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The Holy Spirit as sanctifier

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 21 February 1990 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. According to the Bible, the divine spirit is not only a light which illumines by giving knowledge and prompting prophecy, but also a force which sanctifies. God's spirit communicates holiness, because he himself is "a spirit of holiness," "holy spirit." This title is attributed to the divine spirit in chapter 63 of the Book of Isaiah when, in the long poem or psalm devoted to praising the benefits of Yahweh and deploring the people's strayings during Israel's history, the sacred author says that "they rebelled and grieved his holy spirit" (Is 63:10). But he adds that, after God's punishment, "they remembered the days of old and Moses his servant," and they wondered: "Where is he who put his holy spirit in their midst?" (Is 63:11).

This title is echoed also in Psalm 51 where, in asking pardon and mercy of the Lord ( Miserere mei Deus, secundum, misericordiam tuam ), the author pleads: "Do not cast me out from your presence nor take your holy spirit from me" (Ps 51:13). This is a reference to the intimate principle of good which operates within, leading one to holiness ("spirit of holiness").

2. The Book of Wisdom affirms the incompatibility of the Holy Spirit with all lack of sincerity and justice: "The holy spirit of discipline flees deceit and withdraws from senseless counsel; and when injustice occurs, it is rebuked" (Wis 1:5). This expresses a very close relationship between wisdom and the spirit. In wisdom, the inspired author says, "there is an intelligent and holy spirit" (7:22), which is therefore "unstained" and "loving the good." This spirit is the very spirit of God, because he is "all-powerful and all-seeing" (7:23). Without this "holy spirit of God" (cf. 9:17), which God "sends from on high," human beings cannot discern the holy will of God (9:13-17) and much less carry it out faithfully.

3. The necessity of holiness is strongly linked in the Old Testament to the cultural and priestly dimension of Israel's life. Worship must be carried out in a "holy" place, a place of the dwelling of God thrice holy (cf. Is 6:1-4). The cloud is the sign of the Lord's presence (cf. Ex 40:34-35; 1 Kgs 8:10-11). Everything, within the tent, in the Temple, on the altar and on the priests, starting with Aaron, the first to be consecrated (cf. Ex 29:1 ff.), must respond to the demands of the "holy." The holy is like a halo of respect and veneration created around persons, rites and places privileged by a special relationship with God.

Some Biblical texts affirm God's presence in the tent in the desert and in the Jerusalem Temple (Ex 25:8; 40:34-35; 1 Kgs 8:10-13; Ez 43:4-5). Still, in the account of the dedication of the Temple of Solomon, a prayer is recounted in which the king places this claim in doubt, saying: "Can it indeed be that God dwells among men on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this Temple which I have built" (1 Kgs 8:27). In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Stephen expresses the same conviction regarding the Temple: "Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands" (Acts 7:48). The reason for that is explained by Jesus himself in his conversation with the Samaritan woman: "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:24). A house made of materials cannot fully receive the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit and therefore cannot be truly "the dwelling of God." The true house of God must be a "spiritual house," as St. Peter will say, formed of "living stones," that is, of men and women sanctified interiorly by God's Spirit (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-10; Eph 2:21-22).

4. For that reason God promised the gift of the Spirit in hearts, in Ezekiel's famous prophecy which says: "I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations, in whose midst you have profaned it.... I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols; I will give you new heart and place a new spirit within you.... I will put my spirit within you..." (Ez 36:23-27). The result of this wonderful gift is holiness in the concrete, lived with sincere attachment to God's holy will. Thanks to the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit, hearts will be finally docile to God and the life of the faithful will conform to the Lord's law.

God says: "I will put my spirit within you and I will make you live according to my statutes and will make you observe my laws and put them into practice" (Ez 36:27). Thus the Spirit sanctifies the entire existence of the human person.

5. The "spirit of lies" fights against the spirit of God (cf. 1 Kgs 22:21-23); the "unclean spirit" overpowers persons and peoples, making them bow to idolatry. In the oracle on Jerusalem's liberation found in the Book of Zechariah, within the messianic perspective the Lord himself promises to effect the conversion of the people, making the unclean spirit vanish: "On that day...I will destroy the names of the idols from the land.... I will also take away the prophets and the spirit of uncleanliness from the land..." (Zech 13:1-2; cf. Jer 23:9 f.; Ex 13:2 ff.).

Jesus fought the "unclean spirit" (cf. Lk 9:42; 11:24). In this regard, Jesus spoke of the intervention of the spirit of God and said: "If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Mt 12:28). To his disciples Jesus promised the help of the "Consoler," who "will convict the regard to condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned" (Jn 16:8-11). In his turn, Paul will speak of the spirit which justifies by faith and love (cf. Gal 5:5-6), and will put in the place of the "works of the flesh" the "fruits of the spirit" (cf. Gal 5:19 ff.), teaching the new life "according to the Spirit": the new Spirit of which the prophets spoke.

6. All those individuals or peoples who follow the spirit that is in conflict with God, "grieve" God's spirit. That is an expression used by Isaiah which we have already cited and which is timely to repeat in this context. It is found in the meditation of the so-called Trito-Isaiah on the history of Israel: "It was not a messenger nor an angel, but he himself [God] saved them. Because of his love and pity he redeemed them himself, lifting them and carrying them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved his holy spirit" (Is 63:9-10). The prophet contrasts the generosity of the saving love of God for his people with their ingratitude. In his anthropomorphic description, the attribution to God's spirit of the sadness caused by the abandonment of the people conforms to human psychology. But in the language of the prophet one can say that the sin of the people saddens the spirit of God especially because this spirit is holy: the sin offends the divine holiness. The offense is more serious because the holy spirit of God has been not only placed by God within Moses his servant (cf. Is 63:11), but also given as a guide to his people during their Exodus from Egypt (cf. Is 63:14) as a sign and pledge of future salvation: "and they rebelled..." (Is 63:10).

Paul, also, as an heir of this concept and this vocabulary, will recommend to the Christians of Ephesus: "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with which you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Eph 4:30; 1:13-14).

7. The expression "sadden the Holy Spirit" shows well how the people of the Old Testament had passed gradually from a concept of sacral holiness, a rather external one, to the desire for interiorized holiness under the influence of God's Spirit.

The more frequent use of the title "Holy Spirit" indicates this evolution. Nonexistent in the most ancient books of the Bible, this title takes over little by little, precisely because it suggested the Spirit's role in sanctifying the faithful. The hymns of Qumran in various sections thank God for the interior purification which he has wrought by means of his Holy Spirit (e.g. Hymns from the First Cave of Qumran, 16:12; 17:26). The intense desire of the faithful was no longer only to be freed from oppressors, as in the time of the judges, but above all to be able to serve the Lord "in holiness and justice, before him all our days" (Lk 1:75). For this to happen the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit was needed.

The Gospel message answers this expectation. It is significant that, in all four Gospels, the word "holy" appears for the first time in relation to the Spirit, both in speaking of the birth of John the Baptist and that of Jesus (Mt 1:18-20; Lk 1:15, 35), and in announcing the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:8; Jn 1:33). In the account of the annunciation, the Virgin Mary hears the words of the angel Gabriel: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you...because he who will be born will be holy and called the Son of God" (Lk 1:35). Thus the crucial sanctifying activity of the Holy Spirit, destined to spread among all people, had its beginning."


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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Soeurs,

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française qui sont présents parmi nous ce matin, les jeunes et les ainés. Je leur souhaite un heureux séjour à Rome en espérant que leur amour de l’Eglise y sera fortifié et qu’ils rencontreront des frères et des soeurs témoins de leur foi.

A chacun d’entre eux je dis mon affection et j’accorde à tous ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai gruppi di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience. My warm welcome goes to the group of missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit who are attending a course of spiritual renewal in Nemi, and to the Hallvardsgutterne Boys’ Choir from Norway. Upon all of you I invoke God’s abundant blessings of grace and peace.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen katechetischen Betrachtung grüsse ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Ich wünsche Euch einen frohen Aufenthalt in Rom und erteile Euch und Euren Familien für Gottes treuen Schutz und Beistand von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.

Ai numerosi pellegrini di espressione spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo ahora presentar mi más cordial saludo a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, saludo a las Hermanas de la Compañía de Santa Teresa de Jesús, que están haciendo en Roma un curso de formación permanente; asimismo, a las jóvenes del Club “ Alcudia ” de Ciudad Real (España).

A todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese 

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

Saudo quantos me escutam, desejando felicidades, sob os favores de Deus, com a minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini polacchi 

Serdecznie witam pielgrzymów z Polski: ks. bpa Władysława Miziołka z Warszawy, członków Stowarzyszenia Francja-Polska z Dunkierki - misja katolicka, oraz grupę turystyczną Logos-Tour z całej Polski i uczestników grupy Turysty. %Powracając w duchu na Jasną Górę, pragnę nade wszystko dać wyraz dziękczynieniu. Dziękczyunienie jest nieodzowne na tym miejscu, gdzie znajduje się jakby wielka “ błagalnia ”, a także wielka “ przebłagalnia ” ludzi i ludów. Trzeba więc, byśmy dziękowali za dary otrzymane. Abyśmy dziękowali za dar dziejowej przemiany, a raczej wielu przemian. Wszyscy, którzy byli świadkami wydarzeń roku ubiegłego, jakie miały miejsce w Polsce, w Europie Środkowej i Wschodniej, muszą potwierdzić, że przemiany te się dokonały.

Po ludzku mozna było wątpié, czy się dokonają. Jednakże dokonały się. Co więcej, dokonały się w sposób bezskrwawy z jednym tylko bolesnym wyątkiem. Prawdziwa “ pokojowa rewolucja ”, czy też raczej ewolucja kierowana świadomością prawdy i słusznej wolności. Bez użycia gwałtu. Tak było w latach “ Solidarności ” 1980-1981. Podobnie w roku 1989.

Podczas drugiej mojej pielgrzymki do Polski dziękowaliśmy za wiktorie wiedeńską. Mijało właśnie trzysta lat od daty 1683. Spod Wiednia król Jan III zawiadomił Papieża o tym decydującym wówczas zwycięstwie w trzech słowach: “ Veni - vidi - Deus vicit ”.

“Deus vicit”.

Trzeba, by Jasna Góra raz jeszcze wpisała te słowa w nasze dzieje. Tak w roku 1656. Tak po wiktorii wiedeńskiej 1683. Tak w roku 1920. Tak i teraz.

Ai pellegrini giapponesi 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! Saluto i dilettissimi pellegrini che commemorano il 60º anniversario dell’arrivo di San Massimiliano Kolbe a Nagasaki: auspico che il messaggio di San Massimiliano trasformi sempre di più la vostra vita e il vostro Paese, sotto la protezione dell’Immacolata.

Saluto pure gli studenti dell’Università Sophia di Tokyo, del Seibo Jogakuin di Kyoto e del Yamada-Gakuen di Nagoya: vi invito ad allargare non solo il vostro sguardo verso l’Europa, ma anche la vostra attenzione e il vostro interessamento verso le nazioni in via di sviluppo. Con questi auspici vi impartisco la mia Benedizione Apostolica. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana 

Saluto ora i rappresentanti del “Progetto famiglia. Movimento per i diritti della famiglia” che si propone di attirare l’attenzione del mondo politico sui vari problemi che riguardano la famiglia. Vi incoraggio a farvi promotori di concrete iniziative a difesa del nucleo familiare, che è la cellula di base della società e piccola chiesa domestica.

Rivolgo pure il mio benvenuto ai membri della “Confraternita san Domenico Abate” appartenente alla parrocchia di Santa Maria di Loreto, in diocesi di Sulmona, i quali celebrano il bicentenario di fondazione della medesima: vi auguro di essere sempre più generosi nelle opere caritative e nel servizio liturgico, per restare fedeli alla vostra vocazione di laici impegnati.

Sono lieto poi di accogliere alcune postulanti e religiose della Congregazione delle Minime del Sacro Cuore, presenti a Roma per un convegno di aggiornamento pastorale, e un gruppo di Piccole sorelle dei Poveri che ricordano i 150 anni del loro Istituto, sorto per accogliere ed assistere le persone anziane. Saluto altresì le suore Missionarie della Carità che sono venute qui con un gruppo di persone da loro assistite nella Casa di San Gregorio al Celio.

La vostra presenza di anime consacrate nella Chiesa e il vostro apostolato siano sempre esempio di fedeltà a Dio e di amore al prossimo, specialmente ai sofferenti.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Mi rivolgo ora ai Giovani, tra i quali gli studenti dell’Istituto Professionale per il Commercio di Cuneo, agli Ammalati e agli Sposi Novelli. Vorrei richiamare la vostra attenzione sulla festività della Cattedra di S. Pietro che ricorderemo domani. Questa festa si celebrava a Roma fin dal IV secolo per significare il fondamento e l’unità della dottrina che poggia sopra la roccia che è il principe degli apostoli, al quale Cristo disse “Tu sei Pietro e su questa pietra io costruirò la mia Chiesa” (Mt 16, 18). Per questa intenzione preghiamo il Signore: voi giovani, mettete in questa preghiera l’entusiasmo e la speranza che vi sono propri; voi malati, offrite a questo scopo le preoccupazioni, le sofferenze e le incertezze della vita; voi, sposi novelli, ampliate a orizzonti sempre più vasti la vostra vita familiare. A tutti impartisco la mia Benedizione.

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