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The Spirit of God purifies

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Ash Wednesday, 28 February 1990 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the preceding catechesis, we quoted a verse of Psalm 51 in which the Psalmist, repentant after his serious sin, implores God's mercy and asks the Lord: "Do not deprive me of your holy spirit" (v. 13). The Psalm is the Miserere, a very well-known psalm which is often repeated in the liturgy, as well as in the devotion and penitential practices of Christian people. It expresses feelings of repentance, trust and humility which easily arise in a "heart contrite and humbled" (Ps 51:19) after sinning. The Psalm merits study and meditation, in the tradition of the Fathers and writers of Christian spirituality; it offers us new dimensions of the concept "divine spirit" in the Old Testament. It helps us to translate doctrine into spiritual and ascetical practice.

2. Those who followed the references to the prophets made in the preceding catechesis will find it easy to discover the strong kinship of the Miserere with those texts, especially those of Isaiah and Ezekiel. The sense of standing in the sight of God in a sinful condition itself, found in the penitential passage of Isaiah (59:12; cf. Ez 6:9), and the sense of personal responsibility instilled by Ezekiel (18:1-32) are already present in this Psalm. Within the context of the experience of sin and the strongly felt need for conversion, the Psalm asks God for a purification of the heart together with a renewed spirit. The action of God's spirit thus takes on more concrete aspects and a more precise commitment on the level of a person's existential condition.

3. "Have pity on me, O God!" The Psalmist implores divine mercy to win purification from sin: "Wipe out my offense, thoroughly wash me of my guilt, and of my sin cleanse me!" (Ps 51:3-4). "Cleanse me of my sin with hyssop that I may be purified; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow" (v. 9). But he knows that God's pardon cannot be reduced to a simply external withholding of accusation, without there being an interior renewal: the human being, all alone, is incapable of that. Therefore he asks: "Create in me, O God, a clean heart, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence, and your holy spirit take not from me. Give me back the joy of your salvation and a willing spirit sustain in me" (vv. 12-14).

4. The language of the Psalmist is extremely expressive: he asks for a creation, that is, the exercise of God's almighty power with the intention of creating a new being. Only God can create (barà ), that is, bring something new into existence (cf. Gen 1:1; Ex 34:10; Is 48:7; 65:17; Jer 31:21-22). Only God can give a pure heart, a heart which is completely transparent in its total desire to conform to God's will. Only God can renew the intimate part of the human being, change the person from within, set aright the basic direction of his conscious life and his religious and moral life. Only God can justify the sinner, according to the vocabulary of theology and dogma itself (cf. DS 1521-1522; 1560), which translates in just that way the prophet's phrase: "to give a new heart" (Ps 51:12).

5. "A steadfast spirit" (Ps 51:12) is asked for next, or the injection of God's strength into the human spirit, freed from the moral weakness felt in and shown by sin. This strength, this steadfastness, can come only from the active presence of God's spirit, and therefore the Psalmist implores: "Do not deprive me of your holy spirit." It is the only time in the Psalms that this expression is found: "God's holy spirit." In the Hebrew Bible it is used only in the Isaian text which, in meditating on Israel's history, laments to God about the rebellion by which "they grieved his holy spirit" (Is 63:10), and recalls Moses for whom God "put his holy spirit within him" (Is 63:11). The Psalmist is already aware of the intimate presence of God's spirit as a continuing source of holiness, and therefore prays: "Do not deprive me of it!" Thus the juxtaposition of this request with the other one: "Cast me not out from your presence," lets us understand the Psalmist's conviction that the possession of God's Holy Spirit is linked to the divine presence in a person's inner being. To be deprived of that presence would be the real misfortune. If the Holy Spirit remains in him, man stands in a relationship with God that is no longer just "face to face," as before a face to contemplate: no, he possesses in himself a divine strength which inspires his behaviour.

6. After having asked not to be deprived of God's Holy Spirit, the Psalmist asks for the restitution of joy. Earlier he had already prayed for the same thing, when he asked God for his purification, hoping to become "whiter than snow": "Make me feel joy and gladness; the bones you have crushed will exalt for joy" (Ps 51:10). But in the psychological-reflective process in which prayer is born, the Psalmist feels that in order to enjoy this joy fully, it is not enough for all guilt to be wiped away. The creation of a new heart is needed, with a steadfast spirit linked to the presence of God's holy spirit. Only then can he ask: "Give me the joy of your salvation!"

Joy is part of the renewal included in the phrase "creation of a clean heart." It is the result of birth into a new life, as Jesus will explain in the parable of the prodigal son. The father who pardons is the first to rejoice and wants to communicate the joy of his heart to all (cf. Lk 15:20-32).

7. Along with joy, the Psalmist asks for a "willing spirit," that is, a spirit of courageous commitment. He asks it of him who, according to the Book of Isaiah, had promised salvation for the weak: "On high I dwell in holiness and with the crushed and dejected in spirit, to revive the spirits of the dejected, to revive the hearts of the crushed" (Is 57:15).

Once this request is made, the Psalmist immediately adds a declaration of his commitment to work with God on behalf of sinners, for their conversion: "I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall return to you" (Ps 51:15). This is another characteristic element of the interior process of a sincere heart, which has won pardon for its own sins. Such a heart wishes to win the same gift for others, prompting their conversion. It has the intention of working and promises to work toward this goal. This "spirit of commitment" in such a person flows out of the presence of the "holy spirit of God" and is the sign of that presence. In the enthusiasm of conversion and in the fervor of commitment, the Psalmist expresses to God his conviction concerning the effectiveness of his own actions. For him it seems certain that "sinners will return to you." But here as well the awareness of the active presence of an inner power, that of the "holy spirit," is in play.

The deduction enunciated by the Psalmist has a universal value: "My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn" (Ps 51:19). Prophetically he foresees that the day will come when, in a restored Jerusalem, the sacrifices celebrated on the temple altar according to the law's prescriptions will be acceptable (cf. vv. 20-21). The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem will be the sign of divine pardon, as the prophets Isaiah (cf. 60:1 ff.; 62:1 ff.), Jeremiah (cf. 30:15-18) and Ezekiel (cf. 36:33) will also say. But it remains sure that what is of greater worth is that "sacrifice of the spirit" of the person who asks pardon humbly, moved by the divine spirit which, thanks to repentance and prayer, was not taken away from him (cf. Ps 51:13).

8. As is clear from this succinct presentation of its basic themes, the Psalm Miserere is for us not only a beautiful prayer text and a guide in the asceticism of repentance. It is also a witness to the level of development achieved in the Old Testament regarding the concept of the "divine spirit," as it gradually comes closer to what will be the revelation of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

The Psalm is, therefore, a great page in the history of the spirituality of the Old Testament, in pilgrimage, although in shadow, toward the new Jerusalem which will be the Holy Spirit's dwelling place."


After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Parmi vous, je salue le Recteur de l’Institut Catholique de Paris avec la délégation du séminaire des Carmes à qui j’offre mes voeux pour le bon déroulement de la formation au ministère sacerdotal. Je souhaite la bienvenue au groupe de l’aumônerie des étudiants de l’Institut Catholique de Paris. Je salue cordialement les membres de l’Ecole de la foi et des ministères de Fribourg qui sont venus faire leur pèlerinage annuel à Rome. Je salue l’ensemble des jeunes et particulièrement le catéchisme de Sainte-Jeanne-de-Chantal.

Je vous souhaite à tous de vivre un bon Carême qui vous rapproche du Seigneur et vous fasse monter vers Pâques à sa suite. A chacun d’entre vous j’accorde très volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

On this Ash-Wednesday I wish to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors. My special welcome goes to the members of the two choirs from the United States and to the many pilgrims from South Korea. Dear friends: may the Lenten season which we begin today prepare us to celebrate with renewed faith the Resurrection of the Lord at Easter! To all of you I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Nehmen wir, liebe Brüder und Schwestern, dieses Psalmengebet mit uns in die heute beginnende liturgische Busszeit. Indem ich euch alle bei dieser Audienz herzlich willkommen heiße, erbitte ich euch gnadenreiche Wochen geistiger Erneuerung und Vorbereitung auf das Osterfest. Dies wünsche ich besonders den beiden Schwesterngruppen, die am Päpstlichen Institut ”Regina Mundi“ und bei den Franziskanerinnen in La Storta ihr religiöses Leben durch Studium und Betrachtung vertiefen. Zugleich grüße ich brüderlich die Gruppe der Pastoren vom Predigerseminar der Evangelischen Kirche von Westfalen. Von Herzen erteile ich allen anwesenden Pilgern deutscher Sprache meinen besonderen apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Me es grato saludar cordialmente a las personas y grupos de peregrinos de América Latina y España presentes en esta Audiencia. De modo especial, saludo a las profesoras y alumnas del Colegio “ Dulce Nombre de Jesús ”, de Oviedo, ciudad que con tanto cariño me acogió durante mi visita pastoral al Principado de Asturias. Asimismo saludo a los jóvenes chilenos de origen palestino, a la representación de la Coordinación de Investigación y Acción Social de Chile, así como a la delegación de la Unión Nacional de Padres de Familia de México.

Por ultimo, tengo el gusto también de dirigir mi más afectuoso saludo al grupo de alumnas de varios colegios católicos de Panamá, nación que ha estado constantemente viva en la plegaria del papa a lo largo de los recientes acontecimientos. Como recuerdo de vuestra presencia en este encuentro os invito a todos, jóvenes y mayores, a tratar de descubrir más auténticamente el rostro vivificador de Cristo para ser sus fieles testigos en la sociedad durante este tiempo favorable de cuaresma y de vuestra vida.

A todos, en prenda de la constante asistencia divina, imparto mi Bendición Apostólica, que extiendo a vuestros seres queridos.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Amados irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

Saúdo os que me escutam, com votos de bem; e, nesta Quarta-Feira de Cinzas, de uma frutuosa Quaresma, que a todos traga um “ espírito novo ”, diante de Deus.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z Polski, w szczególności z parafii św. Józefa ze Świdnicy; uczestników grup turystycznych z całej Polski: esperantystów, Turysty i Orbisu, a także wszystkich innych obecnych, zarówno z kraju, jak i z emigracji.

Dziasiaj Popielec. Kościół posypuje głowy nasze popiołem na znak Wielkiego Postu, który dziś rozpoczynamy. Ten znak przypomina każdemu człowiekowi prawdę wyrażoną w slowach Księgi Rodzaiju: “ z prochu jestés wziety i w proch sie obrocisz ”.

Rowonoczesnie jednak Kosciol powtarza slowa Jezusa z Nazaretu u poczatku Jego mesjanskiej misji: “ Nawracajcie sie i wierzcie w Ewangelię! ”.

Słowa te brzmią wszędzie. Brzmią także na Jasnej Górze. Brzmią one w momencie, w którym na naszej ziemi, a także u sąsiadów dojrzała świadomość koniecznych przeobrażeń w dziedzinie życia społeczenego, politycznego, gospodarczego. Dostrezeżono, iż przeobrażenie jest koniecznym warunkiem przyszlości, rozwoju, postępu.

Kościół w dniu dzisiejszym podejmuje tę świadomośc, a zarazem “ dopowiada ” ją do końca. Tak, trzeba prezeobrażeń w organizacji życia społecznego. U korzenia jednakże prawdzizych i skutecznych przeobrażeń musi odanleźć się nawrócenie człowieka. Koniecznie. Chrystusowe “ nawracajcie się ” jest najbardziej aktualmym słowem wszystkich programów odnowy. %A zarazem, właśnie stąd, z Jasnej Góry, matczyny głos powtarza z nową siłą: Wierzicie Ewangelii.

Wierzcie Ewangelii! To mówi do nas, Polaków, do naszych pobratymców i sąsiadów, do całej Europy . . . Wierzcie Ewangelii!

Ai pellegrini italiani

Saluto cordialmente i gruppi delle Suore Adoratrici Ancelle del Sacramento e delle Figlie della Carità, venute con alcune giovani Suore che si preparano alla prima professione religiosa. Care sorelle, offrite la vostra vita al Signore, che vi invita a seguirlo, e perseverate nella preghiera, nella rinuncia a voi stesse e nell’amore vicendevole, sapendo che l’efficacia del vostro apostolato dipende molto dalla vostra generosa disponibilità a compiere sino in fondo la volontà del Padre.

Ringrazio, poi, per la loro visita, gli Allievi Ufficiali di Complemento del Genio, appartenenti al 137º corso, che sono qui accompagnati dai propri ufficiali d’inquadramento. Vi esorto, cari giovani, a fare del vostro entusiasmo, del vostro vigore giovanile e del senso della disciplina una forza a difesa del bene comune, non dimenticando mai che Gesù Cristo è la Via, la Verità e la Vita.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Il mio cordiale benvenuto ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli, presenti a questo incontro, all’inizio della Quaresima.

A voi, giovani, ricordo che il diuturno allenamento spirituale della preghiera e della penitenza vi rende capaci di raggiungere i grandi ideali dell’esistenza cristiana.

Invito voi, cari ammalati, a riscoprire, in questo tempo, il volto misericordioso di Dio. Nei momenti più difficili della vostra vita, confidate nel Signore Gesù, che ha conosciuto il patire.

A voi, infine, cari sposi, affido quest’esortazione: fate del tempo quaresimale un’occasione privilegiata per rafforzare l’amore tra voi e verso il Signore, che è fonte della vita e della gioia cristiana.

Nel corso dell’udienza generale di oggi, Mercoledì delle Ceneri, il Santo Padre invita i fedeli alla conversione, con le parole di Cristo: “Convertitevi e credete al Vangelo”. Queste sono le parole pronunciate dal Santo Padre.

Oggi è il mercoledì delle Ceneri. Con gesto austero ed eloquente la Chiesa impone le ceneri sul nostro capo come segno della Quaresima che oggi inauguriamo. Questo segno ricorda a ciascuno la verità espressa nelle parole del Libro della genesi: “Polvere tu sei e in polvere tornerai” (Gen 3, 19). Al tempo stesso, però, la Chiesa ripete le parole che Gesù di Nazaret pronunciò all’inizio della sua missione: “Convertitevi e credete al Vangelo” (Mc 1, 15).

La Chiesa rivolge queste parole a tutti i credenti, anzi ad ogni uomo, perché il dono della salvezza è offerto a tutti. La potenza della redenzione di Cristo non conosce frontiere. Occorre però che il cuore si apra ad accogliere il dono del cielo. Il peccato ostacola questa apertura, perché rinchiude l’uomo nel suo egoismo, la Quaresima è il tempo favorevole per liberarsi da queste preclusioni e disporre il cuore alla gioia di un rinnovato più profondo incontro con Cristo nella luce della Pasqua.

Che ciascuno sappia profittarne!

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