Pentecost Sunday 2008 is a kind of centerpiece for Pope Benedict XVI in a year of extraordinary papal events.
The Holy Father has been focusing on the Holy Spirit and images of Pentecost in his remarks regarding World Youth Day 2008, to be held in Sydney this summer. When he celebrated Mass at Nationals Stadium on April 17, he used the readings of Pentecost.
The head of the youth section of the Vatican department for the laity, Father Francis Kohn, said that Pope Benedict expects great things from his events in 2008.
“The Pope speaks of this being a new Pentecost, a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” said the priest.
The Holy Father often connects the themes of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and sacramental confession.
Cardinal George Pell revealed that in response to the Vatican, the Sydney event will have plenty of confession offered: “A whole bevy of priests will strategically be placed around the city to administer this sacrament, and pilgrims can be certain of it being made available at each catechesis location.”
In Rome, Benedict met with young people in March who were preparing for World Youth Day. He heard the confessions of some of the young people and exhorted them all to prepare for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
“At the roots of being Christian,” he told them, “is an encounter with an event, with a Person. This opens a new horizon and, with it, a decisive sense of direction.” In order “to favor this encounter, you are preparing to open your hearts to God, confessing your sins and — by the action of the Holy Spirit and through the ministry of the Church — receiving forgiveness and peace.”
“Thus,” he added, “we make room in ourselves for the presence of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity which is the ‘soul’ and the ‘vital breath’ of Christian life. The Spirit helps us to grow ‘in an understanding of Jesus that becomes ever deeper and more joyful and, at the same time, to put the Gospel into practice.’”
On this subject, the Holy Father recalled one of his own Pentecost meditations when he was archbishop of Munich and Freising, inspired by the film Seelenwanderung, in which one of the characters sells his soul in exchange for worldly success: “From the moment he freed himself of his soul, he no longer had any scruples or humanity, providing striking evidence of how the facade of success often hides an empty life.
“A human being cannot throw away his own soul, because it is the soul that makes him human,” he said. “Yet he does have the frightening possibility of being inhuman, of remaining a person but at the same time selling or losing his own humanity.”
Likewise, Benedict continued, the Holy Spirit “cannot be seen with the eyes. Whether it enters into a person or not, it cannot be seen or demonstrated; but it changes and renews all the perspectives of human life. The Holy Spirit does not change the exterior situations of life, but the interior.”
“Let us then,” he said, “prepare ourselves, with a sincere examination of conscience, to present ourselves before the people to whom Christ entrusted the ministry of reconciliation,” he said. “Thus will we experience true joy. ... Be bearers of this joy, which comes from welcoming the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and witness its fruits in your own lives.
“Always remember that you are ‘temples of the Spirit.’ Allow him to dwell in you and humbly obey his commands, in order to make your own contribution to the building of the Church and to discern the type of vocation to which the Lord calls you,” he said. “Be generous, allow yourselves to be helped by using the sacrament of confession and by the practice of spiritual guidance.”
When Pope Benedict said an early Mass of the Holy Spirit at Nationals Park on April 17 he also stressed confession.
“We have heard from many people — not just Catholics — about how they felt transformed spiritually by his presence and quiet message of hope and faith, something we need to hear more of in our world,” Susan Gibbs, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Washington told Catholic News Service. “There have been a number of stories of people returning to confession after years away, particularly at the Mass at Nationals Park.”
In his homily there, he made the connection between the Holy Spirit and confession explicit:
“In today’s Gospel, the risen Lord bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and grants them the authority to forgive sins,” the Pope said. “Let us trust in the Spirit’s power to inspire conversion, to heal every wound, to overcome every division, and to inspire new life and freedom. How much we need these gifts! And how close at hand they are, particularly in the sacrament of penance!”
He added: “The liberating power of this sacrament, in which our honest confession of sin is met by God’s merciful word of pardon and peace, needs to be rediscovered and reappropriated by every Catholic. To a great extent, the renewal of the Church in America depends on the renewal of the practice of penance and the growth in holiness that that sacrament both inspires and accomplishes.”
The Holy Father had begun his homily by saying: “I have come to America … to implore from the Lord a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in this country.”
On May 4 he continued his emphasis on the Holy Spirit by sending a letter through his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, to the members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (Rinnovamento nello Spirito), which gathered near Rimini, Italy, for their 31st meeting.
The papal letter stated that “His Holiness praises and encourages the commitment with which the Charismatic Renewal makes its own and carries forward the effort to promote communion and collaboration among the diverse realities that the same Spirit has brought about in the Church.”
The letter emphasized that the Holy Father “always follows the journey of the ecclesial movements with special pastoral solicitude” and that he exhorts the members of the Charismatic Renewal always to “unite with prayer their effective attention to the world’s needs and the good of men.”
The meeting celebrated the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s 1998 meeting with the ecclesial movements and communities.
In this context, talks were given by representatives of the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Focolare movement, and Communion and Liberation on the theme “The Church Counts on Each One of You.”
CNS and Zenit contributed
to this article.