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The Spirit gives strength to Christians

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 26 June 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The people of today, who are particularly exposed to assault, temptation and the seduction of the world, need the gift of fortitude. This gift gives courage and constancy in the struggle against the spirit of evil which lays siege to those who live upon this earth. This evil tries to turn people away from the road to heaven. Many people risk wavering and giving in, especially during times of temptation of suffering. For Christians too there is always the risk of falling from the heights of their vocation, of deviating from the logic of the baptismal grace which was granted to them as a seed of eternal life. For this very reason Jesus revealed and promised to us the Holy Spirit as our Comforter and Defender (cf. Jn 16:5-15). From him we are given the gift of supernatural fortitude, which gives us a share of the power and strength of the divine Being [1] .

2. In the Old Testament we already find many proofs of the action of the divine Spirit who sustained not only individuals, but also the whole people in the difficulties they encountered throughout their history. However, it is especially in the New Testament that the power of the Holy Spirit is revealed and believers receive the promise of his presence and activity in every struggle, until the final victory. We spoke of this several times in preceding catecheses. Here I will limit myself to mentioning that in the annunciation the Holy Spirit was revealed and granted to Mary as "the power of the Most High," who shows that "nothing will be impossible for God" (cf. Lk 1:35-37).

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, who manifests his power through the symbolic sign of a driving wind (cf. Acts 2:2), gave the apostles and all those gathered with them "all in one place" (Acts 2:1), the new strength promised by Jesus in his farewell discourse (cf. Jn 16:8-11) and shortly before the ascension: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit descends upon you" (Acts 1:8; Lk 24:49).

3. It is a question of an inner strength, rooted in love (cf. Eph 3:17), which St. Paul writes about to the faithful of Ephesus: may the Father "grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self" (Eph 3:16). Paul prays to the Father to give this higher power to those to whom he is writing. Christian tradition lists this power among the "gifts of the Holy Spirit," deriving them from the text of Isaiah which lists them as the characteristics of the Messiah (cf. Is 11:2 ff.). Among the gifts with which Christ's most holy soul is filled, the Holy Spirit also gives to Christ's followers the fortitude which he was champion of in his life and death. One can say that the Christian who is involved in the "spiritual combat" has a share in the strength of the cross!

The Spirit intervenes with a deep, continuing action at every moment and under all aspects of Christian life in order to guide human desires in the right direction, which is the direction of generous love of God and neighbor, following the example of Jesus. For this purpose the Holy Spirit strengthens the will, making the person capable of resisting temptations and of gaining victory in internal and external struggles. The Spirit enables the Christian to overcome the power of evil and especially Satan, like Jesus who was led by the Spirit into the desert (cf. Lk 4:1), and of fulfilling the demands of a life according to the Gospel.

4. The Holy Spirit gives the Christian the strength of fidelity, patience and perseverance on the path of good and in the struggle against evil. In the Old Testament the prophet Ezekiel told people of God's promise: "I will put my spirit within you." The purpose was to obtain the fidelity of the people of the new covenant (cf. Ez 36:27). In his Letter to the Galatians, among the "fruits of the Holy Spirit," St. Paul lists "patience," "fidelity" and "self-control" (cf. Gal 5:22). These virtues are necessary for a consistent Christian life. Among them "patience" is singled out; it is a property of charity (cf. 1 Cor 13:4) and is infused into the soul by the Holy Spirit with charity itself (cf. Rom 5:5), as part of the fortitude to be practiced in confronting evil and the tribulations of life and death. This is accompanied by "perseverance" which is continuity in the exercise of good works with the victory over difficulties represented by the length of the road to be traveled. It is similar to "constancy" which makes people continue to do good despite all external obstacles. Both of these are fruits of the grace which he gives the person in order to reach life's goal on the way of good [2] .

This courageous exercise of virtue is required of every Christian who, even in the state of grace, is still weak in his or her freedom. St. Augustine emphasized this in his controversy with the followers of Pelagius [3] . However, it is the Holy Spirit who gives the supernatural strength to fulfill the divine will and conform our life to Christ's precepts. St. Paul writes: "For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death." Thus Christians have the possibility of "walking in the Spirit" and of fulfilling "the justice of the law," that is, of fulfilling the divine will (cf. Rom 8:2-4).

5. The Holy Spirit also gives people the strength to fulfill the apostolic mission which was entrusted to those designated to proclaim the Gospel and, in some measure, to all Christians. Therefore, at the moment when he sent his disciples on mission, Jesus asked them to wait until Pentecost, so that they might receive the power of the Holy Spirit: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you" (Acts 1:8). Only with this power can they be witnesses to the Gospel to the ends of the earth, following Jesus' command.

At all times, even to this very day, it is the Holy Spirit who gives the commitment to use all one's faculties and resources, to use all one's talents, to spend and if necessary, to offer one's life in the mission that has been received. It is the Holy Spirit who does wonders in the apostolic activity of men and women of God and the Church, who are chosen and motivated by him. It is the Holy Spirit who most of all assures the efficacy of such an action, regardless of the human capacity of those who have been called. St. Paul said so in his First Letter to the Corinthians, speaking of his own preaching as a "demonstration of spirit and power" (1 Cor 2:4). It was an apostolate, therefore, that was carried out "by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit" (Rom 15:18-19). Paul attributes the value of his work of evangelization to this power of the Spirit.

Even amid the sometimes enormous difficulties which are encountered in the apostolate, the Holy Spirit gives the strength to persevere, renewing courage and helping those who are tempted to renounce the fulfillment of their mission. It is the experience of the very first Christian community, where the brothers and sisters who were persecuted by the enemies of the faith prayed: "And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness" (Acts 4:29). And behold, "As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31).

6. It is the Holy Spirit who sustains the persecuted, to whom Jesus himself promised: "For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Mt 10:20). Martyrdom especially, which the Second Vatican Council calls "the highest gift and supreme test of love" (LG 42), is a heroic act of fortitude inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is shown by the holy martyrs of all ages, who faced death because abundant charity burned in their hearts. When St. Thomas examined a good number of cases of ancient martyrdom including those of very young children and the patristic texts concerning them, he concluded that martyrdom is "the most perfect human act," because it is the result of the love of charity, and is proof of its greatest perfection [4] . This is what Jesus himself affirms in the Gospel: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:13).

In closing, we must refer to Confirmation, the sacrament in which the Holy Spirit is conferred for strength. Its finality is to communicate the fortitude which will be needed in the Christian life and apostolate of witness and action to which all Christians are called. It is quite significant that the rite of the blessing of the chrism alludes to the anointing which the Spirit gives to martyrs. Martyrdom is the highest form of witness. The Church knows this and entrusts the Spirit with the task of sustaining, if necessary, the witness of the faithful to a heroic degree.

[1]   cf. Summa Theol., I-II, q. 61, a. 5; q. 68, a. 4
[2]   cf. St. Augustine De Perseverantia, c. 1: PL 45:993; De corr. et gratia, c. 12: PL 44:937
[3]   cf. De corr. et gratia, c. 12 cit.
[4]   cf. Summa Theol., II-II, q. 124, a. 3

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

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung richte ich einen herzlichen Willkommensgruß an die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Ein besonderer Gruß gilt den Lesern der Kirchenzeitung des Bistums Berlin, den Seniorengruppen aus Bad Bertrich und aus Ulmen und Umgebung sowie den Schülerinnen des Mallinckrodt-Gymnasiums in Dortmund. Möge Euer Aufenthalt in Rom Euch auch ein geistliches Erlebnis sein und Euch im Glauben stärken. Dazu erteile ich Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim sowie den uns über Radio und Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai bambini italiani

Saluto con grande affetto i ragazzi, le ragazze e i giovani che prendono parte a questa Udienza, provenienti dalle Parrocchie, dalle Associazioni cattoliche e da movimenti giovanili. Tra loro sono anche coloro che hanno ricevuto recentemente la Prima Comunione e la Cresima.

Carissimi, vi ringrazio della vostra presenza, a me sempre tanto cara. Sta per iniziare il periodo delle vacanze estive che è tempo opportuno non solo per un sereno riposo dalle fatiche dell’anno scolastico, ma anche per arricchire le vostre conoscenze con buone letture e riflettere sui grandi ideali della vita. Date soprattutto più spazio alla preghiera.

Le parrocchie e gli Istituti religiosi organizzano in questi mesi capiscuola o incontri di formazione religiosa spesso anche a carattere vocazionale: se vi si offre tale opportunità profittatene e sappiate trarne vantaggio per la vostra crescita spirituale.

Ma, quello che più conta, tenete sempre davanti al vostro sguardo Gesù Cristo, vostro amico e maestro. A Lui, che si presenta come verità, rivolgete le vostre menti per essere illuminati; in Lui, che si propone come via, orientate i vostri passi per non deviare dai retti sentieri; a Lui, che è vita, aprite le vostre anime, perché siano inondate dalla sua grazia.

Con questi voti benedico voi e i vostri familiari.

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a special welcome to the Capuchin Friars who are taking part in the "Capuchin Heritage Program" and to the international group of Franciscan Sisters of Dillingen. Brothers and Sisters: may you be renewed in the love of Christ according to the example of Saint Francis, so that your testimony may always contribute to building up the Church in faith and service.

I also greet the young people from twenty-five different countries taking part in the "International City Camp 1991". May your meeting lead you to understand the great value of friendship, solidarity and universal openness towards all people.

Upon all the English-speaking visitors, from Great Britain, Ireland, the United States, South Africa, India, Indonesia and Korea. I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Me es grato saludar ahora a los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española, procedentes de España y de América Latina.

Saludo igualmente a los sacerdotes de la diócesis de Huelva (España), que celebran el 25 aniversario de su ordenación; a las Religiosas de la Sociedad del Sagrado Corazón, que realizan un curso de renovación; a los estudiantes de Derecho Canónico del Ateneo Romano de la Santa Cruz. A todos os exhorto a trabajar abnegadamente para que el Reino de Dios esté cada vez más presente en vuestros ambientes.

Deseo saludar también a la “Hermandad ferroviaria católica de Nuestra Señora de Covadonga y de San José”, de Asturias; a los alumnos del Colegio “Regina Carmeli” de Rubí (Barcelona), en el 75 aniversario de su fundación, junto con los padres, profesores y Hermanas Carmelitas de San José; finalmente saludo a los alumnos del Colegio “Santísima Trinidad” de Plasencia (Cáceres).

Al agradecer a todos vuestra presencia aquí os aliento a dar testimonio de vuestra identidad cristiana, a la vez que os imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ad un gruppo di fedeli portoghesi

Amadíssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Ao invocar para todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa que me ouvem, a proteção de Deus Todo-Poderoso, peço ao Espírito Santo que continue assistindo a Igreja de Cristo, para que seja sempre o sinal erguido da fortaleza e do heroísmo diante das Nações.

Ai gruppi di fedeli italiani

Nel salutare i pellegrini di lingua italiana, presenti a questa Udienza, rivolgo, anzitutto, il mio pensiero al gruppo degli Ispettori Salesiani, provenienti da diverse parti del mondo per un corso di aggiornamento. Esprimo loro il mio incoraggiamento, ben sapendo come la Famiglia di Don Bosco si impegni nell’opera della nuova evangelizzazione, specialmente nel campo della gioventù.

Saluto, poi, le Suore Orsoline di Maria Immacolata, che si preparano al loro Capitolo Generale. Ad esse auguro speciali doni dello Spirito Santo in questo momento, in cui sono impegnate a consolidare sia il proprio carisma contemplativo, sia la propria dedizione alla formazione della gioventù e all’attività missionaria.

Il mio pensiero va, poi, ai pellegrini delle parrocchie di San Pietro Apostolo in Moiano, Arcidiocesi di Benevento, e di San Roberto Bellarmino in Capua. Ad essi ed ai rispettivi Parroci il fervido augurio di una rinnovata vitalità delle Comunità parrocchiali. Sia la Madre del Redentore, invocata come Santa Maria del Moiano, Madonna della Libera e Vergine delle Grazie, esempio di fedeltà e modello di dedizione alla volontà del Padre.

Infine un saluto cordiale agli organizzatori e ai partecipanti della “Ciclolonga per la pace”, manifestazione di ciclisti che hanno voluto compiere un percorso da Carmagnola a Roma per testimoniare i grandi valori della pace.

Ai malati e agli sposi novelli

Rivolgo ora il mio saluto ai malati e agli sposi novelli.

Mentre invoco il Padre di ogni bontà perché indichi a tutti voi il sentiero della vita, facendovi scoprire che Cristo è Colui che dà significato all’esistenza, prego perché palesi a voi malati la sua presenza che vi conforti nel momento della prova. Chiedo, pure, al Signore di custodire l’amore coniugale di voi, sposi novelli, sostenendovi con la sua grazia.

Di cuore a tutti imparto l’apostolica benedizione.

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