, replaces the ancient sacrifices. Stephen wishes to demonstrate how unfounded is the accusation leveled against him of subverting the Mosaic law and describes his view of salvation history and of the covenant between God and man. In this way he reinterprets the whole of the biblical narrative, the itinerary contained in Sacred Scripture, in order to show that it leads to the “place”, of the definitive presence of God that is Jesus Christ, and in particular his Passion, death and Resurrection. In this perspective Stephen also interprets his being a disciple of Jesus, following him even to martyrdom. Meditation on Sacred Scripture thus enables him to understand his mission, his life, his present. Stephen is guided in this by the light of the Holy Spirit and by his close relationship with the Lord, so that the members of the Sanhedrin saw that his face was “like the face of an angel” (Ac 6,15). This sign of divine assistance is reminiscent of Moses’ face which shone after his encounter with God when he came down from Mount Sinai (cf. Ex Ex 34,29-35 2Co 3,7-8).
In his discourse Stephen starts with the call of Abraham, a pilgrim bound for the land pointed out to him by God which he possessed only at the level of a promise. He then speaks of Joseph, sold by his brothers but helped and liberated by God, and continues with Moses, who becomes an instrument of God in order to set his people free but also and several times comes up against his own people’s rejection. In these events narrated in Sacred Scripture to which Stephen demonstrates he listens religiously, God always emerges, who never tires of reaching out to man in spite of frequently meeting with obstinate opposition. And this happens in the past, in the present and in the future. So it is that throughout the Old Testament he sees the prefiguration of the life of Jesus himself, the Son of God made flesh who — like the ancient Fathers — encounters obstacles, rejection and death. Stephen then refers to Joshua, David and Solomon, whom he mentions in relation to the building of the Temple of Jerusalem, and ends with the word of the Prophet Isaiah (Is 66,1-2): “Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?” (Ac 7,49-50). In his meditation on God’s action in salvation history, by highlighting the perennial temptation to reject God and his action, he affirms that Jesus is the Righteous One foretold by the prophets; God himself has made himself uniquely and definitively present in him: Jesus is the “place” of true worship. Stephen does not deny the importance of the Temple for a certain period, but stresses that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands” (Ac 7,48).
The new, true temple in which God dwells is his Son, who has taken human flesh; it is the humanity of Christ, the Risen One, who gathers the peoples together and unites them in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood. The description of the temple as “not made by human hands” is also found in the theology of St Paul and in the Letter to the Hebrews; the Body of Jesus which he assumed in order to offer himself as a sacrificial victim for the expiation of sins, is the new temple of God, the place of the presence of the living God; in him, God and man, God and the world are truly in touch: Jesus takes upon himself all the sins of humanity in order to bring it into the love of God and to “consummate” it in this love. Drawing close to the Cross, entering into communion with Christ, means entering this transformation. And this means coming into contact with God, entering the true temple.
Stephen’s life and words are suddenly cut short by the stoning, but his martyrdom itself is the fulfilment of his life and message: he becomes one with Christ. Thus his meditation on God’s action in history, on the divine word which in Jesus found complete fulfilment, becomes participation in the very prayer on the Cross. Indeed, before dying, Stephen cries out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Ac 7,59), making his own the words of Psalm 31:6 and repeating Jesus’ last words on Calvary: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lc 23,46). Lastly, like Jesus, he cries out with a loud voice facing those who were stoning him: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Ac 7,60). Let us note that if on the one hand Stephen’s prayer echoes Jesus’, on the other it is addressed to someone else, for the entreaty is to the Lord himself, namely, to Jesus whom he contemplates in glory at the right hand of the Father: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God” (v. 55).
Dear brothers and sisters, St Stephen’s witness gives us several instructions for our prayers and for our lives. Let us ask ourselves: where did this first Christian martyr find the strength to face his persecutors and to go so far as to give himself? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from his communion with Christ, from meditation on the history of salvation, from perceiving God’s action which reached its crowning point in Jesus Christ. Our prayers, too, must be nourished by listening to the word of God, in communion with Jesus and his Church.
A second element: St Stephen sees the figure and mission of Jesus foretold in the history of the loving relationship between God and man. He — the Son of God — is the temple that is not “made with hands” in which the presence of God the Father became so close as to enter our human flesh to bring us to God, to open the gates of heaven. Our prayer, therefore, must be the contemplation of Jesus at the right hand of God, of Jesus as the Lord of our, or my, daily life. In him, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can address God and be truly in touch with God, with the faith and abandonment of children who turn to a Father who loves them infinitely. Thank you.
To special groups:
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Nigeria, Australia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Canada and the United States. I offer a cordial welcome to the delegation from the Christian Council of Norway and to the ecumenical groups from Sweden. I also thank the traditional choir from Indonesia for their song. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings. Thank you.
Finally, a thought for the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. May the Easter joy continue to gladden our lives: dear young people, do not extinguish the aspiration to happiness of your age, knowing how to find the true joy which the Risen One alone can give us; dear sick people face the trial of your suffering courageously, knowing that life must always be lived as a gift of God; and you, dear newlyweds, may you be able to draw from the teaching of the Gospel all you need to build an authentic community of love.
Saint Peter's Square9052
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to touch upon the last episode in the life of St Peter recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, his imprisonment by order of Herod Agrippa, and his release through the marvelous intervention of the Angel of the Lord on the eve of his trial in Jerusalem (cf. Ac 12,1-17).
The narrative is once again marked by the prayer of the Church. St Luke writes: “So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Ac 12,5). And, after having miraculously left the prison, on the occasion of his visit to Mary’s house, the mother of John also called Mark, it tells us “many were gathered together and were praying” (Ac 12,12). Between these two important observations that illustrate the attitude of the Christian community in the face of danger and persecution, is recounted the detainment and release of Peter, during the entire night. The strength of the unceasing prayer of the Church rises to God and the Lord listens and performs an unheard of and unexpected deliverance, sending his Angel.
The account reminds us of the great elements during Israel’s deliverance from captivity in Egypt, the Hebrew Passover. As happened in that major event, here also, the Angel of the Lord performs the primary action that frees Peter. And the actions of the Apostle — who is asked to rise quickly, put on his belt and gird his loins — repeating those of the Chosen People on the night of their deliverance through God’s intervention, when they were invited to eat the lamb quickly with their belts fastened, sandals on their feet, and their staffs in their hands, ready to leave the country (cf. Ex Ex 12,11). Thus, Peter could exclaim: “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his Angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod” (Ac 12,11). The Angel does not only recall the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, but also the Resurrection of Christ. Recounted in the Acts of the Apostles: “and behold, an Angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him” (Ac 12,7). The light that fills the prison cell, the same action to awaken the Apostle, refers to the liberating light of the Passover of the Lord that triumphs over the darkness of night and evil. Finally, the invitation to “Wrap your mantle around you and follow me” (Ac 12,8) echoes the words of the initial call of Jesus in our hearts (cf. Mc 1,17), repeated after the Resurrection on Lake Tiberias, where on two occasions the Lord says to Peter, “Follow me” (Jn 21,19). It is a pressing call to follow him. Only by coming out of ourselves to walk with the Lord and by doing his will can we live in true freedom.
I would also like to highlight another aspect of Peter’s attitude in prison. In fact, we note that while the Christian community is praying earnestly from him, Peter “was sleeping” (Ac 12,6). In a critical situation of serious danger, it is an attitude that might seem strange, but instead denotes tranquility and faith. He trusts God. He knows he is surrounded by the solidarity and prayers of his own people and completely abandons himself into the hands of the Lord. So it must be with our prayer, assiduous, in solidarity with others, fully trusting that God knows us in our depths and takes care of us to the point that Jesus says “even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore” (Mt 10,30-31). Peter lives through that night of imprisonment and release from prison as a moment of his discipleship with the Lord who overcomes the darkness of night and frees him from the chains of slavery and the threat of death. His is a miraculous release, marked by various accurately described steps, guided by the Angel, despite the monitoring of the guards, through the first and second guard posts, up to the iron doors to exit to the city, with the door opening by itself in front of them (cf. Ac 12,10). Peter and the Angel of the Lord make their way together down a stretch of the street until, coming back to himself, the Apostle realizes that the Lord really freed him and, after having reflected on the matter, went to the house of Mary the mother of Mark where many disciples were gathered in prayer. Once again the community’s response to difficulty and danger is to trust in God, strengthening the relationship with Him.
Here it seems useful to recall another difficult situation that the early Christian community experienced. St James speaks of it in his Letter. It is a community in crisis, in difficulty, not so much because of persecution, but because of the jealousies and contentions within it (cf. Jas Jc 3,14-16). The Apostle wonders about the reason for this situation. He finds two primary motives. The first is that they let themselves be carried away by their emotions, by the dictates of their own interests, by selfishness (cf. Jas Jc 4,1-2). The second is the lack of prayer — “you do not ask” (Jc 4,2) — or a kind of a prayer that cannot qualify as such — “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jc 4,3). This situation would change, according to St James, if the community all spoke together with God, truly praying assiduously and unanimously. In fact, even talking about God runs the risk of loosing inner strength and the testimony dries up if they are not animated, sustained and accompanied by prayer, by continuity of a living dialogue with the Lord. An important reminder also for us and our communities, both the small ones like the family and the bigger ones like the parish, the diocese and the entire Church. And it makes me think that they prayed in this community of St James, but prayed wrongly, solely for their own passions. We must always learn again how to pray properly, truly pray, moving towards God and not towards our own good.
Instead, the community that is concerned about Peter’s imprisonment is a community that truly prays the entire night, deeply united. And it is overwhelming joy that fills the hearts of all when the Apostle unexpectedly knocks at the door. It is joy and amazement in light of the actions of the God who listens. Thus, from the Church arises the prayer for Peter and to the Church he returns to tell “how the Lord had brought him out of the prison” (Ac 12,17). In that Church where he is set as a rock (cf. Mt 16,18), Peter recounts his “Passover” of liberation. He experiences true freedom in following Jesus. He is enveloped in the radiant light of the Resurrection and can therefore testify to the point of martyrdom that the Lord is Risen and “sent his Angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod” (Ac 12,11). The martyrdom he was to suffer in Rome will definitively unite him with Christ, who had told him: when you are old, another will take you where you do not want to go, to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God (cf. Jn 21,18-19).
Dear brothers and sisters, the episode of the liberation of Peter as told by Luke tells us that the Church, each of us, goes through the night of trial. But it is unceasing vigilance in prayer that sustains us. I too, from the first moment of my election as the Successor of St Peter, have always felt supported by your prayer, by the prayers of the Church, especially in moments of great difficulty. My heartfelt thanks. With constant and faithful prayer the Lord releases us from the chains, guides us through every night of imprisonment that can gnaw at our hearts. He gives us the peace of heart to face the difficulties of life, persecution, opposition and even rejection. Peter’s experience shows us the power of prayer. And the Apostle, though in chains, feels calm in the certainty of never being alone. The community is praying for him. The Lord is near him. He indeed knows that Christ’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2Co 12,9). Constant and unanimous prayer is also a precious tool to overcome any trial that may arise on life’s journey, because it is being deeply united to God that allows us also to be united to others. Thank you.
Saint Peter's Square16052
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In recent catecheses we reflected on prayer in the Acts of the Apostles, today I would like to begin to speak about prayer in the Letters of St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. First of all, I would like to note that it is by no accident that his Letters open and close with expressions of prayer: at the beginning thanksgiving and praise, and at the end the hope that the grace of God may guide the path of the community to whom the Letter is addressed. Between the opening formula: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ” (Rm 1,8), and his final wish: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all” (1Co 16,23), the Apostle’s letters unfold. St Paul’s prayer is one which manifests itself in a great many ways that move from thanksgiving to blessing, from praise to petitions and intercessions, from hymns to supplication. He uses a variety of expressions which demonstrate how prayer concerns and penetrates every one of life’s situations, whether they be personal or of the communities, whom he is addressing.
One element that the Apostle would have us understand is that prayer should not be seen simply as a good deed done by us to God, our own action. It is, above all, a gift, the fruit of the living presence, the life-giving presence of the Father and of Jesus Christ in us. In the Letter to the Romans, he writes: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rm 8,26). And we know how true it is when the Apostle says: “we do not know how to pray as we ought”. We want to pray, but God is far, we do not have the words, the language, to speak with God, not even the thought. We can only open ourselves, set our time at the disposal of God, waiting for him to help us enter into true dialogue. The Apostle says: this very lack of words, this absence of words, even the desire to enter into contact with God is a prayer that the Holy Spirit not only understands, but carries, interprets, to God. It is precisely our weakness which becomes, through the Holy Spirit, true prayer, true contact with God. The Holy Spirit is almost the interpreter who makes God and us ourselves understand what we want to say.
In prayer we experience, more so than in other dimensions of life, our weakness, our poverty, our being created, because we stand before the omnipotence and the transcendence of God. And the more we progress in listening to and dialoguing with God, for prayer becomes the daily breathe of our soul, the more we perceive the meaning of our limits, not just before the concrete situations of every day but in our relationship with the Lord too. Growing within us is the need to trust, to trust ever more in him; we understand that “we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rm 8,26). And it is the Holy Spirit who helps us in our incapacity, who illuminates our minds and warms our hearts, guiding us to turn to God. For St Paul prayer is above all the work of the Spirit in our humanity, taking charge of our weakness and transforming us from men attached to the material world into spiritual men. In the First Letter to the Corinthians he writes: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit” (1Co 2,12-13). With his dwelling in our human frailty, the Holy Spirit changes us, intercedes for us, leads us toward the heights of God (cf. Rm 8,26).
With this presence of the Holy Spirit our union with Christ is realized, for it is the Spirit of the Son of God in whom we are made children. St Paul speaks of the Spirit of Christ (cf. Rm 8,9), and not only the Spirit of God. Clearly: if Christ is the Son of God, his Spirit is also the Spirit of God, and thus if the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, had already become very close to us in the Son of God and the Son of man, the Spirit of God too becomes human spirit and touches us; we can enter into the communion of the Spirit.
It was as if he had said that not only God the Father was made visible in the Incarnation of the Son, but also the Spirit of God is manifest in the life and action of Jesus, of Jesus Christ who lived, was crucified, died and rose again. The Apostle reminds us that “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1Co 12,3). Therefore, the Spirit directs our heart towards Jesus Christ, in such a way that “it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us” (cf. Gal Ga 2,20). In his De sacramentis, reflecting on the Eucharist, St Ambrose says: “Whoever is drunk of the Spirit is rooted in Christ” (5, 3, 12: PL 16, 450).
And now I would like to underline three consequences in Christian life when we let work within us not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of Christ as the interior principle of our entire action.
First, with prayer animated by the Spirit we are enabled to abandon and overcome every form of fear and slavery, living the authentic freedom of the children of God. Without prayer which every day nourishes our being in Christ, in an intimacy which progressively grows, we find ourselves in the state described by St Paul in his Letter to the Romans: we do not do the good we want, but the evil we do not want (cf. Rm 7,19). And this is the expression of the alienation of human beings, of the destruction of our freedom, the circumstances of our being because of original sin: we want the good that we do not do and we do what we do not want to do: evil. The Apostle wants to make us understand that it is not primarily our will that frees us from these conditions, nor even the law, but the Holy Spirit. And since “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2Co 3,17), in prayer we experience the freedom given by the Spirit: an authentic freedom, which is freedom from evil and sin for the good and for life, for God. The freedom of the Spirit, St Paul continues, is never identified with licentiousness, nor with the possibility to choose evil, but rather with “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control” (Ga 5,22). This is true freedom: actually to be able to follow our desire for good, for true joy, for communion with God and to be free from the oppression of circumstances that pull us in other directions.
A second consequence occurs in our life when we let work within us the Spirit of Christ and when the very relationship with God becomes so profound that no other reality or situation affects it. We understand that with prayer we are not liberated from trials and suffering, but we can live through them in union with Christ, with his suffering, in the hope of also participating in his glory (cf. Rm 8,17). Many times, in our prayer, we ask God to be freed from physical and spiritual evil, and we do it with great trust. However, often we have the impression of not being heard and we may well feel discouraged and fail to persevere. In reality, there is no human cry that is not heard by God and it is precisely in constant and faithful prayer that we comprehend with St Paul that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rm 8,18). Prayer does not exempt us from trial and suffering, indeed — St Paul says — we “groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rm 8,23). He says that prayer does not exempt us from suffering but prayer does permit us to live through it and face it with a new strength, with the confidence of Jesus, who — according to the Letter to the Hebrews — “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him [God] who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear” (He 5,7). The answer of God the Father to the Son, to his loud cries and tears, was not freedom from suffering, from the cross, from death, but a much greater fulfillment, an answer much more profound; through the cross and death God responded with the Resurrection of the Son, with new life. Prayer animated by the Holy Spirit leads us too to live every day a journey of life with its trials and sufferings, with the fullness of hope, with trust in God who answers us as he answered the Son.
And, the third, the prayer of the believer opens also to the dimensions of humanity and of all creation, in the expectation that “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rm 8,19). This means that prayer, sustained by the Spirit of Christ speaking in the depths of each one of us, does not stay closed in on itself. It is never just prayer for me, but opens itself to sharing the suffering of our time, of others. It becomes intercession for others, and like this deliverance from me, a channel of hope for all creation, the expression of that love of God that is poured into our hearts through the Spirit whom he has given to us (cf. Rm 5,5). And precisely this is a sign of true prayer, which does not end in us, but opens itself to others and like this delivers me, and thus helps in the redemption of the world.
Dear brothers and sisters, St Paul teaches us that in our prayer we must open ourselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit, who prays in us with sighs too deep for words, to lead us to adhere to God with all our heart and with all our being. The Spirit of Christ becomes the strength of our “weak” prayers, the light of our “darkened” prayer, the fire of our “barren” prayer, giving us true inner freedom, teaching us to live facing the trials of existence, in the certainty of not being alone, opening us to the horizons of humanity and of creation which “has been groaning in travail” (Rm 8,22). Thank you.
To special groups:
I greet all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from, Ireland, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Canada and the United States. I welcome in particular the pilgrimage groups from Australia. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.
I am pleased to greet Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, President of Caritas Internationalis, together with Members of the Executive Board and Representative Council. Your presence here today expresses your communion with the Successor of Peter and your readiness to welcome the new juridical framework of your organization. I thank you for this and I am certain that the new structures will support and encourage your important service to those most in need.
My thoughts now turn to young people, the sick and newly weds.The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, which we will celebrate tomorrow, invites us to look to Jesus who, by ascending to Heaven, entrusts to the Apostles the mandate to carry his message of salvation throughout the world. Dear young people, commit yourselves to setting your enthusiasm at the service of the Gospel. You, dear sick people, live out your suffering united to the Lord, to offer your own precious contribution to the spreading of the Kingdom of God. And you, dear newlyweds, witness to the love of Christ with your marital love.
Saint Peter's Square
Audiences 2005-2013 25042