The Holy Spirit in the Teachings of Pope Francis

The Holy Spirit in the Teachings of Pope Francis

One of the contemporary pneumatologists who inspires us to believe, love and trust the Holy Spirit is Pope Francis. In his very particular poetic-practical style, the Argentinian Pope helps us approach the Holy Spirit with that ardent openness, faith and determination to let ourselves be docile to His loving Presence and action. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, God makes us his sons and daughters while empowering us through this life-giving Spirit to reply positively to His great wish to fill us with his love. 

In his apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium, which can also be considered as the programme for his pontificate, Pope Francis says: The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him. He sends his Spirit into our hearts to make us his children, transforming us and enabling us to respond to his love by our lives (no. 112).

Within the same exhortation, Pope Francis presents to us with one of the main roles of the Holy Spirit, that of building communion. The Holy Spirit, sent by the Father and the Son, transforms our hearts and enables us to enter into the perfect communion of the blessed Trinity, where all things find their unity. He builds up the communion and harmony of the people of God. The same Spirit is that harmony, just as he is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. It is he who brings forth a rich variety of gifts, while at the same time creating a unity which is never uniformity but a multifaceted and inviting harmony (no. 117). 

The apostolic exhortation also tells us that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are there for the service of the same ecclesial communion. Let us be generous and responsible in sharing them with all! The Holy Spirit also enriches the entire evangelizing Church with different charisms. These gifts are meant to renew and build up the Church. They are not an inheritance, safely secured and entrusted to a small group for safekeeping; rather they are gifts of the Spirit integrated into the body of the Church, drawn to the centre which is Christ and then channelled into an evangelizing impulse (no. 130).

Then, in the apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today’s world, Rejoice and be Glad, Gaudete Et Exsultate, the Holy Father appeals to us to open ourselves for the Spirit of God. May you come to realize what that word is, the message of Jesus that God wants to speak to the world by your life. Let yourself be transformed. Let yourself be renewed by the Spirit, so that this can happen, lest you fail in your precious mission. The Lord will bring it to fulfilment despite your mistakes and missteps, provided that you do not abandon the path of love but remain ever open to his supernatural grace, which purifies and enlightens (no. 24). 

Pope Francis reminds us also that it is the Holy Spirit who leads us on the road of love. He offers us this advice: [Be freed from] a variety of apparently unconnected ways of thinking and acting: an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with programmes of self-help and personal fulfilment. Some Christians spend their time and energy on these things, rather than letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love, rather than being passionate about communicating the beauty and the joy of the Gospel and seeking out the lost among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ (no. 57). 

Furthermore, Gaudete Et Exsultate keeps us alert to focus on our responsibility to answer swiftly to the Holy Spirit’s sighing invitation into the depth of who we are (see Rom 8:26) to let Him work in and through us. This swiftness occurs within us if we pray for it to the Spirit. Let us ask the Lord for the grace not to hesitate when the Spirit calls us to take a step forward. Let us ask for the apostolic courage to share the Gospel with others and to stop trying to make our Christian life a museum of memories. In every situation, may the Holy Spirit cause us to contemplate history in the light of the risen Jesus. In this way, the Church will not stand still, but constantly welcome the Lord’s surprises (no. 139). 

The Holy Spirit and discernment are two faces of the same coin. How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift which we must implore. If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment (no.166). 

The last document which refers to the Holy Spirit is the post-synodal apostolic-exhortation addressed to young people and to the entire people of God Christus Vivit. Our spiritual youthfulness starts when we invoke the Holy Spirit to transform us from within: Don’t let them rob you of hope and joy, or drug you into becoming a slave to their interests. Dare to be more, because who you are is more important than any possession. What good are possessions or appearances? You can become what God your Creator knows you are, if only you realize that you are called to something greater. Ask the help of the Holy Spirit and confidently aim for the great goal of holiness. In this way, you will not be a photocopy. You will be fully yourself (no. 107).

In Christus Vivit we learn that the Holy Spirit inserts us more and more into the depth of Christ’s heart. In these three truths – God loves you; Christ is your Saviour; he is alive – we see God the Father and Jesus. Wherever the Father and the Son are, there too is the Holy Spirit. He is the one who quietly opens hearts to receive that message. He keeps alive our hope of salvation, and he will help you grow in joy if you are open to his working. The Holy Spirit fills the heart of the risen Christ and then flows over into your lives. When you receive the Spirit, he draws you ever more deeply into the heart of Christ, so that you can grow in his love, his life and his power (no. 130).

How vital it is to pray daily to the Holy Spirit! Ask the Holy Spirit each day to help you experience anew the great message. Why not? You have nothing to lose, and he can change your life, fill it with light and lead it along a better path. He takes nothing away from you, but instead helps you to find all that you need, and in the best possible way. Do you need love? You will not find it in dissipation, using other people, or trying to be possessive or domineering. You will find it in a way that will make you genuinely happy. Are you seeking powerful emotions? You will not experience them by accumulating material objects, spending money, chasing desperately after the things of this world. They will come, and in a much more beautiful and meaningful way, if you let yourself be prompted by the Holy Spirit (no. 131). 

Finally, the Holy Spirit is the One who takes us out from ourselves, as He did to the apostles, to serve the brothers and sisters around us. The Holy Spirit wants to make us come out of ourselves, to embrace others with love and to seek their good. That is why it is always better to live the faith together and to show our love by living in community and sharing with other young people our affection, our time, our faith and our troubles. The Church offers many different possibilities for living our faith in community, for everything is easier when we do it together (no.164).

This priceless practical reflection of Pope Francis on the Holy Spirit and His workings in, through and around us puts on our lips the following powerful invocation: COME HOLY SPIRIT!  

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Written by
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap