National Catholic Register

Vatican

WEEKLY CATHECHESIS

St. Paul: The Holy Spirit Is at Work in Our Hearts

BY John Lilly

November 26-December 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 11/22/06 at 10:00 AM

 

Register Summary

Pope Benedict XVI met with several thousand pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square during his general audience on Nov. 15. For a third time, he devoted his catechesis to the teachings of St. Paul. “We find ourselves before a giant, not only in terms of his apostolic activity but also in terms of his theological doctrine, which is extraordinarily profound and thought-provoking,” he noted.

The Holy Father focused on St. Paul’s teaching on the Holy Spirit. St. Paul not only presents the Holy Spirit as the driving force of the Church’s mission, but also speaks of the Spirit’s presence and activity in the life of each individual Christian.

Christians, even before they do anything, already possess a rich and fruitful interior life, which they have received in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, an interior life that establishes within them a relationship as children of God that is both objective and unique,” he pointed out. “This is our greatest dignity: We are not only made in the image of God, we are his children.”

As the Spirit of the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and constantly intercedes for us before the Father.

The Spirit, always awake within us, compensates for our deficiencies and offers up to the Father our adoration along with our deepest hopes,” the Pope said.

The Spirit is also the Spirit of love, Pope Benedict explained. He gives us a share in God’s own life, enables us to love others with Christ’s own love, and strengthens the bonds of communion within the Church.

The Spirit is that interior power which harmonizes believers’ hearts with Christ’s heart and moves them to love their brethren as Christ loved them,” the Holy Father noted. “The Spirit instills within us the very rhythm of God’s life, which is a life of love, so that we personally partake in the mutual relationship that exists between the Father and the Son.

Pope Benedict concluded his reflections with an exhortation to all Christians to join with him and allow St. Paul’s example and insight to inspire us to treasure the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and to follow his promptings with hope-filled joy and generous love.



Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, as in my two previous catecheses, we will once again speak about St. Paul and his thinking. We find ourselves before a giant, not only in terms of his apostolic activity but also in terms of his theological doctrine, which is extraordinarily profound and thought-provoking. After having meditated last time on what Paul wrote regarding the central place of Jesus Christ in our life of faith, today we will examine what he has to say about the Holy Spirit and his presence within us, because the apostle Paul has something very important to teach us in this regard.

A Call to Mission

We are familiar with all that St. Luke tells us about the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles where he describes the events of Pentecost. The Spirit of Pentecost bears along with it a driving force to take on a commitment to the mission of giving witness to the Gospel throughout the world.

In fact, the Acts of the Apostles recounts a whole series of missions that the apostles carried out, first in Samaria and then along the coast of Palestine into Syria. St. Paul’s three great missionary trips are described in great detail, as I recalled a previous Wednesday meeting. However, in his letters St. Paul also speaks to us about the Spirit from another point of view. He does not limit himself to explaining merely the dynamic and active role of the third person of the Holy Trinity; he also analyzes his presence in the lives of Christians, upon whom he has set his mark.

In other words, when reflecting on the Spirit, Paul not only shows his influence on the actions of Christians but also on their very being. In fact, he says that the Spirit of God dwells in us (see Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16) and that “God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts” (Galatians 4:6). According to Paul, therefore, the Spirit penetrates us to the intimate depths of our personal being. Some of his words in this regard are very relevant: “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). As his children, we can call God “Father.”

Children of God

We can see, therefore, that Christians, even before they do anything, already possess a rich and fruitful interior life, which they have received in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, an interior life that establishes within them a relationship as children of God that is both objective and unique. This is our greatest dignity: We are not only made in the image of God, we are his children. Moreover, it is an invitation to live out this relationship as his children and to be ever more conscious of the fact that we are adopted children in God’s great family.

It is an invitation to transform this objective gift into a subjective reality that determines our way of thinking, acting, and being. God considers us to be his children and has raised us to a dignity that is similar — though not equal — to that of Jesus himself, the only one who is a true Son in the full sense. Through him God has given us — or rather restored us — to our place as his children and has given us a trusting freedom in our relationship with the Father.

As Christians, therefore, we discover that the Spirit is no longer the “Spirit of God” to which the Old Testament normally refers and that continued to be repeated in Christian speech (see Genesis 41:38; Exodus 31:3; 1 Corinthians 2:11-12; Philippians 3:3, etc.). Nor is he just a “Holy Spirit,” understood in generic terms as expressed both in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 63:10-11; Psalm 51:13) and the writings of Judaism (the Qumran and the rabbinic writings).

Indeed, a special characteristic of the Christian faith is the profession of a genuine outpouring of this Spirit by the risen Lord, who himself has become the “life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). It is precisely for this reason that St. Paul speaks in very direct terms of the “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9), of the “Spirit of his Son” (Galatians 4:6) and of the “Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:19). It seems as though he wished to say that not only is God the Father visible in the Son (see John 14:9), but that the Spirit of God is expressed in the life and work of the crucified and risen Lord!

At Work in Us

Paul also teaches us another important thing. He says that there is no true prayer without the presence of the Spirit within 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 though to say that the Holy Spirit —  namely, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son — has now become the soul of our soul, the most secret part of our being, from which a movement of prayer rises incessantly to God, which we are even unable to describe in words. Indeed, the Spirit, always awake within us, compensates for our deficiencies and offers up to the Father our adoration along with our deepest hopes. Naturally this requires a deep level of life-giving communion with the Spirit.

It is an invitation to be ever more sensitive and more attentive to this presence of the Spirit in us and to transform it into prayer, to experience this presence and, in this way, to learn to pray — to speak with the Father as his children in the Holy Spirit.

God Is Love

There is another characteristic aspect of the Spirit that St. Paul has taught us: his association with love. The apostle Paul wrote the following words: “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, Deus Caritas Est, I quoted some very eloquent words of St. Augustine, “If you see charity, you see the Trinity” (Deus Caritas Est, 19), and went on to explain: “The Spirit […] is that interior power that harmonizes their [believers’] hearts with Christ’s heart and moves them to love their brethren as Christ loved them” (ibid).

The Spirit instills within us the very rhythm of God’s life, which is a life of love, so that we personally partake in the mutual relationship that exists between the Father and the Son. It is highly significant that Paul, when he lists the different elements that make up the fruits of the Spirit, mentions love first: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” (Galatians 5:22).

Since, by definition, love unites, it means, first of all, that the Spirit is the creator of communion within the Christian community, as we say at the beginning of the Mass using an expression from St. Paul “... the fellowship of the Holy Spirit [namely, that which he brings about] be with all of you” (2 Corinthians 13:13).

On the other hand, however, it is also true that the Spirit impels us to form relationships of love with all men and women. In this way, when we love, we make room for the Spirit and we allow him to express himself fully. Thus, we understand why Paul places the following two exhortations close to each other in his 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 the generous first installment that God himself has given us as a foretaste and a guarantee of our future inheritance (see 2 Corinthians 1:22 and 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14).

Let us learn from Paul, therefore, that the work of the Spirit is guiding our lives towards the great values of love, joy, communion and hope. It is our duty to experience this every day by complying with the inner promptings of the Spirit, aided in our discernment by the illuminating guidance of the apostle Paul.

(Register translation)