The Spirit Gives Life
Paris, May 22, 2015 (ZENIT.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo
1) Acceptance of the Spirit, the perfect Comforter.
In the Gospel passage of this Sunday of Pentecost, Jesus says “When the Paraclete (the Comforter), that I will send you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify of me; and you also bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning .”(Jn 15: 26-27).
During his earthly life Jesus was the Comforter “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28) When Jesus promises us the Comforter, it is almost as if he says, “Go to him, all you who are weary and burdened, and he will refresh you.”
How does this “Comforter” console us? He consoles us by being a witness to our spirit that we are children of God (cf. Rom 8:16). The proof that we are children is that God sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son who cries: Abba, Father (see Gal 4: 8).
To be consoled is a wonderful experience that we all want to have and we need to do.
How many times do we look for someone to console us, to take care of us, to show us affection and attention? Pentecost reminds us that true comfort comes from the Lord, rich in mercy.
This God “comforts his people and has compassion on his afflicted” (Is 49, 13) and proclaims: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people” (Is 40, 1); I, I am your comforter “(Is 51, 12). The God of all comfort (see Rm 15, 5 and 2 Corinthians 1: 3). He does not tire of repeating “As a” mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; you will be comforted in Jerusalem “(Is 66, 13). He comforts us in all our tribulation, so that we make comfort those who are in any affliction with brotherly love giving back the gift that the Father had given to us (2 Cor 1, 3).
This truth affects us a lot, but, unfortunately, we find it hard to accept it. Paradoxically it is difficult to accept with full openness, availability and humility this “spiritual consolation and the true Comforter that comes from above.”
In order to avoid refusing this gift we should not look back as did the rich young man, who preferred to leave Christ because he could not leave his property, material things rich of false and deceitful consolations. We must ask insistently and accept with generosity the gift of the Spirit, then we will persevere in the true journey of conversion towards the house of the Father and of testimony to the whole world.
2) Holy witnesses of mercy.
The gift of the Comforter is not only to alleviate the physical or spiritual suffering of the believers, but also to transform the disciple in witnesses. “The Spirit of truth … will testify on my behalf. You too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning “(Jn 15, 27). In the great trial between Christ and the world that takes place within and throughout history, the Spirit is a witness in favor of Jesus. The Spirit testifies in the heart of the disciple. The testimony of the disciples and of the Spirit are not independent, the first give voice to the Spirit “The Spirit speaks to the heart, you with words; he through inspiration, you through the sounds “(St. Augustine).
The disciples require certainty to be witnesses: the Spirit will give it to him, realizing a personal, intimate and full encounter with the Lord and his truth: “The Holy Spirit … will teach you everything and will remind you of what I have said … He will guide you into all truth.” The Holy Spirit adds nothing to the revelation of Jesus, however, he internalizes it and makes it present in all its fullness. The Gospel says “He will guide you towards and into the fullness of truth.” So the Holy Spirit guides us to an inner knowledge, alive, present and progressive, that is not only a progressive accumulation of knowledge, but rather a progressive journey into the mind and heart of God. It is a journey that goes from the outside to the inside, from a knowledge by hearsay it brings us to an understanding personal, actual and transforming. I would say that it brings us to a concept of Christ like the one that the Virgin Mary, who gave her flesh to Christ, had.
With the Holy Spirit that pours true love into our hearts, we too can spiritual “give flesh” to Christ, be His Body and produce works of charity.
Let’s continue this journey of “spiritual” children, brothers and sisters, meditating and praying so to join our hearts to the truth that the Word reveals. Let’s beg the Holy Comforter, so that we always remember the words of Jesus, “And although he will say ‘Man of little faith, why did you doubt?’(Mt 14, 31), he will give me his right hand, and make firm and unshakable my mind troubled by the events of this world “(St. Ambrose, Commentary on Psalm 118, Disc. 21.9).
May the Holy Spirit inspire us and make us capable to be witnesses of charity, able to make those who are poor materially or spiritually experience the warmth of love and consolation.
We are called to be witnesses to the truth of love which the Cross reveals. It is the Spirit that makes us understand that the Cross is not a defeat, but the triumph of love over everything, love that gives life, in the sense both that it offers it to us and that it makes us live.
All of us are called to bear witness that Christ is risen and is alive. But who is the witness? The witness, especially when it comes from the legal point of view, is the person who has seen, recalls and recounts an event. Even Herod, Judas, Pilate and Caiaphas were witnesses. In Christian terms, it is the person who has met Christ, reminds us of him, and announces his presence with words and with a holy life. “The content of Christian testimony is not a theory, not an ideology or a complex system of rules and prohibitions or a moralism, but it is a message of salvation, a concrete event, actually a Person: Christ is risen, alive and only Savior of all. He can be witnessed by those who have personal experience of Him, in prayer and in the Church, through a process that has its foundation in Baptism, its nourishment in the Eucharist, his seal in Confirmation, its ongoing conversion in Penance. Through this journey, always guided by the Word of God, every Christian can become a witness of the risen Jesus. And his testimony is all the more credible the more evident is made by a joyful, brave, gentle, peaceful, merciful evangelical way of life, “(Papa Francesco, 19 April 2015).
We will be credible witnesses if, first of all, we ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit that is “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and reverence, and of the holy fear of God” (see Is 11, 2). Then we will receive and share the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5, 22).
3) The testimony of the consecrated Virgins in the world.
How can we be witnesses to the truth, not of an unrelated truth, but of what we are: children of God and brothers and sisters among us?
We are witnesses when, through our actions, words and way of being, Another makes himself present. The testimony is not only a good example, but it is also a humble and powerful act of knowledge and communication of the truth of God’s love.
For the consecrated virgins to be witnesses of Christ it is essential. These women testify that virginity is the height of love. Their response to Christ through a life so passionately and totally offered, existentially testifies that in the full and undivided adherence to the predilection of Jesus we learn to love everything else and become like windows open on the eternal. The consecrated virgin testifies that it is possible to live Christ as the only reason and the only chance of fullness in existence. Virginity transforms the lives of those who choose it and the one of others, so that the world is more human, namely Christian.
The Virgin “realizes the nuptial union that, according to the greatest masters, is precisely the very perfection of the spiritual life … The marriage has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament, because in the love between a man and a woman was already pointed out the mystery of the union between Christ and the Church. Perfect chastity is no longer just a figure of that union, but its fulfillment … Nothing and no one bounds and divides her from the others. Being one with Christ, she lives in a holy communion with all “(Divo Barsotti)
Patristic Reading – Saint Augustin of Hyppo – Tractate 98 on Jn 16,12-13
1. From the words of our Lord, where He says, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” there arose a difficult question, which I recollect to have put off, that it might be handled afterwards at greater leisure, because my last discourse had reached its proper limits, and required to be brought to a close. And now, accordingly, as we have time to redeem our promise, let us take up its discussion as the Lord Himself shall grant us ability, who put it into our heart to make the proposal. And the question is this: Whether spiritual men have aught in doctrine which they should withhold from the carnal, but declare to the spiritual. For if we shall say, They have not, we shall meet with the reply, What, then, is to be made of the words of the apostle in writing to the Corinthians: “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. As unto babes in Christ, I have given you milk to drink, and not meat to eat: for hitherto ye were not able; neither yet now are ye able; for ye are yet carnal?”1 But if we say, They have, we have cause to fear and take heed, lest under such a pretext detestable doctrines be taught in secret, and under the name of spiritual, as things which cannot be understood by the carnal, may seem not only capable of being whitewashed by plausible excuses, but deserving also to be lauded in preaching.
2. In the first place, then, your Charity ought to know that it is Christ Himself as crucified, wherewith the apostle says that he has fed those who are babes as with milk; but His flesh itself, in which was witnessed His real death, that is, both His real wounds when transfixed and His blood when pierced, does not present itself to the minds of the carnal in the same manner as to that of the spiritual, and so to the former it is milk, and to the latter it is meat; for if they do not hear more than others, they understand better. For the mind has not equal powers of perception even for that which is equally received by both in faith. And so it happens that the preaching of Christ crucified, by the apostle, was at once to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Gentiles foolishness; and to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, the power of God, and the wisdom of God;”2 but to the carnal, as babes who held it only as a matter of faith, and to the spiritual, as those of greater capacity, who perceived it as a matter of understanding; to the former, therefore, as a milk-draught, to the latter as solid food: not that the former knew it in one way out in the world at large, and the latter in another way in their secret chambers; but that what both heard in the same measure when it was publicly spoken, each apprehended in his own measure. For inasmuch as Christ was crucified for the very purpose of shedding His blood for the remission of sins, and of divine grace being thereby commended in the passion of His Only-begotten, that no one should glory in man, what understanding had they of Christ crucified who were still saying, “I am of Paul”?3 Was it such as Paul himself had, who could say, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”?4 In regard, therefore, even to Christ crucified, he himself found food in proportion to his own capacity, and nourished them with milk in accordance with their infirmity. And still further, knowing that what he wrote to the Corinthians might doubtless be understood in one way by those who were still babes, and differently by those of greater capacity, he said, “If any one among you is a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandment of the Lord; but if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”5 Assuredly he would have the knowledge of the spiritual to be substantial, wherever not only faith had found a suitable abode, but a certain power of understanding was possessed; and whereby such believed those very things which as spiritual they likewise acknowledged. But “let him be ignorant,” he says, who “is ignorant;” because it was not yet revealed to him to know that which he believes. When this takes place in a man’s mind, he is said to be known of God; for it is God who endows him with this power of understanding, as it is elsewhere said, “But now, knowing God, or rather, being known of God.”6 For it was not then that God first knew those who were foreknown and chosen before the foundation of the world;7 but then it was that He made them to know Himself.
3. Having ascertained this, therefore, at the outset, that the very things, which are equally heard by the spiritual and the carnal, are received by each according to the slender measure of his own capacity,-by some as babes, by others as those of riper years,-by one as milk nourishment, by another as solid food,-there seems no necessity for any matters of doctrine being retained in silence as secrets, and concealed from infant believers, as things to be spoken of apart to those who are older, or possessed of a riper understanding; and let us regard it as needful to act thus, just because of the words of the apostle, “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal.” For even this very statement of his, that he knew nothing among them but Jesus Christ and Him crucified,8 he could not speak unto them as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal; because even that they were not able to receive as spiritual. But all who were spiritual among them received with spiritual understanding the very same truths which the others only heard as carnal; and in this way may we understand the words, “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal,” as if he said, What I did speak, ye could not receive as spiritual, but as carnal. For “the natural man”-that is, the man whose wisdom is of a mere human kind, and is called natural [literally, soulish] from the soul, and carnal from the flesh, because the complete man consists of soul and flesh-“perceiveth not the things of the Spirit of God;”9 that is, the measure of grace bestowed on believers by the cross of Christ, and thinks that all that is effected by that cross is to provide us with an example for our imitation in contending even to death for the truth. For if men of this type, who have no desire to be aught else than men, knew how it is that Christ crucified is “made of God unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”10 they would doubtless no longer glory in man, nor say in a carnal spirit, “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas;” but in a spiritual way, “I am of Christ.”11
4. But the question is still further raised by what we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “When now for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again to be taught which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk hath no experience in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are perfect, even those who by habit have their senses exercised to distinguish good from evil.”12 For here we see, as if clearly defined, what he calIs the strong meat of the perfect; and which is the same as that which he writes to the Corinthans, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect.”13 But who it was that he wished in this passage to be understood as perfect, he proceeded to indicate in the words, “Even those who by habit have their senses exercised to distinguish good from evil.” Those, therefore, who, through a weak and undisciplined mind, are destitute of this power, wi11 certainly, unless enabled by what may be called the milk of faith to believe both the invisible things which they see not, and the comprehensible things which they do not yet comprehend, be easily seduced by the promise of science to vain and sacrilegious fables: so as to think both of good and evil only under corporeal forms, and to have no idea of God Himself save as some sort of body, and be able only to view evil as a substance; while there is rather a kind of falling away from the immutable Substance in the case of all mutable substances, which were made out of nothing by the immutable and supreme substance itself, which is God. And assuredly whoever not only believes, but also through the exercised inner senses of his mind understands, and perceives, and knows this, there is no longer cause for fear that he will be seduced by those who, while accounting evil to be a substance uncreated by God,make God Himself a mutable substance, as is done by the Manicheans, or any other pests, if such there be, that fall into similar foily.
5. But to those who are still babes in mind, and who as carnal, the apostle says, require to be nourished with milk, all discoursing on such a subject, wherein we deal not only with the believing, but also with the understanding and the knowing of what is spoken, must be burdensome, as being still unable to perceive such things, and be more fitted to oppress than to feed them. Whence it comes to pass that the spiritual, while not altogether silent on such subjects to the carnal, because of the Catholic faith which is to be preached to all, yet do not so handle them as, in their wish to simplify them to understandings that are still deficient in capacity, to bring their discourse on the truth into disrepute, rather than the truth that is in their discourse within the perceptions of their hearers. Accordingly in his Epistle to the Colossians he says: “And though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and that which is lacking14 in your faith in Christ.”15 And in that to the Thessalonians: “Night and day,” he says, “praying more abundantly, that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith.”16 Here we are, of course, to understand those who were under such primary catechetical instruction, as implied their nourishment with milk and not with strong meat; of the former of which there is mention made in the Epistle to the Hebrews of an abundant supply for such as nevertheless he would now have had to be feeding on solid food. Accordingly he says: “Therefore leaving the word of the beginning of Christ, let us have regard to the completion; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of the baptismal font, and of the laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”17 This is the copious supply of milk, without which even they cannot live, who have already indeed their reason sufficiently in use to enable them to believe, but who cannot distinguish good from evil, so as to be not only a matter of faith, but also of understanding (which belongs to the department of solid food). But when he includes doctrine also in his description of the milk, it is that which has been delivered to us in the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.