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The Spirit: source of prayer life

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 17 April 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The first and most excellent form of the interior life is prayer. The teachers and masters of the spiritual life are so convinced of this that they often present the interior life as a life of prayer. The principal author of this life is the Holy Spirit, as he was already in Christ. Indeed, we read in the Gospel of Luke: "At that very moment Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, 'I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth'" (Lk 10:21). This is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving which, according to the evangelist, wells up from Jesus' exultation "in the Holy Spirit."

We know that during his messianic activity Jesus often retired in solitude to pray, and that he spent entire nights in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12). For this prayer he preferred those deserted places which prepare one for conversation with God, who is so responsive to the need and inclination of every spirit sensitive to the mystery of divine transcendence (cf. Mk 1:35; Lk 5:16). Moses and Elijah acted in a similar way, as the Old Testament tells us (cf. Ex 34:28; 1 Kgs 19:8). The book of the prophet Hosea enables us to see that deserted places have a particular inspiration to prayer. God "will lead [us] into the desert and speak to [our] heart" (cf. Hos 2:16).

2. In our lives, as in the life of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is revealed as the Spirit of prayer. The Apostle Paul tells us this eloquently in a passage from the letter to the Galatians which we have cited before: "As proof that you are children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!'" (Gal 4:6). In some way, then, the Holy Spirit transfers into our hearts the prayer of the Son, who raises that cry to the Father. So too our prayer expresses our "adoption as children," which has been granted to us in Christ and through Christ (cf. Rom 8:15). Prayer professes our faith to be conscious of the truth that "we are children" and "heirs of God," "coheirs with Christ." Prayer allows us to live this supernatural reality because of the action of the Holy Spirit who "bears witness with our spirit" (cf. Rom 8:16-17).

3. The followers of Christ have
since the beginning of the Church lived in this same faith, which has also been expressed at the hour of death. We are familiar with the prayer of Stephen, the first martyr, a man "filled with the Holy Spirit." During his stoning, he gave proof of his particular union with Christ by exclaiming, as did his crucified Teacher, in reference to his executioners, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" And then, still at prayer, he looked intently at the glory of Christ standing "at the right hand of God" and cried out: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (cf. Acts 7:55-60). This prayer was a fruit of the Holy Spirit's action in the martyr's heart.

One also finds the same interior inspiration of prayer in the acts of martyrdom of others who have confessed Christ. These pages express a Christian consciousness formed in the school of the Gospel and the letters of the apostles that has become the consciousness of the Church herself.

4. In reality, above all in the teaching of St. Paul, the Holy Spirit appears as the author of Christian prayer, first of all because he urges us to pray. He it is who begets in us especially at the time of temptation, the needs and the desire to obey that "watch and pray" recommended by Christ, because "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mt 26:41). An echo of this encouragement seems to resound in the exhortation of the Letter to the Ephesians: "With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance...that speech may be given to me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel" (Eph 6:18-19). Paul realizes that he is in the condition of those who need prayer to resist temptation and not to fall victim to their human weakness, and to face up to the mission to which they have been called. He always remembers and is sometimes dramatically aware of the charge given to him: to be a witness of Christ and the Gospel in the world, especially in the midst of pagans. And he knows that what he has been called to do and to say is also and primarily the work of the Spirit of truth, of whom Jesus has said: "He will take from what is mine and declare it to you" (Jn 16:14). The Holy Spirit uses "the things of Christ" to "glorify him" through the missionary message. So it is only by entering into the sphere of Christ's relationship with his Spirit, in the mystery of unity with the Father, that one can accomplish a similar mission. The way to enter such a communion is prayer, stirred up in us by the Spirit.

5. With particularly penetrating words, the Apostle shows in the Letter to the Romans how "the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings" (Rom 8:26). Paul hears similar groanings arising from the very depths of creation, which "awaiting with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God" in the hope of being "set free from slavery to corruption, is groaning in labor pains even until now" (Rom 8:19, 21-22). Against this historical and spiritual backdrop, the Holy Spirit is at work: "The one who searches hearts [God] knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will" (Rom 8:27).

We are at the most intimate and profound source of prayer. Paul explains to us and enables us to understand that the Holy Spirit not only urges us to pray, but he himself prays in us!

6. The Holy Spirit is at the origin of the prayer which most perfectly reflects the relationship existing between the divine Persons of the Trinity: the prayer of glorification and thanksgiving, by which the Father is honored, and with him the Son and the Holy Spirit. This prayer was on the lips of the apostles on the day of Pentecost, when they announced "the mighty acts of God" (Acts 2:11). The same things happened in the case of the centurion Cornelius, when during Peter's discourse, those present received "the gift of the Holy Spirit" and "glorified God" (cf. Acts 10:45-47).

In the Letter to the Colossians, St. Paul interprets this first Christian experience that became the common patrimony of the early Church. After expressing the desire that "the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col 3:16), he exhorts the Christians to remain in prayer, "singing with gratitude in your hearts to God," teaching and admonishing one another with "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs." And he asks them to transmit this prayerful style of life to whatever they do in word or in deed. "Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col 3:17). A similar recommendation is given in the Letter to the Ephesians: "Be filled with the spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns...singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father" (Eph 5:18-20).

This brings us back to the trinitarian dimension of Christian prayer according to the teaching and exhortation of the Apostle. One also sees how, according to the Apostle, it is the Holy Spirit who urges this sort of prayer and forms it in the human heart. The "prayer life" of the saints, the mystics, the schools and currents of spirituality which developed in the Christian centuries is in line with the experience of the primitive communities. The Church's liturgy is maintained along the same line, as appears, for example in the Gloria when we say: "We give you thanks for your great glory"; similarly in the Te Deum, we praise God and proclaim him Lord. In the prefaces, there is the invariable invitation: "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God," and the faithful are invited to give their response of assent and participation: "It is truly right and just." How beautiful it is to repeat with the praying Church, at the end of each psalm and on so many other occasions, the short, dense and splendid doxology of the Gloria Patri: "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit...."

7. The glorification of the God One and Triune, under the action of the Holy Spirit who prays in us and for us, occurs principally in the heart. But it is also translated into vocal praises from a need for personal expression and community association in celebrating the marvels of God. The soul which loves God expresses itself in words and easily in song, too, as has always happened in the Church, since the first Christian communities. St. Augustine informs us that "St. Ambrose introduced song into the Church of Milan" [1] . He remembers that he wept, hearing "the hymns and sweetly echoing songs of your Church, and was touched with profound emotion" [2] . Even sound can be of help in praising God, when instruments serve to "transport human feelings upward" [3] . This explains the value of songs and music in the Church's liturgy, inasmuch as "they serve to stir up feelings for God...with various melodies" [4] . If liturgical norms are observed, one can also experience today what St. Augustine recalled in another passage of his Confessions (9, c. 4, n. 8): "What songs I raised to you, O my God, in reading the psalms of David, canticles of faith, the music of piety.... What songs I would raise to you in reading those psalms! How I was inflamed with love for you and with desire to recite them over the face of the whole world, if I could have...." All this happens when either individual souls or communities follow the intimate activity of the Holy Spirit.

[1]   cf. Confessions, 9, c. 7: PL 32,770
[2]   cf. Confessions, 9, c. 6: PL 32, 769
[3]   St. Thomas Aquinas, Expositio in Psalmos, 32, 2
[4]   Summa Theol., II-II, q. 92, a. 2; cf. St. Augustine, Confessions, 10, c. 22: PL 32, 800

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

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger sehr herzlich. Ein besonderer Willkommensgruß gilt der Gruppe aus dem Dekanat Egeln, der Pfarrgemeinde Heilige Familie in Zwickau, den Jubilarinnen der Barmherzigen Schwestern vom heiligen Vinzenz von Paul in Untermarchtal den Ordensschwestern aus verschiedenen Kongregationen, die an einem geistlichen Kurs in La Storta teilnehmen, sowie der sorbischen Pilgergruppe aus Balbitz in der Lausitz.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim sowie den über Radio und Fernsehen mit uns Verbundenen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec plaisir les personnes de langue française présentes à cette audience. J’adresse un encouragement particulier aux religieuses de la Congrégation de Jésus et Marie pour la reprise de leurs activités après leur stage de renouveau spirituel. Je salue aussi cordialement les membres de l’École de formation et d’évangélisation de la Communauté Emmanuel: que l’Esprit vous guide sur votre route!

Et c’est une joie pour moi de saluer le groupe de personnes âgées, et même très âgées, conduites ici par les Petits Frères des Pauvres: que le Seigneur vous garde dans sa paix!

A tous, je donne bien volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini e ai visitatori di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a cordial welcome to the Christian Brothers taking part in an International Renewal Programme. May your time in Rome deepen your love for Christ and his Church and give you strength and joy to carry out your important educational apostolate. My greetings also go to the recently-named Provincials of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. From Britain, I welcome a group of Officers of the Royal Navy. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española.

En particular, a las Religiosas Adoratrices y a las Hermanas Mercedarias de la Caridad a quienes aliento vivamente a una entrega generosa a Dios y a la Iglesia.

Igualmente saludo a la peregrinación de la Villa de Santońa (Cantabria), portadores de una imagen de Santa María del Puerto, con ocasión del Quinto Centenario del Descubrimiento de América.

Por último, mi afectuosa bienvenida a los jóvenes integrantes de la “Coral Santa Teresa”, del Colegio “El Carmelo”, de Zaragoza.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos provenientes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Amadíssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Neste tempo de Páscoa, o Cristo ressuscitado está a dizer-nos que o Espírito Santo vem em auxílio da nossa fraqueza, ajudando-nos a manter um diálogo contínuo com Deus-Pai. Implorando a Deus que derrame sobre todos quantos me ouvis aquela Luz inacessível, concedo a minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Pani Jasnogórska! Dziś odczytuję wobec Ciebie wraz z uczestni kami audiencji słowa związane z Rokiem Maryjnym, a zawarte w Liście apostolskim “Mulieris Dignitatem” - o godności kobiety - z 1988 r.

“Od początku posłannictwa Chrystusa kobieta okazuje wobec Niego i wobec całej Jego tajemnicy tę szczególną wrażliwość, jaka stanowi cechę charakterystyczną kobiecości.  . . . Potwierdza się to szczególnie w tajemnicy paschalnej - nie tylko w momencie Krzyża, ale także o poranku Zmartwychwstania. Kobiety pierwsze są przy grobie. Pierwsze znajdują grób pusty. Pierwsze słyszą: "Nie ma Go tu …, zmartwychwstał, jak powiedział". One też naprzód są wezwane do tego, aby tę prawdę zwiastować apostołom ”.

Jakże znamienne jest to pierwszeństwo. Zmartwychwstanie jest prawdą o Bogu, który jest życiem i miłuje życie. Jest prawdą ostateczną o życiu, które Bóg w Jezusie Chrystusie przeznacza dla człowieka.  . . .poza granicą śmierci.

Kobieta jest w Ewangelii pierwszą zwiastunką tego życia. Ta, która jest pierwszym świadkiem poczynającego się w niej życia ludzkiego - jest też pierwszą zwiastunką tego życia, które objawiło się nam w Chrystusie Zmartwychwstałym.

Jakże głęboka jest wymowa tego faktu! Jakaż logika Ewangelii!

Byłbym wdzięczny moim rodakom za rozważenie listu “Mulieris Dignitatem” w tym okresie, kiedy w związku z prawem do życia dziecka nie narodzonego muszą być gruntownie rozważone prawa kobietymatki.

Matko Jasnogórska!

“Mulieris Dignitatem” stało się dopowiedzeniem encykliki “Redemptoris Mater”. Nie można myśleć o życiu i powołaniu wszystkich na świecie kobiet, nie wpatrując się w Ciebie - zawsze, a zwłaszcza w naszej epoce, gdy “postęp jednostronny może również oznaczać stopniowy zanik wrażliwości na człowieka, na to, co istotowo ludzkie. W tym sensie przede wszystkim nasze czasy oczekują na objawienie się owego "geniuszu" kobiety, który zabezpieczy wrażliwość na człowieka w każ - dej sytuacji: wrażliwość dlatego, że jest człowiekiem! I dlatego, że "największa jest miłość" ”.

Witam wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski. Witam księdza arcybiskupa lwowskiego obrządku łacińskiego z biskupem pomocniczym: ks. abpa Mariana Jaworskiego i bpa Marka Trofimiaka, witam również bpa Zimniaka z Katowic. Pozdrawiam grupę z parafii św. Maksymiliana Kolbe z Mistrzejowic, Kraków-Nowa Huta; pracowników Instytutu Pediatrii Akademii Medycznej z Krakowa i Prokocimia z duszpasterzami; pracowników przedsiębiorstwa “Remobudowa” z Krakowa; z parafii Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej z Wołomina; z parafii św. Krzysztofa z Podkowy Leśnej koło Warszawy; z parafii św. Klemensa z Nadarzyna; z parafii Miłosierdzia Bożego z Grójca; grupę “Caritasu” z Gniezna; z parafii św. Mateusza z Mielca; z parafii Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa z Lublina; z parafii Świętych Floriana i Katarzyny z Gołębia w diecezji lubelskiej; dzieci z domów dziecka w Częstochowie; grupę z parafii św. Stanisława Biskupa i Męczennika w Serokomli w diecezji siedleckiej; z parafii św. Jakuba i Królowej Korony Polskiej z Lęborka w diecezji koszalińsko-kołobrzeskiej; grupę duszpasterstwa księży michaelitów z Bydgoszczy; z parafii Świętych Piotra i Pawła z Jeleniej Góry; pielgrzymkę z archidiecezji wrocławskiej; z parafii św. Bartłomieja Apostoła z Głogówka w diecezji opolskiej; grupę młodzieży i profesorów XXVIII Liceum Ogólnokształcącego z łodzi wespół z młodzieżą włoską z Sory i Frosinone; grupę młodzieży III Liceum Ogólnokształcącego z Białegostoku; a także grupy turystyczne: “Gryfia” z Warszawy, “Impuls-Sport” z Warszawy, “Agra” z Kielc, “Almabus” z Wrocławia oraz grupę kolejarzy z Poznania, Towarzystwo Italia-Polonia; grupę nauczycieli z Bielska-Białej i innych pielgrzymów z Polski, z kraju i z emigracji, nie objętych tymi grupami.

Ai pellegrini italiani

Saluto ora i numerosi gruppi di pellegrini italiani.

Sono lieto di accogliere le Superiore Provinciali e le Consigliere Generali della Congregazione delle Apostole del Sacro Cuore di Gesù, riunite in questi giorni a Roma per un incontro in preparazione al Capitolo Generale.

Saluto, poi, le Suore iuniores dell’Istituto delle Suore Missionarie del Catechismo, impegnate in un corso di aggiornamento dottrinale e spirituale. Auguro a tutte di rispondere con sempre maggiore generosità alla particolare chiamata del Signore che le ha scelte come segni vivi del suo amore nel mondo.

Rivolgo un cordiale pensiero agli studenti della Facoltà di Giurisprudenza di Pisa, che hanno voluto prendere parte all’odierna Udienza.

Do, inoltre, il mio benvenuto ai partecipanti all’incontro ecumenico, promosso dal Centro “Uno” del Movimento dei Focolari, al quale prendono parte rappresentanti della Chiesa ortodossa, delle antiche Chiese orientali e di quella Cattolica. Auspico di cuore che il ritrovarsi insieme per riflettere e pregare costituisca una preziosa occasione di crescita nella fraterna comunione.

Saluto il coro Arca di Malégno, in diocesi di Brescia, e lo incoraggio nel suo impegno a coltivare il canto e a dare testimonianza di fraternità e di vita cristiana.

Lo Spirito Santo, amore vivo di Dio, faccia di ciascuno di voi un umile e fedele strumento della sua pace e costruttore infaticabile di giustizia e di solidarietà.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

È nello spirito del tempo pasquale, tempo dell’annuncio della letizia cristiana, che desidero rivolgere il mio consueto saluto ai giovani, ai malati, agli sposi novelli presenti a questa Udienza.

Sia per voi giovani questo periodo dell’anno liturgico un’occasione di gioiosa riscoperta dei valori della parola del Risorto, sia momento dell’intensa adesione alla fede, che vorrete sempre approfondire accostandovi a Cristo con sentimenti di vera amicizia.

Possa la Pasqua essere per voi, malati, un momento di grazia speciale che vi faccia rendere sempre più consapevoli che ogni credente, accostandosi nella sofferenza alla croce di Cristo, può trovare il conforto della più forte speranza.

Cari sposi novelli, vi auguro che i giorni della Pasqua possano offrirvi nuovi spunti per la preghiera comune e per una esperienza di fede che vi coinvolga profondamente.

A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

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