"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Wednesday 29 May 2013


Wednesday May 15, 2013:

Dear brothers and sisters, good day! Today I want to focus on the action that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in guiding the Church and each one of us to the Truth. Jesus says to his disciples: the Holy Spirit, “he will guide you to all truth" (Jn 16:13), he himself being "the Spirit of truth" (cf. Jn 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). We live in an age rather skeptical of truth. Benedict XVI has spoken many times of relativism, that is, the tendency to believe that nothing is definitive, and think that the truth is given by consent or by what we want. The question arises: does "the" truth really exist? What is "the" truth? Can we know it? Can we find it?

Here I am reminded of the question of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate when Jesus reveals the profound meaning of his mission: "What is truth?" (Jn 18,37.38). Pilate does not understand that "the" Truth is in front of him, he cannot see in Jesus the face of the truth, which is the face of God yet, Jesus is just that: the Truth, which, in the fullness of time, "became flesh" (Jn 1,1.14), came among us so that we may know it. You cannot grab the truth as if it were an object, you encounter it. It is not a possession, is an encounter with a Person.

But who helps us recognize that Jesus is "the" Word of truth, the only begotten Son of God the Father? St. Paul teaches that "no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3). It is the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Risen Christ, that helps us recognize the Truth. Jesus calls him the "Paraclete", meaning "the one who comes to our aid," who is by our side to support us in this journey of knowledge, and at the Last Supper, Jesus assures his disciples that the Holy Spirit will teach them all things , reminding them of his words (cf. Jn 14:26).

What is then the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the life of the Church to guide us to the truth? First of all, remind and imprint on the hearts of believers the words that Jesus said, and precisely through these words, God’s law - as the prophets of the Old Testament had announced - is inscribed in our hearts and becomes within us a principle of evaluation in our choices and of guidance in our daily actions, it becomes a principle of life. Ezekiel’s great prophecy is realized: "I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. …I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them"(36:25-27). Indeed, our actions are born from deep within: it is the heart that needs to be converted to God, and the Holy Spirit transforms it if we open ourselves to Him

The Holy Spirit, then, as Jesus promises, guides us "into all truth" (Jn 16:13) he leads us not only to an encounter with Jesus, the fullness of Truth, but guides us "into" the Truth, that is, he helps us enter into a deeper communion with Jesus himself, gifting us knowledge of the things of God. We cannot achieve this on our own strengths. If God does not enlightens us interiorly, our being Christians will be superficial. The Tradition of the Church affirms that the Spirit of truth acts in our hearts, provoking that "sense of faith" (sensus fidei), through which, as the Second Vatican Council affirms, the People of God, under the guidance of the Magisterium, adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints, (113) penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life (cf. Dogmatic Constitution, "Lumen gentium", 12).

Let's ask ourselves: are we open to the Holy Spirit, do I pray to him to enlighten me, to make me more sensitive to the things of God? And this is a prayer we need to pray every day, every day: Holy Spirit may my heart be open to the Word of God, may my heart be open to good, may my heart be open to the beauty of God, every day. But I would like to ask a question to all of you: How many of you pray every day to the Holy Spirit? Eh, a few of you I bet, eh! Well, a few, few, a few, but we realise this wish of Jesus, pray every day for the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to Jesus.

We think of Mary who "kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Lk 2,19.51). The reception of the words and the truths of faith so that they become life, is realized and grows under the action of the Holy Spirit. In this sense, we must learn from Mary, reliving her "yes", her total availability to receive the Son of God in her life, and who from that moment was transformed. Through the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son come to dwell in us: do we live in God and of God, is our life really animated by God? How many things do I put before God?

Dear brothers and sisters, we need to let ourselves be imbued with the light of the Holy Spirit, so that He introduces us into the Truth of God, who is the only Lord of our lives. In this Year of Faith let us ask ourselves if we have actually taken a few steps to get to know Christ and the truths of faith more, by reading and meditating on the Scriptures, studying the Catechism, steadily approaching the Sacraments. But at the same time let us ask ourselves what steps we are taking so that the faith directs our whole existence. Do not be a ‘part-time” Christian, at certain moments, in certain circumstances, in certain choices, be Christian at all times! The truth of Christ, that the Holy Spirit teaches us and gives us, always and forever involves our daily lives. Let us invoke him more often, to guide us on the path of Christ's disciples.

English summary:

Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the Creed, we have been considering the person and work of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls “the Spirit of Truth” (cf. Jn 16:13). In an age skeptical of truth, we believe not only that truth exists, but that it is found through faith in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. The Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus; he guides the whole Church into the fullness of truth. As the “Paraclete”, the Helper sent by the Risen Lord, he reminds us of Christ’s words and convinces us of their saving truth. As the source of our new life in Christ, he awakens in our hearts that supernatural “sense of the faith” by which we hold fast to God’s word, come to a deeper understanding of its meaning, and apply it in our daily lives. Let us ask ourselves: am I truly open, like the Virgin Mary, to the power of the Holy Spirit? Even now, with the Father and the Son, the Spirit dwells in our hearts. Let us ask him to guide us into all truth and to help us grow in friendship with Christ through daily prayer, reading of the Scriptures and the celebration of the sacraments.

Symeon focused his reflection on the Holy Spirit's presence in the baptized and on the awareness they must have of this spiritual reality. "Christian life", he emphasized, "is intimate, personal communion with God, divine grace illumines the believer's heart and leads him to a mystical vision of the Lord". Along these lines, Symeon the New Theologian insisted that true knowledge of God does not come from books but rather from spiritual experience, from spiritual life. Knowledge of God is born from a process of inner purification that begins with conversion of heart through the power of faith and love. It passes through profound repentance and sincere sorrow for one's sins to attain union with Christ, the source of joy and peace, suffused with the light of his presence within us. For Symeon this experience of divine grace did not constitute an exceptional gift for a few mystics but rather was the fruit of Baptism in the life of every seriously committed believer.

A point on which to reflect, dear brothers and sisters! This holy Eastern monk calls us all to pay attention to our spiritual life, to the hidden presence of God within us, to the sincerity of the conscience and to purification, to conversion of heart, so that the Holy Spirit may really become present in us and guide us. Indeed, if rightly we are concerned to care for our physical, human and intellectual development, it is even more important not to neglect our inner growth. This consists in the knowledge of God, in true knowledge, not only learned from books but from within and in communion with God, to experience his help at every moment and in every circumstance. Basically it is this that Symeon describes when he recounts his own mystical experience. Already as a young man, before entering the monastery, while at home one night immersed in prayer and invoking God's help to fight temptations, he saw the room fill with light. Later, when he entered the monastery, he was given spiritual books for instruction but reading them did not procure for him the peace that he sought. He felt, he himself says, as if he were a poor little bird without wings. He humbly accepted this situation without rebelling and it was then that his visions of light began once again to increase. Wishing to assure himself of their authenticity, Symeon asked Christ directly: "Lord, is it truly you who are here?". He heard the affirmative answer resonating in his heart and was supremely comforted. "That, Lord", he was to write later, "was the first time that you considered me, a prodigal son, worthy of hearing your voice". However, not even this revelation left him entirely at peace. He wondered, rather, whether he ought to consider that experience an illusion. At last, one day an event occurred that was crucial to his mystical experience. He began to feel like "a poor man who loves his brethren" (ptochós philádelphos). Around him he saw hordes of enemies bent on ensnaring him and doing him harm, yet he felt within an intense surge of love for them. How can this be explained? Obviously, such great love could not come from within him but must well up from another source. Symeon realized that it was coming from Christ present within him and everything became clear: he had a sure proof that the source of love in him was Christ's presence. He was certain that having in ourselves a love that exceeds our personal intentions suggests that the source of love is in us. Thus we can say on the one hand that if we are without a certain openness to love Christ does not enter us, and on the other, that Christ becomes a source of love and transforms us. Dear friends, this experience remains particularly important for us today if we are to find the criteria that tell us whether we are truly close to God, whether God exists and dwells in us. God's love develops in us if we stay united to him with prayer and with listening to his word, with an open heart. Divine love alone prompts us to open our hearts to others and makes us sensitive to their needs, bringing us to consider everyone as brothers and sisters and inviting us to respond to hatred with love and to offence with forgiveness.

In thinking about this figure of Symeon the New Theologian, we may note a further element of his spirituality. On the path of ascetic life which he proposed and took, the monk's intense attention and concentration on the inner experience conferred an essential importance on the spiritual father of the monastery. The same young Symeon, as has been said, had found a spiritual director who gave him substantial help and whom he continued to hold in the greatest esteem such as to profess veneration for him, even in public, after his death. And I would like to say that the invitation to have recourse to a good spiritual father who can guide every individual to profound knowledge of himself and lead him to union with the Lord so that his life may be in ever closer conformity with the Gospel still applies for all priests, consecrated and lay people, and especially youth. To go towards the Lord we always need a guide, a dialogue. We cannot do it with our thoughts alone. And this is also the meaning of the ecclesiality of our faith, of finding this guide.

To conclude, we may sum up the teaching and mystical experience of Symeon the New Theologian in these words: in his ceaseless quest for God, even amidst the difficulties he encountered and the criticism of which he was the object, in the end he let himself be guided by love. He himself was able to live and teach his monks that for every disciple of Jesus the essential is to grow in love; thus we grow in the knowledge of Christ himself, to be able to say with St Paul: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2: 20).


Here is the text of the sermon that I gave on Monday evening at the Votive Mass of the Holy Ghost as part of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the parish of St Mary Magdalen, Brighton.

We speak of the Holy Spirit as the soul of the Church. The first to use this analogy was St Augustine. In one of his sermons, he said:
What the soul is for the body of man, that the Holy Spirit is for the body of Christ, that is, the Church, The Holy Spirit operates in the whole Church that which the soul operates in the members of the one body. (1)
Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, said that the Holy Spirit is “the principle of every supernatural act in all parts of the Body.” (2)

Of course we also speak of the Church as the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ, we affirm with St Augustine that:
Peter may baptise, but this is He that baptises; Paul may baptise, yet this is He that baptises; Judas may baptise, still this is He that baptises. (3)
The role of the Holy Spirit in the Church is to “activate” Our Lord’s living presence, so to speak. At the Last Supper, Our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist and the sacrament of Holy Orders, so there was a Church in embryo. When we say that Pentecost was the birthday of the Church it was, like a human birth, the occasion on which the Church went out to the world to proclaim the gospel and, on that first day, to baptise 3,000 people in Jerusalem.

We adore and glorify the Holy Spirit as the Lord and giver of life. The last part of the creed unfolds for us the work of the Holy Spirit. There is a mistake in the new ICEL translation: "I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church."

There is no “in” in the Latin text. We do not believe in the Church in the way that we believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe in the persons of the Blessed Trinity as truly God. We believe the Church both in the sense of trusting the Lord in Her, and of believing what she teaches us.

Henri de Lubac in his exposition of the apostles creed draws attention to this distinction. The Church is the first gift of the Holy Spirit through which all the other gifts are received. So we say:
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
De Lubac points out that this is not the jumbled list that it might appear to be at first sight. Through the Church we receive the communion of spiritual things (the original meaning of communio sanctorum) the principal holy thing that we share the Holy Spirit presence bringing life to all the things that the Church makes available to us. The forgiveness of sins is received first and foremost through Baptism by which we enter the Church, the resurrection of the body fulfils the preaching of the apostles which was focussed on the resurrection of Christ, so as to bring us to share in the resurrection of Christ. And the life everlasting is the ultimate purpose of the work of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and the aim of the Church herself. We should not forget that everlasting life is the ultimate point of everything that we do in the Church.

We are aware that in terms of its human members, not all is well in the Church. It never has been, yet the presence of the Holy Spirit makes the affirmation of the holiness of the Church to be true, not only in theory but also in practice through the lives of the saints. Nevertheless we are aware of sin and failure in the Church. I am indebted to Archbishop Chaput for this story which he used in one of his sermons:
Heinrich Himmler, the chief of Adolph Hitler’s security services during the Nazi era in Germany, once threatened the Archbishop of Berlin, Cardinal Konrad Graf, with plans to crush the Catholic Church. Cardinal Graf listened politely and then responded: "Well, good luck. We’ve been trying to do that for 2,000 years, and [the Church is] still here." (4)
Evelyn Waugh put it more bluntly when he said that the Church must be divine because no purely human institution run with such knavish imbecility would last a fortnight.

That is why the Holy Spirit works in the Church to give that divine assistance to the magisterium so that we may know the truths necessary for salvation with certainty through her infallible teaching. It is also why the sacraments work ex opere operato, such that despite the unworthiness of the minister, the grace of the sacrament is given infallibly if he uses the correct matter and form, and at least intends to do what the Church does.

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