Fathers of the East Knew How to Listen to Spirit of God

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Angelus, 8 September 1996

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Among the signs of hope of our time, so rich in lights and shadows, there is certainly the repeated demand for spirituality, which is making headway despite the advanced process of secularization. Man sees that science, technology and economic well-being do not suffice. The goods produced by industrial civilization can make our life more comfortable, but they do not satisfy the needs of the heart. Television and computer science, in a certain sense, bring the world into our home. But this does not always ensure depth and serenity in human relations.

In this context many people feel a pressing need to return to their roots, an intimate desire for silence, contemplation, the search for the absolute. A word of life is sought among so many words that are often misleading and empty.

To this need Christianity has always offered a response which springs from biblical revelation and is supported by the experience of numerous saints. Today I wish to stress the contribution which comes from Eastern Christianity whose spirituality deserves to be increasingly well known, not only in its external features but especially in its deep motivations.

2. The Fathers of the East start with the awareness that authentic spiritual commitment can not be reduced to an encounter with oneself, to an even necessary recovery of inferiority, but must be a journey of docile listening to the Spirit of God. In fact, they maintain, man is not completely himself if he is closed to the Holy Spirit. St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who because of his origins and formation can be considered a bridge between East and West, saw man as made up of three elements: body, soul and Holy Spirit (cf. Adversus haereses 5, 9, 1-2). Certainly he did not intend to confuse man with God, but he was concerned to emphasize that man reaches his fullness only by opening himself to God. For Aphraates of Persia who echoes St Paul's thought, the Spirit of God is offered to us in such an intimate way as to become almost part of our "self" (cf. Demonstrationes 6, 14). In the same sense, a Russian spiritual author, Theophane the Recluse, reached the point of calling the Holy Spirit "the soul of the human soul" and saw the purpose of the spiritual life in a "gradual spiritualization of the soul and of the body" (cf. Letters on Spiritual Life).

The true enemy of this interior ascent is sin. It must be overcome in order to make room for the Spirit of God. In him, not only the individual but the whole cosmos is, as it were, transfigured. It is not an easy journey: but the goal is a great experience of freedom.

3. Let us raise our eyes to Mary whose Nativity we are joyfully celebrating today. The Blessed Virgin is the exemplary image of a human being inhabited by the Holy Spirit. She immediately accepted him at the Annunciation and thus became Mother of the Redeemer. She then received him at Pentecost, together with the Apostles, being in their midst as Mother of the Church. May she now awaken in each of us a great desire of the spiritual life, helping us to develop this basic dimension of our heart in full docility to the Spirit of God.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
11 September 1996

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069