The grace of
the Spirit breathes life into the Church's mission
On Sunday morning, 31
May , the Solemnity of Pentecost, the Holy Father presided at Holy
Mass in St Peter's Basilica. The following is a translation of the
Pope's Homily, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Every time we celebrate the
Eucharist we live in faith the mystery that is fulfilled on the altar,
that is, we take part in the supreme act of love that Christ
accomplished with his death and Resurrection. The one and only centre of
the liturgy and Christian life itself
the Paschal Mystery
acquires in the various Solemnities and Feasts specific "forms", with
additional meanings and special gifts of grace.
Pentecost is distinguished
from all the Solemnities by its importance since what Jesus himself had
announced as the purpose of the whole of his mission on earth is brought
about in it. Indeed, on his way up to Jerusalem he had declared to his
disciples: "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were
already kindled!" (Lk 12:49).
These words were most
visibly brought about 50 days after the Resurrection, at Pentecost, the
ancient Jewish feast which in the Church has become the feast par
excellence of the Holy Spirit: "There appeared to them tongues as of
fire... and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:3-4).
The real fire, the Holy
Spirit, was brought to the earth by Christ. He did not steal it from the
gods like Prometheus, according to the Greek myth, but rather made
himself the mediator of the "gift of God", obtaining it for us with the
greatest act of love in history: his death on the Cross.
God wants to continue
giving this "fire" to every human generation and he is naturally free to
do so as and when he wishes. He is spirit, and the Spirit "blows where
he wills" (cf. Jn 3:8). However, there is a "normal way" which God
himself chose "to cast fire upon the earth": this way is Jesus, his
Only-Begotten Son, incarnate, dead and Risen.
In his turn Jesus Christ
constituted the Church as his Mystical Body so that she might extend his
mission in history. "Receive the Holy Spirit", the Lord said to the
Apostles on the evening of the Resurrection, accompanying these words
with an expressive gesture: "he breathed" on them (cf. Jn 20:22).
In this Way he showed that
he was communicating his Spirit to them, the Spirit of the Father and of
Now, dear brothers and
sisters, in today's Solemnity Scripture tells us once again how the
community should be, how we should be in order to receive the gift of
the Holy Spirit. In the account which describes the event of Pentecost,
the sacred Author recalls that the disciples "were all together in one
place". This "place" was the Cenacle, the "Upper Room" where Jesus had
eaten the Last Supper with his Apostles, where he had appeared to them
risen; that room which had become, so to speak, the "headquarters" of
the nascent Church (cf. Acts 1: 13). The Acts of the Apostles, however,
rather than insisting on the physical place, intend to point out the
inner attitude of the disciples: "All these with one accord devoted
themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14). Harmony among the disciples is thus
the condition for the coming of the Holy Spirit; and a presupposition of
harmony is prayer.
Dear brothers and sisters,
this also applies to the Church today, it applies to us, who are
gathered here. If we want to prevent Pentecost from being reduced to a
mere rite or even an evocative commemoration but want it to be an actual
event of salvation, we must prepare ourselves in devout expectation for
the gift of God through humble and silent listening to his Word.
Since Pentecost is renewed
in our time, perhaps
taking nothing from the freedom of God
the Church should concentrate less on activities and be more dedicated
to prayer. The Mother of the Church, Mary Most Holy, Bride of the Holy
Spirit, teaches us this.
This year Pentecost falls
on the very last day of May on which the Feast of the Visitation is
normally celebrated. That too was a sort of miniature "pentecost" which
caused joy and praise to well up in the hearts of Elizabeth and Mary,
one barren and the other a virgin, who both became mothers through an
extraordinary divine intervention (cf. Lk 1:41-45).
The music and singing that
accompany this liturgy help us likewise to be with one accord devoted to
prayer, and for this I express my deep gratitude to the Cathedral Choir
and the Kammerorchester of Cologne. Joseph Haydn's
Harmoniemesse has very appropriately been chosen for this liturgy on
the bicentenary of his death, the last of the "Masses" composed by the
great musician and a sublime symphony to the glory of God. I address my
most cordial greeting to all of you who are gathered here on this
In the account of Pentecost
the Acts of the Apostles uses two important images to indicate the Holy
Spirit: the image of the storm and the image of fire. Clearly, St Luke
has in mind the theophany of Sinai, recounted in the Books of Exodus
(19:16-19) and Deuteronomy (4: 10-12, 36) .
In the ancient world the
storm was seen as a sign of divine power, before which man felt
subjugated and terrified. However, I would like to emphasize another
aspect too: the storm is described as a "mighty wind" and this makes one
think of the air which distinguishes our planet from the other stars and
enables us to live on it.
What air is for biological
life, the Holy Spirit is for spiritual life; and just as an atmospheric
pollution exists that poisons the environment and living beings, thus a
pollution of heart and spirit exists that mortifies and poisons
In the same way that one
must not become inured to the poisons in the air
and for this reason ecological commitment is a priority today
likewise one must not become inured to what corrupts the mind. On the
other hand it seems that it is not difficult to become accustomed to the
many products that contaminate both the mind and the heart and that
circulate in our society
for example, images which boost pleasure, violence or contempt for men
This is also freedom,
people say, without realizing that all this pollutes, and intoxicates
the mind, especially that of the new generations and moreover ends by
conditioning their very freedom. The metaphor of the mighty wind of
Pentecost makes one think instead of how precious it is to breathe clean
air, physically with the lungs and spiritually with the heart, the
healthy air of the Spirit who is love!
The other image of the Holy
Spirit which we find in the Acts of the Apostles is fire. I mentioned at
the beginning the comparison between Jesus and the mythological figure
of Prometheus which recalls a characteristic aspect of modern man. In
possessing himself of the energies of the cosmos
the human being seems today to assert himself as a god and to wish to
transform the world excluding, setting aside or even rejecting the
Creator of the universe.
Man no longer wants to be an image of God but of
himself; he declares himself autonomous, free and adult. Of course, this
attitude reveals a relationship with God which is not authentic, the
consequence of a false image which has been fabricated of him, like the
Prodigal Son in the Gospel parable who believes that he can fulfil
himself by distancing himself from his father's house.
In the hands of such a man "fire" and its enormous
potential become dangerous: they can backfire against life and humanity
itself, as history unfortunately shows. The tragedies of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, where atomic energy used for the purposes of war ended by
sowing death on an unheard of scale, serve as a perennial warning.
It would truly be possible to find many examples, less
grave but equally symptomatic, in everyday reality. Sacred Scripture
reveals to us that the energy capable of moving the world is not an
anonymous and blind force but the action of the "Spirit of God... moving
over the face of the waters" (Gn 1:2) at the beginning of the Creation.
And Jesus Christ "brought to the earth" not the vital force that already
lived in it but the Holy Spirit, that is, the love of God who "renews
the face of the earth", purifying it from evil and setting it free
from the dominion of death (cf. Ps 103:29-30).
This pure, essential and personal "fire", the fire of
love, came down upon the Apostles gathered in prayer with Mary in the
Upper Room, to make the Church an extension of Christ's work of renewal.
Lastly, a final thought may also be found in the account
of the Acts of the Apostles: the Holy Spirit overcomes fear. We know
that the disciples sought shelter in the Upper Room after the arrest of
their Lord and that they had remained isolated for fear of suffering the
After Jesus' Resurrection their fear was not suddenly
dispelled. But here at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit rested upon them,
those men emerged fearless and began to proclaim the Good News of the
Crucified and Risen Christ to all. They were not afraid because they
felt they were in the hands of the strongest One.
Yes, dear brothers and sisters, wherever the Spirit of
God enters he puts fear to flight; he makes us know and feel that we are
in the hands of an Omnipotence of love: something happens, his infinite
love does not abandon us. It is demonstrated by the witness of martyrs,
by the courage of confessors of the faith, by the undaunted zeal of
missionaries, by the frankness of preachers, by the example of all the
saints, even some who were adolescents and children.
It is demonstrated by the very existence of the Church
which, despite the limitations and sins of men and women, continues to
cross the ocean of history, blown by the breath of God and enlivened by
his purifying fire. With this faith and joyful hope let us repeat today,
through the intercession of Mary: "Send forth your Spirit, O Lord,
and renew the face of the earth".