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The fruitfulness of Pentecost

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 20 December 1989 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The previous catecheses on the Holy Spirit were linked especially to the Pentecost event. We saw that from the day on which the apostles assembled in the upper room of Jerusalem were "baptized with the Holy Spirit" (cf. Acts 2:4), a process began. By various stages described in the Acts of the Apostles, it revealed the action of the Holy Spirit as that of the "other Paraclete" promised by Jesus (cf. Jn 14:16), who came to complete his saving work. He always remains the invisible "hidden God," and yet the apostles were fully aware that it was precisely he who was at work in them and in the Church. It was he who guided them and strengthened them to bear witness to Christ crucified and risen, even to the point of martyrdom, as in the case of the deacon Stephen. It was he who indicated to them how to approach the people, and it was he who by means of them converted all those who opened their hearts to his action. Many of them came also from outside Israel. The first was the Roman soldier Cornelius at Caesarea. Many others would follow at Antioch and in other places, and the Jerusalem Pentecost was spread far and wide and gradually reached people everywhere.

2. It may be said that in this whole process described by the Acts of the Apostles, one sees the fulfillment of Christ's prediction to Peter on the occasion of the miraculous catch of fish: "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men" (Lk 5:10; cf. also Jn 21:11, 15-17).

Moreover, in the trance at Joppa (cf. Acts 11:5), Peter had the idea of abundance impressed on him when he saw the great sheet coming down toward him and being drawn up to heaven. In it he saw "animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air" while a voice said to him: "Rise, kill and eat" (Acts 11:6-7). That abundance could well represent the abundant fruits of the apostolic ministry which the Holy Spirit would produce through the action of Peter and the other apostles, as Jesus had foretold on the day before his passion: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father" (Jn 14:12). Certainly the source of that abundance was not merely the human words of the apostles, but the Holy Spirit's direct action in the hearts and consciences of the people. The whole spiritual fruitfulness of the apostolic mission came from the Holy Spirit.

3. The Acts of the Apostles notes the progressive widening of the circle of those who believed and joined the Church, sometimes specifying their number, and at other times speaking of them more generically.

Thus regarding what happened on Pentecost day at Jerusalem, we read that "there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41). After Peter's second discourse we are informed that "many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to about five thousand" (Acts 4:4).

Luke makes a point of emphasizing this numerical increase of believers, on which he also insists later, though without specifying numbers: "And the word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).

Naturally what was most important was not the number, which might suggest mass conversions. Luke stresses the converts' relationship with God: "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). "And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (Acts 5:14). However, the number has an importance of its own, as a proof or sign of the fruitfulness coming from God. Therefore Luke again informs us that "the increase in the number of the disciples" (cf. Acts 6:1) was the reason for the institution of the seven deacons. He tells us further that "the Church...was multiplied" (Acts 9:31). In another passage he informs us that "a large company was added to the Lord" (Acts 11:24), and "The churches were strengthened in the faith and they increased in numbers daily" (Acts 16:5).

4. In this numerical and spiritual increase the Holy Spirit showed himself as the Paraclete announced by Christ. Luke tells us that "the Church...was full of the comfort of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:31). This comfort did not abandon Christ's witnesses and confessors in the midst of persecutions and the difficulties of evangelization. We think of the persecutions of Paul and Barnabas when they were driven out of Antioch of Pisidia. This did not deprive them of their apostolic zeal and enthusiasm; rather, "they shook off the dust from their feet, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:51-52).

This joy from the Holy Spirit strengthened the apostles in their trials, so that without giving way to discouragement they continued to bear Christ's saving message from place to place.

5. Thus, from the very day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was revealed as the source of interior strength (gift of fortitude). At the same time he helps in the making of opportune choices (gift of counsel), especially in matters of decisive importance, as in the question of the baptism of the centurion Cornelius, the first pagan admitted to the Church by Peter, or in the council of Jerusalem, when the conditions were established for the admission of pagan converts among the Christians.

6. The signs or miracles spoken of in previous reflections also derive from the fruitfulness of Pentecost. They accompanied the apostles' activity, as repeatedly reported in Acts: "Many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles" (Acts 5:12). As in the case of Christ's teaching, these signs were intended to confirm the truth of the saving message. This is stated expressly in the case of the activity of the deacon Philip: "The multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did" (Acts 8:6). The author specifies that it was a question of freeing those possessed by unclean spirits and of healing the paralyzed and the lame. Then he concludes: "So there was much joy in that city" (Acts 8:6-8).

He thinks it worth noting that it was a city of Samaria (cf. Acts 8:9), a region inhabited by a population which, though of the same race and religion as Israel, was separated from it because of historical and doctrinal reasons (cf. Mt 10:5-6; Jn 4:9). However, the Samaritans also expected the Messiah (cf. Jn 4:25). The deacon Philip, led by the Spirit, was brought there to proclaim that the Messiah had come. He confirmed the Good News with miracles. This therefore explains the joy of the people.

7. The Acts adds an episode to which we should at least refer, because it demonstrates the high regard in which the Gospel preachers held the Holy Spirit.

In that city of Samaria, before the coming of Philip, there was "a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic and amazed the people, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all gave heed to him from the least to the greatest..." (Acts 8:9-10). Always the same story! "But when they believed Philip as he preached the Good News about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed" (Acts 8:12-13).

When it became known at Jerusalem that "Samaria had received the word of God" preached by Philip, the apostles "sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit: for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:14-17).

It was then that Simon, desiring to acquire the power to "confer the Spirit," like the apostles through the laying on of hands, offered them money to obtain that supernatural power. (Hence the origin of the word "simony" signifying commerce in sacred things). But Peter responded with indignation for that attempt to acquire with money "the gift of God," which is precisely the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:20; cf. 2:38; 10:45; 11:17; Lk 11:9, 13), and then threatened Simon with divine retribution.

The two apostles then returned to Jerusalem, evangelizing the villages through which they passed. Philip, however, went to Gaza, and prompted by the Holy Spirit, he joined a minister of the queen of Ethiopia who was passing along the road seated in his chariot, and "he told him the Good News of Jesus" (Acts 8:25-26, 27, 35). This was followed by his Baptism. "And when they came up out of the water, the spirit of the Lord caught up Philip..." (Acts 8:39).

As can be seen, Pentecost spread and bore abundant fruit, stirring up many to accept the Gospel and to be converted in the name of Jesus Christ. The Acts of the Apostles is the history of the fulfillment of Christ's promise, namely, that the Holy Spirit sent by him would descend upon his disciples and complete his work when he, having ended his "day of work" (cf. Jn 5:17) with the night of his death (cf. Lk 13:33; Jn 9:4), would have returned to the Father (cf. Jn 13:1; 16:28). This second phase of Christ's redemptive work began with Pentecost."


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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs

AUX VISITEURS et aux pèlerins de langue française que j’ai le plaisir d’accueillir ici, je souhaite de vivre les fêtes de Noël dans la joie d’une fraternité généreuse et d’une intimité plus grande avec le Sauveur. Je leur donne volontiers ma Bénédiction.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

IN A FEW DAYS we shall celebrate the coming of the Son of God into the world for our salvation. At this time of joy and peace i wish you all, together with your families, a very Happy Christmas. I pray that the light of Bethlehem may shine brightly in your lives throughout the coming year. To all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

IN DIESER LETZTEN Audienz vor dem Weihnachtsfest wünsche ich den anwesenden Pilgern deutscher Sprache und allen, zu denen meine Worte durch die Medien gelangen, ein frohes und gnadenreiches Geburtsfest unseres Herrn, Friede und Zuversicht im Licht der uns in Christus erschienenen Menschenfreundlichkeit Gottes. Als deren Unterpfand erteile ich euch allen von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

SALUDO AHORA con afecto a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española, a quienes, en la inminencia de la Navidad, deseo presentar mi felicitación más cordial.

Que la próxima venida del Niño Dios haga nuevo y vivo en el corazón de todos su mensaje de amor. Que la paz que El nos anuncia y nos trae sea una gozosa realidad en las familias, en la sociedad, entre las naciones.

A todas las personas aquí presentes, provenientes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España, imparto complacido la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Queridos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

SAUDANDO OS PRESENTES e ouvintes, desejo que a todos aproveite a Salvação, trazida por Jesus Cristo, quando, por obra do Espírito Santo, nasceu da Virgem Maria e se fez homem: e foi o Natal! A todos, um feliz e abençoado Natal, com paz e alegrias!

Ai fedeli polacchi

POZDRAWIAM WSZYSTKICH obecnych na audiencji Polaków, zarówno indywidualnych pielgrzymów z kraju, jak z emigracji, w szczególności grupę turystyczną “Turysta” . . . Życzę wszystkim obecoym tutaj obfitych łask od Ducha Świętego w perspektywie Bożego Narodzenia oraz Nowego Roku.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Nel rivolgere, ora, il mio consueto saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli, desidero richiamarli alla riflessione sul mistero del Natale ormai imminente.

Davanti al Figlio di Dio, fatto Bambino, invito poi, giovani, a sempre rinascere sulla grazia di Cristo, la sola che assicura la giovinezza perenne dello spirito. A voi, malati, ricordo che Gesù, venuto sulla terra come uno di noi, ha trasformato la sofferenza in mezzo di salvezza. Esorto voi sposi a non dimenticare mai il Figlio di Dio: scegliendo di nascere in una famiglia umana, ha nobilitato ogni famiglia e l’ha resa in qualche modo Sacra.

Nell’attesa di questo Natale e nella dolcezza che questa solennità suscita nei nostri cuori, tutti vi benedico, augurandovi ogni bene, anche per un sereno Anno Nuovo.

Profondo dolore per le vittime in alcune città della Romania, ferma condanna di ogni violenza, auspici di pacifica convivenza tra le componenti etniche per favorire “la pacifica fruizione dei diritti umani, civili e religiosi di tutto il popolo” e garantire le sue fondamentali libertà: questi i concetti espressi dal Santo Padre in relazione ai dolorosi eventi della Romania, nel corso dell’udienza generale. Ecco le parole pronunciate dal Papa. 

Con profondo dolore abbiamo tutti appreso la notizia di morti e di feriti in alcune città della Romania.

Mentre lamento e condanno ogni violenza perpetrata contro inermi cittadini, elevo la mia supplice preghiera al Signore: voglia egli accogliere nella sua pace le anime di queste vittime che hanno perduto la vita quando il mondo cristiano si accinge a celebrare il Natale di colui che invochiamo Principe della pace.

Esprimo, poi, parole di conforto per i feriti e per tutte quelle famiglie che sono in angoscia per questo tragico avvenimento e voglio augurare a tutti i cittadini della diletta nazione Romena un’armoniosa convivenza tra le sue componenti etniche, che favorisca la pacifica fruizione dei diritti umani, civili e religiosi di tutto il popolo e garantisca le sue fondamentali libertà

Dio benedica la Romania!

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