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Peter's discourse after the descent of the Holy Spirit

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 25 October 1989 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, when the apostles began to speak in various languages, "all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?'" (Acts 2:12). The Acts enables us to discern the meaning of that extraordinary fact, because the book has already described what took place in the upper room, when Christ's apostles and disciples—men and women—assembled together with Mary, his mother, and were "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4). In this event the Spirit-Paraclete himself remains invisible. However, the activity of those in whom and through whom the Spirit acts is visible. From the moment the apostles left the upper room, their unusual behavior was noted by the crowd that came running and gathered around them. They all asked themselves: "What does this mean?" The author of Acts does not fail to add that among the witnesses of the event there were also some who scoffed at the apostles' behavior, suggesting that they were probably "filled with new wine" (Acts 2:13).

Such a situation required a word of explanation to clarify the true meaning of what had happened. It was also necessary to make known to those who had gathered outside the upper room the Holy Spirit's action experienced by those assembled within when the Holy Spirit descended upon them.

2. It was a fitting occasion for Peter's first discourse. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he spoke also in the name of, and in communion with, the other apostles. Peter exercised for the first time his function of herald of the Gospel, preacher of divine truth and witness to the Word. It may be said that he initiated the mission of the Popes and bishops who were to succeed him and the other apostles down the centuries. "Then Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice" (Acts 2:14).

In this discourse of Peter one observes the Church's apostolic structure such as it was from the beginning. The eleven shared with Peter the same mission, the vocation to bear the same authoritative witness. Peter spoke as the first among them by virtue of the mandate received directly from Christ. No one called into question his duty and right to speak first and in the name of the others. This manifested the action of the Holy Spirit who, according to the Second Vatican Council, guides the Church in the way of truth and bestows upon her varied hierarchical and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her (cf. LG 4).

3. Peter's words at Jerusalem, in communion with the eleven, remind us that the Church's primary pastoral task is proclaiming the Gospel: evangelization. This is what Vatican II teaches us: "For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old, making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock" (LG 25). Also "priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all. In this way they fulfill the command of the Lord: 'Going therefore into the whole world preach the Gospel to every creature' (Mk 16:15) and they establish and build up the People of God" (PO 4).

4. It may also be noted, according to that passage from Acts, that the spontaneous charismatic witnessing of individuals to Christ does not suffice for evangelization. These charismatic transports proceed from the Holy Spirit and under some aspects they provide the first witness to his work. This was seen in the "glossolalia" on the day of Pentecost. However, an authoritative, motivated and systematic evangelization is also essential. This took place in apostolic times and in the first community of Jerusalem with the kerygma and catechesis, which, under the action of the Holy Spirit, enabled the mind to discover in its unity and to comprehend in its meaning the divine plan of salvation. This is precisely what happened on the day of Pentecost. It was necessary that the event which had just taken place should be made known and explained to the people of different nations who had gathered outside the upper room. It was necessary to instruct them about God's salvific plan, expressed in what had happened.

5. Peter's discourse is also important from this point of view. For this very reason, before proceeding to examine its content, we should dwell for a moment on the person of the speaker.

On two occasions before the passion, Peter had already professed his faith in Christ.

On one occasion, after the announcement of the Eucharist in the neighborhood of Capernaum, Jesus, on seeing many of his disciples turn their backs on him, asked the apostles: "Will you also go away?" (Jn 6:67). Peter replied with those words inspired from on high: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God" (Jn 6:68-69).

On another occasion Peter's profession of faith took place near Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus asked the apostles: "Who do you say that I am?" According to Matthew, "Simon Peter replied: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'" (Mt 16:15-16).

Now, on the day of Pentecost, Peter, by this time freed from the crisis of fear that had led him to deny Jesus on the eve of the passion, professed that same faith in Christ. Strengthened by the paschal event, he proclaimed openly before all those people that Christ was risen! (cf. Acts 2:24 ff.)

6. Moreover, in being the first to speak out, Peter revealed his own awareness and that of the other eleven that he bore the chief responsibility for preaching and teaching the faith in Christ, even though the eleven shared with him in the task and responsibility. Peter was aware of what he was doing when, in his first discourse, he exercised the mission of teacher deriving from his apostolic office.

On the other hand, Peter's discourse was in a certain way an extension of Jesus' own teaching. Just as Christ exhorted his hearers to believe, so likewise did Peter. Jesus carried out his ministry in the pre-paschal period—one might say, in the perspective of his resurrection, while Peter spoke and acted in the light of the Pasch which was already a fact. That confirmed the truth of the mission and Gospel of Christ. He spoke and acted under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, recalling Christ's words and deeds which shed light on the Pentecost event itself.

7. Finally, we read in the Acts of the Apostles that "Peter...lifted up his voice" (2:14). Here the author seems to want to refer not only to the strength of Peter's voice, but also and especially to the force of conviction and authority with which he spoke. Something happened similar to what the Gospels tell us about Jesus, namely, that when he taught, those who heard him "were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority" (Mt 1:22; cf. also Mt 7:29), "because he spoke with authority" (Lk 4:32).

On the day of Pentecost Peter and the other apostles, having received the Spirit of truth, could by his power speak after the manner of Christ. From his very first discourse Peter expressed in his words the authority of revealed truth itself."


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

Ai numerosi gruppi di lingua tedesca 

MIT DIESER KURZEN Betrachtung grüße ich alle Pilger und Besucher aus den deutschsprachigen Ländern und erteile euch und euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan verbundenen Hörerinnen und Hörern von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Gelot sei Jesus Christus! 

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Je salue tous les francophones ici présents.

PARMI EUX, j’adresse un cordial salut aux membres de la Fédération Nationale des Logis de France à qui j’offre mes vœux pour leur activité professionnelle et leur vie familiale.

A tous, jeunes et aînés, je donne ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I WISH TO WELCOME the newlyelected Minister General and the members of the General Chapter of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity. My greetings also go to Archbishop Bevilacqua and his priest-classmates from Brooklyn who are celebrating their Fortieth Anniversary of Priestly Ordination. May the Lord continue to strengthen you in your work of building up his people in faith, hope and love! To all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially the groups from England, Kenya and the United States, I cordially impart my apostolic Blessing.

Ai fedeli provenienti da aree di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

DESEO SALUDAR ahora cordialmente a los peregrinos venidos de España y de América Latina. Que vuestra visita a Roma os ayude a descubrir mejor que el Papa, como Sucesor de Pedro, ejerce su misma misión docente con la asistencia del Espíritu Santo.

A todos vosotros y a vuestras familias imparto con afecto mi Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese 

Carissimos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

COM MUITO AFECTO quero saudar os peregrinos e visitantes provenientes do Brasil e de Portugal, desejando-lhes que a visita a Roma ajude a descobrir melhor que o Papa, como Sucessor de Pedro, exerce a mesma missão magisterial, com a assistência do Espírito Santo.

Ao retornardes aos vossos lares, levai também às vossas famílias a Bênção Apostólica que, de bom grado, concedo a todos vós. 

Ai connazionali polacchi 

WITAM GRUPY pielgrzymów: z paraffi Najświętszego Salwatora z Krakowa; z archidiecezji warszawskiej; z diecezji kieleckiej; z diecezji lubelskiej; z paraffi św. Jacka ze Słupska; z parafii Wspomożenia Wiernych z Kluczborka; z paraffi Niepokalanego Poczęcia Matki Bożej z Miłkowic; z paraffi św. Józefa z Siedlisk w diecezji przemyskiej; pielgrzymkę Misji Polskiej z Kolonii; pielgrzymkęe Polskiego Biura Pielgrzymkowego ze Stanów Zjednoczonych: pielgrzymkę członków Związku Podhalan z Polski, z Chicago i z Austrii; Koło Taneczoe “Brawo” z Wrocławia; grupę Juventur z Olsztyna; grupę kolejarzy z Rudnika i Pruszkowa; a także uczestników grup turystycznych Sport-Touristu z Warszawy, Turysty z Kielc, PTTK z Warszawy i Orbisu. Wszystkich serdecznie pozdrawiam. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana 

Giunga ora la mia parola di benvenuto e di cordiale saluto a voi, Responsabili Maggiori del Movimento dei Focolari, che siete convenuti da tutti i Continenti per l’annuale incontro, nel quale siete soliti riflettere sull’attività svolta e sulla strada da percorrere in futuro.

In questo cammino di annuncio missionario e di approfondimento della dottrina e della pratica cristiana, vi sono vicino con la preghiera perché la grazia del Signore vi renda lievito di verità e di carità in mezzo ai fratelli e alle sorelle, a cui portate la vostra testimonianza cristiana. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Rivolgo pure un saluto cordiale ai giovani, agli ammalati ed alle nuove coppie di sposi.

Carissimi, vorrei attirare la vostra attenzione sulla figura e la missione di San Giuseppe, del quale ho scritto nella Esortazione Apostolica, che proprio ieri è stata resa pubblica.

San Giuseppe ha sperimentato “sia l’amore della verità che l’esigenza dell’amore”: vi auguro che possiate crescere ogni giorno, come San Giuseppe, nella contemplazione della Verità divina che irradia dall’umanità di Cristo.

Contemplazione e servizio ai fratelli sono - alla radice - puro amore, capace di “custodire” e rendere sempre più bella la Chiesa del nostro tempo.

Che San Giuseppe vi ottenga di vivere nella gioiosa fedeltà, nella perseveranza di fronte alle prove e nell’amore evangelico.

Con la mia Benedizione.

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