This Sunday, June 5, the Solemnity of Pentecost is celebrated, the day on which the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Virgin Mary is commemorated.
Below is Pope Francis’ homily at Mass celebrated this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica.
In the final sentence of the Gospel that we have heard, Jesus makes a statement that gives us hope and at the same time makes us reflect. He tells the disciples: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn 14:26).
This “everything” and this “all things” call our attention; and we ask ourselves: in what sense does the Spirit give those who receive it this new and full understanding? This is not a quantitative or academic question: God does not want to make us encyclopedias, nor scholars. No. It is a matter of quality, of perspective, of style.
The Spirit makes us see everything in a new way, according to the gaze of Jesus. I would put it this way: on the great journey of life, He teaches us where to start, which paths to take, and how to walk. It is the Spirit who tells us where to start, which path to take and how to walk.
First of all: where to start. The Spirit, in effect, shows us the starting point of the spiritual life. What is? Jesus talks about it in today’s first verse, where he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (v. 15). If you love me, you will keep: that is the logic of the Spirit.
We often think the opposite: if we observe, we love. We are used to thinking that love derives essentially from our observance, our goodness, our religiosity.
Instead, the Spirit reminds us that without love at the base, all else is in vain. And that this love does not come so much from our abilities, this love is his gift.
He teaches us to love, and we must ask for this gift. It is the Spirit of love who puts love in us, it is He who makes us feel loved and teaches us to love. It is He who is the “motor” – so to speak – of our spiritual life.
It is He who moves everything within us. But if we don’t start from the Spirit or with the Spirit or through the Spirit, the path cannot be made.
He himself reminds us of it, because it is the memory of God who reminds us of all the words of Jesus (cf. v. 26). And the Holy Spirit is an active memory, which lights and rekindles the affection of God in the heart. We have experienced his presence in the forgiveness of sins, when we have been filled with his peace, with his freedom, with his consolation.
It is essential to feed this spiritual memory. We always remember the things that go wrong: we often hear that voice that reminds us of failures and insufficiencies, that tells us: “Look, another fall, another disappointment, you will never make it, you are not capable”. This is an ugly and unpleasant chorus.
The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, reminds us of something very different: “You have fallen… But, you are a son. Are you fallen or have you fallen?
You are a child of God, you are a unique creature, chosen, precious; you have fallen or you have fallen, but you are always loved and wanted: even if you have lost confidence, God trusts you!” This is the memory of the Spirit, what the Spirit constantly reminds us: God remembers you. You will lose the memory of God, but God does not lose it from you: he continually remembers you.
But you might object: nice words, but I have so many problems, hurts and worries that can’t be solved with easy comforts! Well, that is precisely where the Spirit asks to enter. Because He, the Comforter, is the Spirit of healing, he is the Spirit of resurrection and he can transform those wounds that burn within you.
It teaches us not to cut out the memories of the people and situations that have hurt us, but to let them dwell in their presence. This is what he did with the Apostles and their failures. They had abandoned Jesus before the Passion, Peter had denied him,
Paul had persecuted the Christians: how many mistakes, how much guilt! And we, think of our own failures: how many mistakes, how much guilt! There was just no way out. Not alone; with the Dildo yes.
Because the Spirit heals memories: heals memories. How? Returning to the first place what he counts: the memory of God’s love, his gaze on us.
So it puts life in order: it teaches us to accept ourselves, it teaches us to forgive, to forgive ourselves. It is not easy to forgive ourselves: the Spirit teaches us this way, teaches us to reconcile with the past. To start again.
In addition to reminding us of the starting point, the Spirit teaches us which paths we should take. It reminds us of the starting point, but now it teaches us which way to go.
We learn this from the second reading, where Saint Paul explains that those “who are led by the Spirit of God” (Rom 8:14) “walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (v. 4). The Spirit, in other words, when faced with the crossroads of existence, suggests to us the best path to follow.
That is why it is important to know how to discern your voice from that of the evil spirit. Both speak to us: learn to discern to understand where the voice of the Spirit is, to recognize it and follow the path, to follow the things that He tells us.
Let’s give some examples: the Holy Spirit will never tell you that everything is going well on your way. He will never tell you that, because it is not true. No, he corrects you, he even makes you cry for your sins; he urges you to change, to fight with your falsehoods and duplicities, even if that requires effort, inner struggle and sacrifice.
The evil spirit, on the other hand, drives you to always do what you like and please you; makes you believe that you have the right to use your freedom however you want. But then, when you are left with the emptiness inside, this experience of feeling the emptiness inside is ugly: so many of us have felt it! – and you, when you remain with the emptiness inside you, the evil spirit accuses you, becomes the accuser, and knocks you down, destroys you.
The Holy Spirit, who corrects you along the way, never abandons you, never, but takes you by the hand, comforts you and encourages you always.
Again, when you see bitterness, pessimism and sad thoughts stirring within you – how many times have we fallen for this! – when these things happen, it is good to know that it never comes from the Holy Spirit. Never: bitterness, pessimism, sad thoughts do not come from the Holy Spirit.
They come from evil, which is comfortable in negativity and often uses this strategy: it feeds impatience, victimhood, makes us feel the need to feel sorry for ourselves – pitying ourselves is ugly, but how often…- , and with the need to feel sorry for ourselves, the need to react to problems by criticizing, putting all the blame on others. It makes us nervous, distrustful and we complain.
Complaining, that is just the language of the evil spirit: it leads you to complain, which is always to be sad, with a funeral spirit. Complain… The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, invites you to never lose faith and always start over: get up! get up! He always gives you courage: get up!
And he takes you by the hand: get up! How? Putting ourselves first, without waiting for someone else to start. And then bringing everyone we meet hope and joy, not complaints; never envy others, never!
Envy is the door through which the evil spirit enters, the Bible says: through the envy of the devil, evil has entered the world. Never envy, never! The Holy Spirit brings you good, but leads you to rejoice in the successes of others: “How wonderful! But how wonderful that this turned out well…”.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is concrete, he is not idealistic: he wants us to focus on the here and now, because the place where we are and the time we live are the places of grace. The place of grace is the concrete place of today: here, now.
How? What we can think of are not fantasies, and the Holy Spirit leads you to the concrete, always. The spirit of evil, on the other hand, wants to distract us from the here and now, to take us elsewhere: it often clings to the past: to regrets, to nostalgia, to what life has not given us. Or it projects us into the future, feeding fears, illusions, false hopes.
The Holy Spirit does not do it, he leads us to love here and now, concretely: not an ideal world, an ideal Church, not an ideal religious congregation, but what is there, in the light of day, in transparency, in simplicity. What a difference from the wicked, who encourages things that are said behind their backs, gossip, gossip! Gossip is an ugly habit that destroys people’s identity.
The Spirit wants us together, establishes us as Church and today -third and last aspect- teaches the Church to walk. The disciples were locked in the cenacle, then the Spirit descends and takes them out. Without the Spirit they were among them, with the Spirit they open themselves to everyone.
In each age, the Spirit disrupts our schemes and opens us to its novelty. There is always the newness of God, which is the newness of the Holy Spirit; always teaches the Church the vital need to go out, the physiological need to announce, not to remain closed in on itself: not to be a herd that reinforces the confinement, but an open pasture so that everyone can feed on the beauty of God; teaches us to be a welcoming home without dividing walls.
The worldly spirit, on the other hand, pressures us to focus solely on our own problems and interests, on the need to appear relevant, on the strenuous defense of our national and group affiliations.
The Holy Spirit does not do it: he invites us to forget ourselves, and to be open to everyone. And so the Church rejuvenates. Let’s be careful: He rejuvenates her, not us. We try to make her up a little: this is not necessary. He rejuvenates her. Because the Church is not programmed and modernization projects are not enough.
The Spirit frees us from the obsession of emergencies and invites us to travel old and always new paths, the paths of witness, the paths of poverty, the paths of mission, to free ourselves from ourselves and send ourselves out into the world.
And in the end – which is curious – the Holy Spirit is the author of division, even of confusion. He thinks of the morning of Pentecost: the author creates a division of languages, of attitudes… that was a shock!
But in the same way, he is the author of harmony. He divides with the variety of charismas, but a feigned division, because the real division fits into the harmony. He makes the division with the charisms and he makes the harmony with all this division, and this is the wealth of the Church.
Brothers and sisters, let us place ourselves in the school of the Holy Spirit, so that he may teach us all things. Let us invoke him every day, so that he reminds us that we must always start from God’s gaze upon us, to move in our options listening to his voice, to walk together, as a Church, docile to him and open to the world. So be it.