Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin,
Secretary of State
St Joseph’s Seminary, Vilnius, Lithuania
Monday 9 May 2016
Readings: Acts 19:1-8; Ps 67:2-3,4-5, 6-7; Jn 16:29-33
My Brother Bishops and Priests,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It gives me great joy to be with you this afternoon for the celebration of the Eucharist, which is at the centre of the life of every priest and seminarian. I bring you warm greetings from His Holiness Pope Francis, who assures you of his prayers and good wishes.
Today’s readings invite us to reflect on the Holy Spirit, on his action in our lives and on the importance of developing a prayerful relationship with him.
In the first reading, the disciples of John, after hearing Paul’s preaching, received baptism “in the name of the Lord Jesus”. The moment Paul laid hands on them “the Holy Spirit came down on them, and they began to speak with tongues and prophesy”.
We too have received the Holy Spirit, especially through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. The Spirit transforms our being and, provided we are submissive to his activity and inspirations, he influences our actions. St Paul teaches us that the Holy Spirit is present within us, even before we begin to act. He tells us that the Spirit of God dwells in us (cf. Rom 8:9; 2 Cor 3:16) and that “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” (Gal 4:6).
When we receive the sacraments of initiation, we receive the gift of adoption as God’s children. Our great dignity consists in our being not only images of God but his children. Together with adoption, we receive the person of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in our inmost depths, together with his gifts, which are permanent dispositions that make us docile to follow his promptings.
As Christians, we are God’s adoptive children, in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. We must gradually appropriate this condition, by transforming this gift into a personal reality decisive for our way of thinking, acting and being. The Spirit within us is the “Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9; cf. Phil 1:19), the Spirit of the Son (cf. Gal 4:6) and the Spirit of sonship. Provided we allow him to act, he gradually transforms us into the image of the Son, so that we can address God as “Abba! Father!” (cf. Gal 4:6) and truly become other Christs for those around us.
The Holy Spirit also teaches us how to pray. In fact, there can be no authentic prayer without the presence of the Spirit in us. In a sense, the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, becomes the “soul of our soul”, the most intimate and secret part of our being, from which our prayer rises incessantly to God. We do not know how to pray as we ought; it is the Holy Spirit, the inner master of prayer, who teaches us. It is he who makes up for our deficiencies and offers the Father our adoration, along with our most profound aspirations. This calls for a profound degree of living communion with the Spirit. We must learn to become “ever more sensitive, more attentive to this presence of the Spirit in us, to transform it into prayer, to experience this presence and to learn in this way to pray, to speak with the Father as children in the Holy Spirit” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 16 November 2006).
The Holy Spirit also makes us capable of love. He places us in the very rhythm of divine life, which is a life of love, making us participate personally in the relations that exist between the Father and the Son. Furthermore, he stimulates us to love others, to develop charitable relations with all. When we love, we make room for the Spirit and we allow him fully to express himself.
In addition, the Holy Spirit, according to St Paul, is a generous pledge which God himself has given us ahead of time and is at the same time the guarantee of our future inheritance (cf. 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14). For this reason, the Holy Spirit strengthens our hope.
In the first reading, we also hear that that Apostle Paul “spoke out boldly and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:9). None of this would have been possible without the help of the Holy Spirit. As priests and future priests, you too are called to speak “boldly and persuasively”, blending conviction, courage and the ability to discern the most appropriate and convincing way of bringing the message of the Gospel to our contemporaries.
In the Gospel, Jesus, towards the end of his Last Supper conversations with his disciples, tells them: “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus never promised his disciples an easy life. He was very clear with them that in the world they would encounter difficulties, obstacles and opposition. It is the same for us. If the world has rejected Christ, it will reject us. However, we should not be discouraged, for Jesus, who has overcome the world, is always with us.
The virtue of fortitude needs to be cultivated in order to face up to the challenges and difficulties we inevitably meet on the journey to the priesthood and in the priestly ministry itself. Fortitude, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good” (n. 1808). It helps us to resist temptations, conquer fear and face trials and persecution.
Remember that you have also received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, one of which is fortitude. The gifts differ from the moral virtues in that the virtues require considerable effort on our part and are acquired gradually and progressively through the practice of the corresponding virtuous acts, while the gifts are not due to us at all, but simply require a docile attitude on our part so that they may be effective. The seventeenth-century French Jesuit Fr Louis Lallemant, whose spiritual teaching heavily influenced Pope Francis, compares the acquisition of the virtues to the strenuous effort of sailors rowing a ship against the current, while he sees the gifts as somewhat akin to the wind which fills the sails and carries the ship forward without much effort on the part of the crew.
If we pray regularly to the Holy Spirit and ask for his help, he will enable us to speak “boldly and persuasively”; in fact, we need not worry about what to say, for he will come to our assistance. Through the gift of fortitude, he will enable us to face every obstacle serenely and cheerfully.
The greater our love for Jesus and the stronger our communion with the Holy Spirit, the more we will have the strength to face every trial. This is the secret of victory over the tribulations of this world.
I invite you to use these seminary years well. Develop a deep friendship with Jesus, grow every day in your love for him and constantly invoke the Holy Spirit, who will come to your assistance. May the Lord help you to trust in his presence and to grow in fortitude. May the Holy Spirit give you the strength and courage to overcome adversity and to persevere in faith.
With the assurance of my prayers and good wishes as you continue to make progress on the journey to the priesthood, I entrust you to the protection of Mary, the Mother of Mercy, who looks upon each of you with a tender, maternal heart. May she continue to intercede for you and strengthen you in your resolve to follow her Son’s call.