The gift of the Holy Spirit

On Wednesday, 25 May, the Holy Father offered the following reflection on the Holy Spirit in his address to the large gathering in St Peter's Square, who were present for the weekly general audience.

1. "Exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts 2:33). Dearly beloved, last Sunday was the Solemnity of Pentecost. As you know, I had the joy of spending this important ecclesial day with the people of Milan among whom I had gone to close the celebration of the National Eucharistic Congress. It was a very rich experience to which I will return on a later occasion.

This morning I should like to call your attention to the fundamental significance of Pentecost in the life of the Church, which recognizes in that event her official birth and the beginning of her expansion in the world. As a result of the pouring out of the Spirit the disciples were transformed interiorly and they began to proclaim the marvellous work of God. That outpouring was extended to persons of every race and tongue who were drawn to that place by the sound which accompanied the coming of the Spirit.

When Peter explained the meaning of the event which manifested the sovereign power of him who a short time before had been crucified at the request of the people, the hearers "were cut to the heart". The Spirit had touched to the very depths the souls of those who had cried out before Pilate: "Crucify him", and had disposed them to conversion. At the invitation of Peter: "repent", three thousand had asked to be baptized (Acts 2:37-41).

In the presence of this marvellous harvest of conversions we are led to recognize in the Holy Spirit him who works in human hearts the reconciliation with Christ and with God. It is he who "cuts to the heart", to use the expression of the Acts of the Apostles, and he makes them pass from hostility to Christ to the embracing of his person and message in faith and love. It is he who inspires the words of Peter when he exhorts his hearers to repentance, and who causes them to produce a marvellous effect.

In these first conversions there is inaugurated a movement which will never cease with the passage of the years and the centuries. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit launches the great undertaking of the regeneration of humanity. From that day he continues to attract men to Christ, arousing in them the desire of conversion and of the remission of sins and reconciling in this way more and more human hearts with God.

The Holy Spirit's action on the soul

2. The Holy Spirit, then, acts as an interior light which leads the sinner to recognize his own sins. As long as man closes his eyes to his own guilt, he cannot be converted: the Holy Spirit introduces into the soul the glance of God so that he may illumine the eye of conscience and the sinner may thus be liberated from the prejudices which cloud his eyes to the sins committed. For this reason, those who took part in the condemnation of Jesus by crying out for his death, suddenly discovered under the action of his light that their behaviour was inadmissible.

At the same time that he stirs up repentance and confession, the Holy Spirit makes it understood that divine pardon is available to sinners, thanks to Christ's sacrifice. This pardon is accessible to all. Those who heard Peter's discourse ask: "Brethren, what shall we do?". How can the sinner free himself from his sin? It would not in fact be possible for him if the way of pardon were closed to him! But this way is wide open; it suffices that he follow it. The Holy Spirit develops sentiments of confidence in the divine love which pardons and in the efficacy of the redemption carried out by the Saviour.

Then there is another aspect to the reconciling action of the Spirit which cannot be passed over in silence. At Pentecost he inaugurates the work of reconciliation of men among themselves. By his coming, in fact, the Spirit stirs up a crowd of people of different origins, "devout men from every nation under heaven", as is stated in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:5). He thus manifests his intention to gather together all the nations in one and the same faith, opening their hearts to understand the message of salvation.

In particular he wishes to reunite the people, making them overcome the barrier constituted by the division of languages. The testimony of the disciples who proclaim the wonderful works of God is understood by every hearer in his own mother tongue (cf. Acts 2:8).

The diversity of language is no longer an impediment to the unanimous acceptance of Christ's message because the Holy Spirit undertakes to make the announcement of the Good News understood by everyone.

Beginning with Pentecost the reconciliation of all people is no longer a dream of a distant future. It has become a reality, destined to grow ceaselessly with the universal expansion of the Church. The Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of love and of unity, achieves in the concrete the scope of Christ's redemptive sacrifice, the reunion of the children of God who had at one time been separated.

Way to reconciliation

3. Two aspects of this unifying action can be distinguished. By causing men to adhere to Christ the Holy Spirit binds them together in the unity of one body, the Church, and in this way reconciles in one and the same friendship people who were very distant from each other by geographical and cultural situation. He makes the Church a perpetual centre of reunion and reconciliation.

It can be said, moreover, that the Holy Spirit exercises, in a certain way, a reconciling action even among those who remain outside the Church, by inspiring in them the desire of a greater unity of all nations and of all mankind, and by stimulating the efforts directed to overcome the numerous conflicts which continue to divide the world.

We are pleased to conclude with the thought that the Holy Spirit achieves this reconciliation of mankind with the help of Mary, the universal Mother of all men. At the beginning of the Church she, united in prayer with the Apostles and the first disciples, contributed to obtaining an abundant outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit. Today also Mary continues to collaborate with the Holy Spirit in reuniting men because her maternal love directed to each and every one calls for unity. May the Holy Spirit be pleased to support this deep yearning, making mankind ever more disposed to accepting her maternal invitations to brotherhood and solidarity.

L'Osservatore Romano May 30, 1983
Reprinted with permission