The Pope Takes Questions, Part I

We're off for a few days, but I've scheduled a few posts for your Popery fix. On the feast of the Transfiguration, the Pope did his annual vacation Q&A with priests. The original (in Italian & German) is here, with rough transcript here. As usual, it's marvelous, but we'll take the questions one at a time. In the meanwhile, there's all those links at the right to click through, and ninme has a long reading list for you, plus other stuff for a few days before she takes the wedding plunge.

First Question: Michael Horrer, Seminarian

Holy Father, my name is Michael Horrer and I’m a seminarian. During the 23rd World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, in which I took part along with other youth from our diocese, you continually reminded the 400,000 youth who were present of the importance of the work of the Holy Spirit in us young people and in the church. The theme of the World Youth Day was: “You will have the strength of the Holy Spirit, who will descend upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Now, we young people have returned – reinforced by the Holy Spirit and by your words – to our homes, our diocese and our daily life. Holy Father, how can we live concretely here, in our homes and our daily life, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and give witness of them to others, so that our relatives, friends and acquaintances can see and feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, and so we can exercise our mission as witnesses of Christ? What advice can you give us, so that our diocese remains young, despite the aging of the clergy, and stays open to the work of the Holy Spirit who guides the church?

Benedict XVI

Thanks for this question. I’m happy to see a seminarian, a candidate for the priesthood in this diocese, in whose face, in a certain sense, I can see the young face of the diocese. I’m also happy to hear that you, along with others, were in Sydney, where in a great festival of the faith we all together experienced precisely the youthfulness of the church. For the Australians, too, it was a great experience. In the beginning they looked at this World Youth Day with great skepticism, because obviously it could have created many problems in daily life, many inconveniences, such as traffic delays and so on. But in the end – and this was seen also by the media, whose prejudices were disassembled piece by piece – everyone felt caught up in the atmosphere of joy and of faith. They saw that the young people who came did not create security problems or any other kind of difficulty, but rather they knew how to be together in joy. They saw that even today faith is a living force, a force capable of giving the right orientation to people. It was a moment in which we truly felt the breath of the Holy Spirit, who dispenses with prejudices, and who makes people understand that, yes, here we find what touches us most closely, this is the direction in which we have to go; this is the way one should live, this is how the future opens.
You rightly said that it was a strong moment, from which we’ve carried home a little flame. In daily life, however, it’s often very difficult to perceive correctly the action of the Holy Spirit, or to be a means personally by which the Spirit can be present – so that the breath which dispenses with prejudices can do its work, the breath which creates light in the dark and makes us see that the faith not only has a future, but that it is the future. How can that be done?
Certainly, by ourselves we can’t do it. In the end, it’s the Lord who helps us, but we have to be willing instruments. I would sau it simply: No one can give that which he doesn’t personally possess, which means we cannot transmit the Holy Spirit in an effective way, render the Spirit perceptible, if we ourselves aren’t close to the Spirit. Therefore, I think the most important thing is that we ourselves remain, so to speak, in the rays of the breath of the Spirit, in contact with the Spirit. Only if we are continually touched interiorly by the Holy Spirit, if the Spirit is present in us, only then can be also transmit the Spirit to others. The Spirit will then give us the fantasies, the creative ideas of how to do it; ideas that can’t be programmed but that are born from the situation itself, because it’s there that the Holy Spirit is at work. Thus, the first point: we ourselves must remain in the rays of the breath of the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel of John tells us how, after the Resurrection, the Lord went to his disciples, breathed upon them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ This is a parallel to Genesis, where God breathes upon a mixture of earth and it takes form and becomes a human being. Now the human person, who has been obscured interiorly and is half dead, receives anew the breath of Christ, and it is this breath of God which gives a new dimension of life, life with the Holy Spirit. We can therefore say: The Holy Spirit is the breath of Jesus Christ, and we, in a certain sense, must always ask Christ to breathe upon us, so that in us this breath becomes alive, and strong, and works in the world. This means, therefore, that we must hold ourselves close to Christ.
We can do this by meditating on his word. We know that the principal author of Sacred Scripture in the Holy Spirit. When we speak with God through Scripture, when we don’t seek in it simply the past but truly the present Lord who speaks in it, then it’s as if we find ourselves – as I said in Australia – walking through the garden of the Holy Spirit. We speak with the Spirit, and the Spirit speaks with us. Thus learning to be at home in this environment, in the environment of the Word of God, is very important. In a certain sense, it introduces us to the breath of God. Then, naturally, this listening, this walking in the environment of the Word, must transform itself into a response, a response in prayer, in contact with Christ, above all, naturally, in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, in which he comes to meet us and to enters into us, almost melting with us. Also the Sacrament of Penance is important, which always purifies us, washes us of the darkness that daily life places in us.
In brief, it’s a question of life with Christ in the Holy Spirit, in the Word of God and in the communion of the church, in its common life. St. Augustine said: ‘If you want the Spirit of God, you must be in the Body of Christ.’ One finds the ambit of his Spirit in Christ’s mystical body. All this has to determine the unfolding of our day, the way in which it becomes a structured day, a day in which God always has access to us, in which contact with Christ is continualy there, and in which precisely for this reason we continually receive the breath of the Holy Spirit. If we do this, we won’t be too lazy, undisciplined or indolent. Something will happen, our day will take on a certain form, our life will take a certain form in it, and a light will radiate out from us without our having to think about it too much, without adopting a way of acting that’s – to put it this way – ‘propagandistic.’ It will happen on its own, because it reflects our soul.
To this I would add a second dimension, logically connected with the first: if we live with Christ, we’ll also do human things well. In fact, the faith does not carry only a supernatural aspect, it reconstructs the human person carrying us to our humanity, as the parallel between Genesis and John 20 demonstrates: it’s based precisely on the natural virtues – honesty, joy, openness to listen to one’s neighbor, the capacity to forgive, generosity, goodness, cordiality among persons. These human virtues are indicative of the fact that the faith is truly present, that we are truly with Christ. I believe that we have to pay much attention, also with regard to ourselves, to this point: to mature in ourselves authentic humanity, because faith leads to the full realization of the human being, of humanity. We habe to pay attention to developing well, in the correct manner, the human aspects also in the professions, in respect of other persons, in being concerned for others, which is the best way of being concerned for ourselves. In fact, ‘being’ for the other is the best way of ‘being’ for ourselves. This is where those initiatives that can’t be planned are born: communities of prayer, communities that read the Bible together, as well as effective aid to those who are in need, who find themselves on the margins of life, to the ill, the handicapped and so many other things besides … It’s here that our eyes are opened to see our personal capacities, to take the corresponding initiatives and to know how to foster in others the courage to do the same. It’s precisely these human things that fortify us, putting us in a certain way newly in contact with the Holy Spirit.
The head of the Knights of the Order of Malta in Rome told me that he went with a few young people at Christmas to the train station in order to bring a little Christmas to people who had been abandoned. While he was getting ready to leave, he heard one of the young people say to another: ‘This is better than the discotech. Here it’s truly beautiful, because I can do something for others!’ These are the initiatives that the Holy Spirit awakes in us. Without lots of words, they make us feel the strength of the Spirit and they make us attentive to Christ.
Well, maybe I’ve said very little that’s concrete, but I think that the most important thing is that, above all, our life be oriented toward the Holy Spirit, so that we live in the ambit of the Spirit, in the Body of Christ, and from this we experience humanization – we take care of the simple human virtues and learn to be good in the most ample sense of the term. In this way we acquire a sensibility for initiatives of good which naturally develop a missionary force and, in a certain sense, prepare that moment in which speaking of Christ and our faith becomes sensible and comprehensible.