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The Spirit at work on Calvary

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 1 August 1990 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem I wrote: "The Son of God Jesus Christ, as man, in the ardent prayer of his passion, enabled the Holy Spirit who had already penetrated the inmost depths of his humanity, to transform that humanity into a perfect sacrifice through the act of his death as the victim of love on the cross. He made this offering by himself. As the one priest, 'he offered himself without blemish to God' (Heb 9:14)" (n. 40).

The sacrifice of the cross is the culmination of a life in which we have read the truth about the Holy Spirit, according to the Gospel texts, starting with the moment of the Incarnation. It has served as the theme of previous catecheses which centered on moments in the life and mission of Christ when the revelation of the Holy Spirit was particularly clear. Today's topic for catechesis is the event of the cross.

2. Let us concentrate on the last words pronounced by Jesus during his agony on Calvary. In Luke's text they read thus: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46). Even though every word except for the word "Father" comes from Psalm 31, they take on another meaning in the Gospel context. The Psalmist prayed to God to save him from death. Instead, using the very words of the Psalmist, Jesus on the cross accepted death, turning over his spirit (that is, "his life") to the Father. The Psalmist turned to God as to a liberator; Jesus offered (that is, handed over) his spirit to the Father with a view to the resurrection. Jesus entrusted the fullness of his own humanity to the Father. However, the divine "I" of the Son united to the Father and to the Holy Spirit subsists in his humanity. Still the presence of the Holy Spirit is not manifested in an explicit way in Luke's text as will happen in the Letter to the Hebrews (cf. 9:14).

3. Before moving on to this other text, we must consider the slightly different formulation of the dying Christ's words in John's Gospel. There we read: "When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, 'It is finished!' And bowing his head he handed over the spirit" (Jn 19:30). The evangelist does not highlight the "handing over" (or "commending") of the spirit to the Father. The full context of John's Gospel and especially of the pages devoted to Jesus' death on the cross seem rather to indicate that death marks the beginning of the sending of the Holy Spirit, as the gift handed over at Christ's leaving.

Still, here too, no explicit affirmation is made. But we cannot ignore the surprising connection which seems to exist between John's text and the interpretation of Christ's death which is found in the Letter to the Hebrews. Its author speaks of the ritual function of the bloody sacrifices of the old covenant which were used to purify the people of legal guilt. He compares them to the sacrifice of the cross, and ends by exclaiming: "How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself up unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God" (Heb 9:14).

As I wrote in the Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem , "In his humanity (Christ) was worthy to become this sacrifice, for he alone was 'without blemish.' But he offered it 'through the eternal Spirit,' which means that the Holy Spirit acted in a special way in this absolute self-giving of the Son of Man, in order to transform this suffering into redemptive love" (n. 40). The mystery of the association between the Messiah and the Holy Spirit in the messianic activity contained in Luke's account of Mary's annunciation, passes here into the section of the Letter to the Hebrews. It manifests the depths of that activity which enters into human consciences to purify them and renew them by means of divine grace—a far cry from the superficiality of ritual representations.

4. The Old Testament speaks several times of the "fire from heaven" which burnt the oblations presented by men (cf. Lev 9:24; 1 Kgs 18:38; 2 Chr 7:1). "The fire on the altar is to be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest shall put firewood on it. On this he shall lay out the holocaust and burn the fat of the peace offerings" (Lev 6:5). Now we know that the ancient holocausts prefigured the sacrifice of the cross, the perfect holocaust. "By analogy one can say that the Holy Spirit is the 'fire from heaven' which works in the depth of the mystery of the cross. Proceeding from the Father, he directs the Son's sacrifice toward the Father, bringing it into the divine reality of the trinitarian communion" (DViv 41).

For this reason we can add that, reflected in the Trinitarian mystery, one sees the complete fulfillment of the announcement of John the Baptist at the Jordan: "He [the Christ] will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt 3:11). While in the Old Testament the fire which the Baptist evoked symbolized God's sovereign intervention in an act of purifying consciences through the Holy Spirit (cf. Is 1:25; Zech 13:9; Mal 3:2-3; Sir 2:5), now the reality goes beyond types to the sacrifice of the cross which is the perfect "baptism with which Christ himself had to be baptized" (cf. Mk 10:38). During his life and earthly mission he directed himself with his whole strength toward this baptism, as he himself said: "I have come to light a fire on the earth. How I wish the blaze were ignited! I have a baptism to receive. What anguish I feel till it is over!" (Lk 12:49-50). The Holy Spirit is the saving "fire" which brings about that sacrifice.

5. In the Letter to the Hebrews we again read that Christ, "Son though he was, learned obedience from what he suffered" (5:8). And on entering the world he said to the Father: "Behold I come to do your will" (Heb 10:9). In the sacrifice of the cross this obedience of his is realized fully: "If sin caused suffering, now the pain of God in Christ crucified acquires through the Holy Spirit its full human expression.... But at the same time, from the depth of this suffering...the Spirit draws a new measure of the gift made to man and to creation from the beginning. In the depth of the mystery of the cross love is at work, that love which brings man back again to share in the life that is in God himself" (DViv 41).

Thus in its relationship with God humanity "has a great high priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness because he has been tested in every way, yet without sin" (Heb 4:15). In this new mystery of Christ's priestly mediation before the Father, there is the decisive intervention of the eternal Spirit who is the fire of infinite love.

6. "The Holy Spirit descends as love and gift, in a certain sense, into the very heart of the sacrifice which is offered on the cross. Referring to the Biblical tradition we can say: he consumes this sacrifice by the fire of the love which unites the Son to the Father in the Trinitarian communion. And since the sacrifice of the cross is an act proper to Christ, in this sacrifice too he 'receives' the Holy Spirit. He receives the Spirit in such a way that he—and he alone with the Father—can give the Spirit to the apostles, to the Church, to humanity" (DViv 41).

Therefore it is proper to see in the sacrifice of the cross the conclusive moment of the Holy Spirit's revelation in Christ's life. The Pentecost event and the entire effects which will flow from it into the world are rooted in this key moment. The same "eternal Spirit" working in the mystery of the cross will appear in the upper room in the form of "tongues of fire" on the heads of the apostles. This signified that he would gradually penetrate into the arteries of human history through the Church's apostolic service. We too are called to enter into the sphere of activity of this mysterious saving force which started with the cross and the upper room in order, in it and through it, to be drawn into the communion of the Trinity."

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

Ad un gruppo di fedeli francesi

J’accueille avec plaisir les francophones présents à cette audience. J’adresse en particulier un salut très cordial aux pèlerins de l’Ile Maurice qui me rappellent les journées heureuses que j’ai passées parmi eux l’an dernier. A tous, j’offre mes vœux cordiaux pour un bon été, enrichi par la lumière de Dieu. Et je vous donne ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ad un gruppo di marinai americani

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to greet the officers and crew of the U. S. S. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and I offer my prayerful best wishes to those who yesterday received the Sacrament of Confirmation. My greetings also go to the group from Waipahu, Hawaii, which is visiting Rome on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of their Parish. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A diversi pellegrini del Giappone

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Carissimi pellegrini provenienti da varie parti del Giappone, si sta avvicinando il 45 anniversario dello scoppio della bomba atomica. “No more Hiroshima!”. Ricordando questo appello, preghiamo per la pace e la giustizia nel mondo, per l’intercessione della “Regina Pacis”.

Con questo auspicio vi imparto di cuore la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

A fedeli di espressione tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit diesen kurzen Worten der Betrachtung grüße ich alle Pilger und Besucher deutscher Sprache sehr herzlich. Allen, die in diesen Wochen Ferien machen, wünsche ich erholsame Tage. Euch und Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den über Radio Vatikan verbundenen Hörerinnen und Hörern erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

A gruppi di lingua spagnola provenienti da Paesi dell’America Latina e dalla Spagna

Deseo ahora saludar a todas las personas y grupos procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España.

En particular a las religiosas “Siervas del Amor Misericordioso”, a quienes aliento a una renovada entrega a su vocación de amor y servicio.

Igualmente saludo a los numerosos peregrinos provenientes de México.

A todos bendigo de corazón.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Amadíssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Ao grupo de peregrinos provenientes do Brasil, especialmente os presidentes e diretores de vários bancos associados; e os que vieram de Portugal, da Terceira Ordem Franciscana, e os integrantes da Paróquia de Nossa Senhora de Fátima, da Diocese de Viana do Castelo, que fazem uma viagem penitente, oferecendos seus sacrifícios pelas intenções do Papa e pela Paz do mundo, para estimular, também todos os peregrinos aqui presentes, a renovar a própria vida cristã e a contribuir assim para a Nova Evangelização da Humanidade dentro da perspectiva do final deste século, faço chegar a minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ai numerosi fedeli polacchi

“Z dawna Polski Tyś Królową, Maryjo, Ty za nami przemów słowo”.

T Twoje sŁowo za nami, o Matko, nabiera szczególnej wymowy w dniu, w którym wspominamy owstanie Warszawskie. Nie możemy go nie wspominać rokrocznie. Powstanie to wspomina Warszawa i Polska. Czy pamięta o nim Europa i świat?

Nie możemy nie wspominać tego bohaterskiego zrywu. Chociaż wielu wydał on się przede wszystkim “szaleńczy”, innym “niepotrzebny” - nie możemy nie pochylić czoła przed ludźmi, którzy gotowi byli położyć młode życie na płonącym ołtarzu stolicy. I wielu z nich legło w gruzach tego Miasta, które Prymas Tysiąclecia nazywał niepokonanym. Czy naprawdę nie zostali pokonani?

Jaka była logika tego czynu?

Trudno ją zrozumieć w oderwaniu od września 1939, od całego bohaterskiego wysiłku Polski Podziemnej: państwa i armii. To ta sama wola niepodległego bytu Ojczyzny, choćby za cenę największych ofiar.

W momencie wybuchu - sierpień 1944 - wzrok pokolenia musiał być skierowany w przyszłość. Bo cóż wyłaniało się z układów stron, które miały decydować - niestety ponad głowami tych, którzy tak wiele zapłacili w walce o wolność “waszą i naszą”? Jaka niepodległość miała być “przydzielona” Polsce?

Czy Powstanie Warszawskie mogło tutaj coś zmienić? Doraźnie niczego nie zmieniło. Pozostawiło jednak wstrząsające wyzwanie na przyszłość. Na jeszcze inny sierpień!

Matko Jasnogórska. Patronko polskich sierpniów! “Weź w opiekę naród cały . . . Weź w opiekę”.

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z parafii św. Wincentego ŕ Paulo z Bydgoszczy; duszpasterstwo akademickie księży pallotynów z Warszawy; pielgrzymów z parafii Matki Bożej Licheńskiej w Gdyni - Babie Doły; z parafii Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej z Duminowa w diecezji koszalińsko-kołobrzeskiej; parafii Zmartwychwstania Pańskiego w Poznaniu; międzyparafialną pielgrzymkę z Poznania; młodzież z parafii św. Michała we Wrocławiu; pielgrzymów z parafii Świętych Piotra i Pawła w Opolu; Zespół Pieśni i Tańca Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego “Słowianki”; grupę turystyczną Top-Seven z Olsztyna; grupę esperantystów z Bydgoszczy; chór dziecięcy “Canzonetta” z Dobrego Miasta; grupę Trans-West z Rzeszowa; grupę turystyczną Żywiec-Bielsko; służbę zdrowia z Leszna; zespół “Holny” z Zakopanego; prócz tego grupę turystyczną “Corlando” z Nowego Sącza; młodzież I Liceum Ogólnokształcącego w Gdyni; uczestników grup turystycznych Orbisu, Turysty oraz turystów z Lublina.

Ad alcuni gruppi italiani

Tra i pellegrini italiani saluto in modo speciale il Parroco di San Michele Arcangelo in Pisterzo (Latina) e il gruppo di suoi parrocchiani emigrati da diversi anni a Toronto (Canada), accompagnati dal Vicario Episcopale per l’emigrazione in quella Nazione: cari fedeli italo-canadesi, anche se lontani dalla vostra Patria natale, mantenete ferma la fede cristiana, che qui avete acquisita e vivetela con coerenza e con vivo impegno di testimonianza.

Saluto poi i Gruppi Folkloristici, che partecipano al XII Festival Internazionale del Folklore “Valle di Comino-Atina” (Provincia di Frosinone), ideato per la pace, la comprensione e l’amicizia fra gli uomini; mentre ringrazio gli Organizzatori e i membri dei singoli Gruppi, vi esorto ad essere sempre messaggeri di questi tre grandi ideali, sostenuti da una profonda fede religiosa.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Infine, rivolgo il consueto saluto particolare ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli. Sono lieto della vostra presenza, vi ringrazio di cuore per il vostro impegno di fede e di devozione, vi saluto tutti con grande affetto e vi auguro ogni bene nel Signore! Mentre oggi la Liturgia ci fa celebrare la memoria di Sant’Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori, Vescovo, Dottore della Chiesa e Fondatore dei Religiosi Redentoristi, vi addito la sua Personalità, tanto eminente nella storia della Chiesa, affinché ne conosciate la dottrina, ne invochiate l’intercessione, ne imitiate la santità. Tre anni fa, il primo agosto 1987, in occasione del secondo Centenario della sua morte, avvenuta dopo una vita assai lunga (1696-1787) tutta colma di fervore spirituale e di ansia pastorale, ho scritto la Lettera Apostolica Spiritus Domini per riproporre alla Chiesa intera l’esempio delle sue virtù e la luce dei suoi insegnamenti. Oggi propongo a voi di procurarvi e di meditare le sue opere ascetiche, tuttora valide, e specialmente La pratica di amare Gesù Cristo, Del gran mezzo della preghiera, e Le glorie di Maria. Sant’Alfonso vi aiuti e vi protegga! E ispiri voi giovani, voi malati e voi sposi novelli ad amare sempre più Gesù Cristo, per mezzo di Maria!

Rinnovato appello per il popolo della Liberia in preda alle prove più crudeli

Per la seconda volta, il Papa leva la sua voce ed innalza a Dio un’accorata preghiera per il popolo della Liberia. Già mercoledì scorso, 25 luglio, il Santo Padre aveva chiesto a Dio che in Liberia “prevalga la forza del dialogo su quella delle armi”. La supplica del Santo Padre si rinnova ancora una volta stamane.

Le drammatiche notizie, che giungono dalla Liberia, mi obbligano purtroppo a levare nuovamente la mia voce e ad innalzare a Dio un’accorata preghiera per quel popolo, in preda alle prove più crudeli. Terribili violenze e massacri fanno vittime anche tra i civili indifesi e non risparmiano neppure gli ospedali, né le chiese trasformate in luoghi di rifugio. Ecco la sorte riservata a quei nostri fratelli in umanità.

Chiedo insistentemente alle parti in conflitto e, in particolare, a coloro che le guidano nella lotta fratricida, di porre fine alla passione imposta a tutto un popolo. Supplico che non venga ostacolata l’azione generosa delle organizzazioni di soccorso, il cui personale, rischiando spesso la vita, si sforza di portare cure e conforto, e di proteggere le vite innocenti.

Ancora una volta faccio appello alla solidarietà internazionale: i paesi amici della Liberia e quelli che le sono tradizionalmente legati non permettano che si compia, nell’indifferenza dell’opinione pubblica, quella che può ben dirsi una guerra fratricida.

Vi invito ad unirvi alla mia preghiera perché Dio, per intercessione materna della Vergine Maria, aiuti tutti i Liberiani a riscoprire i valori della vita umana, della fratellanza e della pace, senza i quali non potrà costruirsi l’avvenire di quell’amata Nazione.

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