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The guiding action of the Spirit of God

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 17 January 1990 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Old Testament gives us valuable examples of the acknowledged role of the Spirit of God - as "breeze," "breath," "life force," symbolized by wind. These examples are found not only in the books collecting the religious and the literary output of the sacred writers, which mirror both the psychology and the vocabulary of Israel, but also in the very lives of the personages who led the people in their historic journey toward the messianic future.

According to the sacred writers, it is God's Spirit who acts upon the leaders. The Spirit sees to it that they not only work in God's name, but also that their actions truly serve to carry out God's plan. They should look not so much toward building up and increasing their own personal or dynastic power, seen from a monarchical or aristocratic point of view, but rather toward giving valuable service to others, and especially to the people. It can be said that, through the mediation of these leaders, God's Spirit enters into and guides Israel's history.

2. Already in the story of the patriarchs one can note that they are being guided and led in their journey, in their travels and in their experiences by a divine hand which is fashioning a plan regarding their descendants. One of them is Joseph in whom the Spirit of God lives as a spirit of wisdom. He is discovered by pharaoh who asks his officials: "Could we find another like him, a man so endowed with the spirit of God?" (Gen 41:38). God's spirit makes Joseph capable of administering the country and accomplishing extraordinary tasks not only for his family and its various genealogical branches, but also on the plane of the whole future history of Israel.

God's spirit acts on Moses as well, the mediator between Yahweh and the people. The spirit sustains him and leads him during the exodus which will bring Israel to a homeland and make it an independent people, capable of accomplishing its messianic role. When the families encamped in the desert experienced a tense moment and Moses lamented before God that he did not feel up to carrying "the weight of all this people" (Num 11:14), God ordered him to choose seventy men. With them he was to set up an initial governing structure for those wandering tribes, and God announced to him: "I will also take some of the spirit that is on you and will bestow it on them, that they may share the burden of the people with you, and you will then not have to bear it by yourself" (Num 11:17). And thus, with the seventy elders gathered around the meeting tent, "the Lord took some of the spirit that was on Moses and bestowed it on the seventy elders" (Num 11:25).

When at the end of his life Moses had to be concerned about leaving the community a leader so that "it might not become a flock without a shepherd," the Lord pointed out Joshua to him; he was a "man in whom the spirit was present" (Num 27:17-18). Moses laid "hands on him," with the result that he, too, was "full of the spirit of wisdom" (Dt 34:9). These are typical cases of the Spirit's presence and action in the lives of the shepherds of the people.

3. At times the gift of the Spirit is conferred on a person who, while not a leader, is called by God to give a service of some importance in special times and circumstances. For example, when it was time to construct the meeting tent and the ark of the covenant, God told Moses: "See, I have called Bezalel by name...I have filled him with a divine spirit of skill and understanding and knowledge in every craft" (Ex 31:3; cf. 35:31). And furthermore, God adds even in regard to the workmates of this artisan: "I have also endowed all the experts with the necessary skill to make all the things I have ordered you to make: the meeting tent, the ark of the commandments" (Ex 31:6-7).

The Book of Judges celebrates the lives of persons who were called at first "hero liberators," but later were also governors of cities and districts during the time of settlement between the tribal and monarchical periods. According to the usage of the verb shafat, "to judge," in Semitic languages related to Hebrew, these people were considered to be not only administrators of justice, but also leaders of their people. They were raised up by God who communicated to them his spirit (breath—ruah) in answer to pleas made to him during moments of crisis. Several times in the Book of Judges their appearance and their victorious deeds are attributed to a gift of the spirit. Thus in the case of Othniel, the first of the great judges whose history is summarized, it is said that "when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a savior, Othniel...and he rescued them. The spirit of the Lord came upon him and he judged Israel" (Jgs 3:9-10).

In Gideon's case, emphasis is placed on the power of divine action: "The spirit of the Lord enveloped Gideon" (Jgs 6:34). It is also said of Jephthah that "the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah" (Jgs 11:29). And regarding Samson: "The spirit of the Lord began to stir him" (Jgs 13:25). In these cases the spirit of God is the giver of extraordinary strength, of courage in decision-making, and at times of strategic prowess, by which a person was made capable of carrying out a mission entrusted to him for the liberation and leadership of the people.

4. When the historical leap is made from judges to kings, when the Israelites ask to have "a king to govern us, as other nations have" (1 Sam 8:5), the elderly judge and liberator Samuel acts so as not to mar Israel's sense of belonging to God as the chosen people and to assure the essential element of theocracy, that is, recognition of God's rights over the people. The anointing of kings as an inaugural rite is a sign of divine investiture which places political power at the service of a religious and messianic purpose. In this sense Samuel tells Saul, after having anointed him and having foretold the meeting at Gibeath with a group of psalm-singing prophets: "The spirit of the Lord will rush upon you and you will join them in their prophetic state and you will be changed into another man" (1 Sam 10:6). Also when the first initiatives of war became evident, "The spirit of God rushed upon Saul" (1 Sam 11:16). The promise of protection and of God's covenant which Samuel had made to Saul was realized in him: "God will be with you" (1 Sam 10:7). When the spirit of God abandoned Saul, he was terrified by an evil spirit (cf. 1 Sam 16:14). David had already appeared on the scene, consecrated by the aged Samuel with oil by which "the spirit of the Lord, from that day on, rushed upon David" (1 Sam 16:13).

5. With David, even more than with Saul, the ideal of the king anointed by the Lord, a type of the future Messiah-King, who would be the real liberator and saviour of his people, took hold. Although David's successors did not reach his stature in realizing messianic kingship, and not a few of them abused Yahweh's covenant with Israel, the ideal of the King-Messiah did not die. It was projected into the future in terms of expectation, rekindled by prophetic announcements.

Especially Isaiah emphasizes the relationship between God's spirit and the Messiah: "The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him" (Is 11:2). Again it will be a spirit of strength, but, above all, a spirit of wisdom: "a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord," that spirit which will drive the Messiah to act with justice on behalf of the afflicted, the poor and the oppressed (Is 11:2-4).

The Holy Spirit of the Lord (cf. Is 42:1; 61:1 f.; 63:10-13; Ps 50; 51:13; Wis 1:5; 9:17), his "life breath" (ruah) which runs throughout Bible history will thus be given to the Messiah in full. That very spirit which breathed upon the chaos prior to creation (cf. Gen 1:2), the spirit which gives life to all that is (cf. Ps 104:29-30; 33:6; Gen 2:7; Ez 37:5-6, 9-10), which raises up judges (cf. Jgs 3:10; 6:34; 11:29) and kings (cf. 1 Sam 11:6), which makes artisans capable of doing their work in the sanctuary (cf. Ex 31:3; 35:31), which gives Joseph wisdom (cf. Gen 41:38), and Moses and the prophets inspiration (cf. Num 11:17, 25-26; 24:2; 1 Sam 23:2), will fall upon the Messiah with the abundance of its gifts (cf. Is 11:2). It will enable him to accomplish his mission of justice and peace. He upon whom God will have "placed his Spirit" "shall bring forth justice to the nations" (Is 42:1). "He will not retreat or be disheartened until he establishes justice on the earth" (42:4).

6. In what way will he "establish justice" and free the oppressed? Will it be perhaps by strength of arms as the judges did, under the impetus of the spirit, and as the Maccabees did many centuries later? The Old Testament did not allow for a clear response to this question. Certain passages told of violent interventions, as, for example, the Isaian text which says: "I trampled down the peoples in my anger, I crushed them in my wrath, and I let their blood run out upon the ground" (Is 63:6). Others, however, insisted on abolishing all struggle: "One nation shall not raise the sword against another nor shall they train for war again" (Is 2:4).

The answer had to be revealed by the way in which the Holy Spirit led Jesus into his mission: from the Gospel we know that the Spirit prompted Jesus to reject the use of arms and any human ambition and carry out a divine victory by means of unlimited generosity, shedding his own blood to free us from our sins. Thus the directing action of the Holy Spirit was manifested in a decisive way."


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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Cher Frères et Soeurs,

Je salue cordialement les visiteurs de langue française venus à cette audience et je leur donne volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I welcome the many seminarians and priests from the United States who are present at today’s Audience. I pray that your visit to Rome, the City of the Apostles Peter and Paul, will inspire in you an ever deeper love for Jesus Christ and for the mystery of his Church. To you and to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of God’s grace and peace.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Mit einem herzlichen Willkommensgruß erbitte ich auch allen anwesenden Pilgern die reichen Gaben des Heiligen Geistes und erteile ihnen von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo con particular afecto a todas las personas, familias y grupos que participan en esta audiencia, procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España, a quienes imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

Saúdo e desejo felicidades a quantos me escutam; e ao grupo de Brasileiros anunciado e a todos, dou, de coração, a minha Bênção.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Pozdrawiam zespói wokalny z parafii św. Andrzeja w Warszawie “Lord’s Singers” oraz różnych pielgrzymów zarówno z kraju, jak i z emigracji, w szczególności grupę turystyczną “Turysta”.

Ai gruppi italiani

Il mio caloroso benvenuto ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli: vi auguro che la vostra vita sia una generosa conquista di nobili traguardi per la gloria di Dio e il servizio dei fratelli.

Un saluto particolare va pure ai Focolarini, alle Novizie e alle Postulanti del Monastero di S. Anna di Bastìa Umbra, alle Piccole Suore della Sacra Famiglia e ai rappresentanti del circo “Nando Orfei”. A tutti auguro ogni bene ed imparto la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

L’unità dei cristiani è in stretta relazione con la diffusione della fede nel mondo. La sua ricerca è quindi un impegno prioritario di tutti i battezzati. Lo ribadisce Giovanni Paolo II nel breve discorso pronunciato durante l’udienza generale in occasione dell’inizio della “Settimana di preghiera per l’unità dei cristiani”. Il tradizionale appuntamento di preghiera e di meditazione comincerà domani 18 e terminerà il 25. Queste le parole pronunciate dal Papa.

Domani avrà inizio l’annuale “Settimana di preghiere per l’unità dei cristiani”. In alcuni Paesi dell’emisfero sud essa si svolge attorno alla festa di Pentecoste. Questa distinzione nel tempo non tocca in nulla l’identica prospettiva che ispira tutti i cristiani: intensificare la preghiera per invocare da Dio il dono dell’unità.

Il tema proposto per quest’anno richiama l’anelito manifestato da Gesù stesso nella preghiera per l’unità dei discepoli e di tutti coloro che, nel tempo, avrebbero creduto alla loro parola: “Che tutti siano una sola cosa . . . affinché il mondo creda” (Gv 17, 21). L’unità dei cristiani è posta in stretta relazione con la diffusione della fede nel mondo. La sua ricerca, quindi, è un impegno prioritario che coinvolge tutti i battezzati.

Invito voi tutti qui presenti e i cattolici del mondo intero a pregare intensamente per l’unità durante questa speciale Settimana. Vi invito anche a unirvi, dove è possibile, agli altri cristiani per implorare dal Signore questo grande dono. Valgano questi giorni a suscitare in tutti un rinnovato impegno personale e comunitario per la ricerca dell’unità nell’unica Chiesa di Cristo.

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