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Wind and fire: signs of the Spirit

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

"1. The New Testament contains the revelation about the Holy Spirit as Person, subsistent with the Father and the Son in the unity of the Trinity. But it is not a revelation with well-delineated features, like that regarding the first two Persons. Isaiah's statement, according to which ours is a "hidden God" (Is 45:15), can be seen as a special reference to the Holy Spirit. By becoming man, the Son entered into the realm of the experientially visible for those who were able to see with their own eyes and touch with their hands the Word of Life (cf. 1 Jn 1:1). Their witness offers a concrete reference point for later Christian generations as well. The Father, in his turn, while remaining within invisible and unspeakable transcendence, is manifested in the Son. Jesus said: "He who sees me sees the Father" (Jn 14:9). Furthermore "fatherhood," even on the level of the divine, is well enough understood by analogy with human fatherhood which is a reflection, though imperfect, of that uncreated and eternal fatherhood, as St. Paul said (Eph 3:15).

2. The Person of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is more radically beyond all our means of cognitive awareness. For us the third Person is a hidden and invisible God. This is also because the analogies with the world of human understanding regarding the Spirit are more fragile. The genesis and outpouring of love which is a reflection of uncreated Love within the human soul is not as accessible to the act of understanding, which in a certain way is an act of self-awareness. Out of this comes the mystery of love on the psychological and theological levels, as St. Thomas notes [1] . Thus we can explain that the Holy Spirit, like human love itself, finds expression especially in symbols. These point to his active dynamisms, but also to his Person, present in activity.

3. Thus it is with the symbol of the wind which is central to the Pentecost experience, a fundamental event in the revelation of the Holy Spirit: "And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house where they were gathered [with Mary]" (Acts 2:2).

The wind was often presented, in biblical texts and elsewhere, as a person who comes and goes. Jesus spoke of it this way in his conversation with Nicodemus, when he used the example of the wind to speak of the Person of the Holy Spirit: "The wind blows where it will and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (Jn 3:8). The Holy Spirit's action, through which one is "born of the Spirit" (as happens in the adoptive sonship worked by divine grace) is compared to the wind. This analogy used by Jesus highlights the total spontaneity and generosity of this action, through which people are made participants in God's life. The symbol of the wind seems to bring about in a special way that supernatural dynamism through which God himself draws near to people to transform them from within, to sanctify them and, in a certain sense, as the Fathers say, to divinize them.

4. We must add that from an etymological and linguistic point of view the symbol of the wind is the one most closely connected with the Spirit. We have already mentioned this in previous catecheses. Here we need only recall the meaning of the word ruah (already in Gen 1:2), that is "breath." We know that when after the resurrection Jesus appeared to the Apostles, "he breathed on" them and said "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22-23).

We must also note that the wind symbol, as an explicit reference to the Holy Spirit and the Spirit's action, belongs to the language and doctrine of the New Testament. In the Old Testament the wind, like a "hurricane," is the expression of God's wrath (cf. Ez 13:13), while the "tiny whispering sound" speaks of the intimate nature of his conversations with the prophets (cf. 1 Kgs 19:12). The same term is used to indicate the breath of life, a symbol of God's power which restores the life of the human skeletons in Ezekiel's prophecy: "From the four winds, come, O Spirit, and breath into these slain that they may come to life" (Ez 37:9). In the New Testament the wind clearly becomes the symbol of the action and presence of the Holy Spirit.

5. Another symbol: the dove, which according to the Synoptics and John's Gospel was manifested during the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. This symbol is more appropriate than that of the wind to indicate the Person of the Holy Spirit, because the dove is a living being, while the wind is only a natural phenomenon. The evangelists speak of the dove in almost identical terms. Matthew writes (3:16): "The heavens opened and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him" (that is, upon Jesus). Mark (1:10), Luke (3:21-22) and John (1:32) write in a similar manner. Because of the importance of this event in the life of Jesus, who received in a visible way the "messianic investiture," the symbol of the dove is confirmed through artistic imagery, and in imaginative depictions of the mystery of the Holy Spirit, his activity and his Person.

In the Old Testament the dove was the messenger of God's reconciliation with humanity in Noah's time. The dove gave that patriarch the news about the end of the flood covering the face of the earth (cf. Gen 8, 9-11).

In the New Testament this reconciliation comes about through Baptism, which Peter speaks about in his first Letter, comparing it to the "persons...saved through water" in Noah's ark (1 Pet 3:20-21). Therefore, we can see this as a foretaste of the pneumatological symbol. The Holy Spirit, who is Love, "pouring out this love in human hearts," as St. Paul says (Rom 5:5), is also the giver of peace, which is God's gift.

6. Further, the action and Person of the Holy Spirit are also indicated by the symbol of fire. We know that John the Baptist proclaimed at the Jordan: "He [Christ] will baptize you with the Spirit and fire" (Mt 3:11). Fire is the source of warmth and light, but it is also a destructive force. For this reason the Gospels speak of "throwing into the fire" the tree that bears no fruit (Mt 3:10; cf. Jn 15:6); they speak also of "burning the chaff in unquenchable fire" (Mt 3:12). Baptism "in the Spirit and fire" indicates fire's purifying power. It is a mysterious fire that expresses the demand of holiness and purity of which God's Spirit is the bearer.

Jesus himself said: "I have come to set the earth on fire; and how I wish that it were already blazing!" (Lk 12:49). In this example we are dealing with the fire of God's love, of that love which "has been poured out in our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5). When on the day of Pentecost "tongues of fire" appeared upon the heads of the Apostles, they signified that the Spirit brought the gift of participation in the saving love of God. St. Thomas says that the love, the fire which Jesus brought to the earth, is "a kind of participation in the Holy Spirit" ( participatio quaedam Spiritus Sancti [2] ). In this sense fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit whose Person within the divine Trinity is Love."

[1]   cf. Summa Theol., I, q. 27, a. 4; q. 36, a. 1; q. 37, a. 1
[2]   Summa Theol., II-II, q. 23, a. 3, ad 3

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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue avec joie les personnes de langue française présentes à cette audience. Je leur souhaite, à l’occasion de leur pèlerinage à Rome, au centre de l’Eglise fondée par les Apôtres, d’accueillir la lumière de vérité et la force purifiante que nous donne l’Esprit Saint.

Que Dieu vous bénisse! 

Ad alcuni gruppi di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to welcome the group of Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart celebrating the hundredth anniversary of their foundation. Dear Sisters: May these days of pilgrimage deepen your joy in living your religious consecration and strengthen your commitment to making Jesus’ redemptive love ever more known and accepted. I likewise extend a cordial greeting to the priests and sisters of the International Dominican Renewal Programme. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors I invoke the choicest blessings of Almighty God.

Ad alcuni gruppi folkloristici provenienti dal Giappone 

Gentilissimi componenti dei gruppi di musica e danza tradizionali “Gagaku” e “Bugaku”, vi ringrazio per la vostra esibizione nella musica e nella danza giapponese. La vera arte rasserena il cuore e lo eleva. Auguro a tutti voi di far crescere, con la vostra attività, questi nobili sentimenti in mezzo alla gente.

Con questo augurio vi benedico di cuore. 

Ad alcuni gruppi provenienti dalla Germania e dalla Svizzera tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle Pilger und Besucher aus den deutschsprachigen Ländern sehr herzlich. Besonders wilkommen heiße ich die Pilgergruppe der Pfarrei St. Marien in Wädenswil (Schweiz). Euch allen wünsche ich erlebnisreiche und geistlich fruchtbare Tage in Rom. Dazu erteile ich Euch und Euren Lieben in der Heimat von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai numerosi pellegrini provenienti da paesi di espressione spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo ahora presentar mi más cordial saludo de bienvenida a este encuentro a todos los peregrinos y visitantes provenientes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, mi saludo se dirige a los alumnos del Colegio Diocesano “Redemptoris Mater” que mañana serán ordenados diáconos, a los cuales aliento a ser siempre testimonios vivos de la fe en Jesucristo y generosos servidores de los hermanos.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos de lengua española imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica. 

A fedeli di lingua portoghese 

Amadíssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Aos peregrinos vindos do Brasil e de Portugal, como penhor de abundantes dons divinos, concedo de bom grado a minha Bênção Apostólica. 

A connazionali polacchi 

Rokrocznie przybywają Jasną Górę polscy rolnicy. Ma to zwykle miejsce po żniwach, z początkiem września. Po żniwach obchodzi się “dożynki”. Rolnicy polscy ze swymi duszpasterzami podążają na Jasną Górę do Tej, która jest umiłowaną przez wszystkich gospodynią naszych dożynek.

Podczas ostatniej pielgrzymki do Ojczyzny dane mi było wynieść do godności błogosławionej córkę polskiego ludu Karolinę Kózkównę. Zgromadzili się na to święto w Tarnowie rolnicy z całej Polski.

Rolnicy - ci, którzy żywią - którzy stanowią w narodzie element stałości i trwania. Przypomnijmy słowa Wincentego Witosa, wielkiego przywódcy polskiego ludu i męża stanu: “któż siłę Państwa i niezawodną ostoję ma stanowić? Świadomi, niezależni, zadowoleni chłopi polscy, gdyż tacy gotowi są oddać zdrowie i życie za każdą skibę ojczystej ziemi, a cóż dopiero w obronie całości Ojczyzny?”. Mówił to polski chłop, który stał na czele rządu Rzeczypospolitej w krytycznych dniach roku 1920.

Przybywają - również we wrześniu - na Jasną Górę przedstawiciele świata pracy. Przynoszą tam z sobą cały swój trud przy tylu warsztatach pracy, głównie przemysłowej. Przynoszą też doświadczenie owych historycznych strajków roku 1980, które dały początek “Solidarności”.

Pani Jasnogórska! Ty, która patrzyłaś na tyle stuleci i pokoleń, połącz w Twym Sercu Macierzyńskim obie te pielgrzymki. Złącz z wszystkimi innymi, w których synowie i córki polskiej ziemi przychodzą “czuwać z Tobą”. Znajduje w nich wyraz wielki dziejowy proces. Ludzie pracy w przemyśle i pracy na roli stali się mocą, która zdolna jest na równi stanowić o społeczeństwie, o jego podmiotowej suwerenności. Udowodnili to już na przestrzeni dwudziestego stulecia. Poprzez zasadę “Solidarności” wskazali całemu społeczeństwu drogę, która niesie w sobie stałe wyzwanie do wielorakiego postępu.

Kiedy na tej drodze - po przezwyciężeniu totalitarnych ograniczeń - wypada podejmować nowe, doniosłe decyzje, Ty, o Matko z Jasnej Góry: czuwaj! Niech w tych decyzjach, wyborach i rozstrzygnięciach, wyrazi się owoc trudnego dojrzewania całego społeczeństwa, zwłaszcza w bieżącym stuleciu. Niechaj najbliższe miesiące przyniosą w naszej Ojczyźnie pełniejsze ugruntowanie wspólnego dobra, w którym każdy odnajduje swoją powinność i swój twórczy udział. 

Ad alcuni gruppi di fedeli italiani 

Saluto ora i pellegrini di lingua italiana, sempre molto numerosi e graditi.

In particolare rivolgo il mio pensiero alle Piccole Suore Missionarie della Carità, provenienti da vari continenti per un incontro di studio, destinato a verificare e programmare l’impegno che attende la Famiglia religiosa di Don Orione di fronte alla nuova Evangelizzazione. Esprimo il mio compiacimento per tale convegno, che si svolge nell’anniversario della morte del vostro Fondatore e nel 75° di istituzione della Congregazione; auguro a tutti di avere un cuore grande, come quello del beato Orione, il quale conobbe veramente le esigenze della carità e seppe soccorrere ogni uomo, aiutandolo a vivere in una condizione più degna.

Un cordiale saluto, pure, ai membri della Federazione Italiana delle Unioni Diocesane dei sacristi e degli addetti al culto. Vi ringrazio per il servizio che compite affinché la dignità del luogo sacro e lo svolgimento dei riti favoriscano una partecipazione fruttuosa e attiva di tutto il popolo di Dio.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Il mio saluto affettuoso va ora ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli. La vostra presenza a questa Udienza mi dà particolare gioia. Vi invito, nell’odierna festa di Sant’Ignazio di Antiochia, Vescovo e Martire, a riscoprire la forza e la consolazione che scaturiscono dal sì totale a Cristo. Quel sì che illuminò di speranza Sant’Ignazio anche di fronte al martirio, continui a riempire di senso tutte le stagioni della vita, anche quelle più segnate dalle difficoltà o dalla malattia.

Quel medesimo sì, pronunciato con Maria, riempia di coraggio voi giovani nel cammino di formazione e vi porti a modificare con amore le condizioni sfavorevoli della vostra esistenza e di quella di chi è più svantaggiato. Ed esprimo le mie felicitazioni al gruppo dei giovani che sono stati premiati con il titolo di “Alfieri del Lavoro”.

Quel sì totale a Cristo illumini le giornate di voi malati, rendendovi missionari col vostro sacrificio e la vostra preghiera.

La forza che proviene da quel sì, infine, spinga voi sposi a rinnovare ogni giorno il dono reciproco, per il bene della vostra nascente famiglia, della società e della Chiesa. Tutti vi benedico.

Appello per la nazione angolana

Un appello alla comunità internazionale affinché tutti si impegnino a porre rapidamente fine al conflitto civile che da tanto tempo insanguina l’Angola è lanciato dal Papa durante l’udienza generale. Queste le sue parole. 

Desejo, agora, dirigir o meu pensamento às queridas e duramente provadas populações de Angola.

Como é tristemente sabido, já há muito tempo que aquele País africano é dilacerado por um violento conflito civil que já causou centenas de milhares de vítimas inocentes.

Esta dolorosa situação agravou-se ainda mas devido a uma prolongada carestia que ameaçã as vidas de tantos angolanos.

Sinto o dever de convidar a Comunidade Internacional para uma verdadeira campanha de solidariedade em prol destes nossos irmãos que sofrem, descobrindo neles o rosto do próprio Cristo Senhor pobre e faminto.

Peço, igualmente, a todos quantos possam exercer a sua própria influência sobre as partes envolvidas no conflito, que se empenhem ainda mais eficazmente para que a paz tão desejada, rapidamente ponha fim aos sofrimentos de toda a Nação angolana.

Que a Virgem Maria, Nossa Senhora da paz, abencõe e torne fecundos os nossos votos e as nossas orações.

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