Gerard O’ConnellMay 23, 2021
Pope Francis sprinkles holy water as he celebrates Pentecost Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 23, 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis called for unity in the church and rejection of the ideologies “that divide and separate us,” as he celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on the feast of Pentecost. He told believers worldwide that “the Holy Spirit is telling the Church that today is the time for comforting.”

In a sign that the situation has improved in Italy since the pandemic struck more than one year ago, for the first time a large congregation of 1,000 believers from many nationalities, wearing masks and respecting social distance, participated in the celebration in the basilica on May 23. The world-famous Sistine Chapel Choir led the singing in Latin at the joy-filled celebration.

In his homily, delivered from the high altar under the baldacchino designed by Bernini, Pope Francis recalled that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit—“the Paraclete”—to his disciples after he left this world; and they received his “ultimate gift” in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost day.

He explained that the word “Paraclete” has two meanings—“comforter” and “advocate”; they express what the Holy Spirit is for Christians.

First, he said, the Holy Spirit, “the Paraclete is the Comforter.” He recalled that “all of us, particularly at times of difficulty like those we are presently experiencing due to the pandemic, look for consolation,” and often “we turn only to earthly comforts, ephemeral comforts that quickly fade.” But he said these comforts “are like a pain reliever: they can give momentary relief, but not cure the illness we carry deep within. They can soothe us, but not heal us at the core. They work on the surface, on the level of the senses, but hardly touch our hearts.”

On the other hand, he said, “Jesus offers us heavenly comfort, the Holy Spirit” who is “the love of God,” the one “who makes us feel loved for who we are,” and “can give peace to our hearts.” He comes down “within the heart,” and “does not abandon us; for being present to those who are alone is itself a source of comfort.”

Looking at his global audience, Francis said, “dear sister, dear brother, if you feel the darkness of solitude, if you feel that an obstacle within you blocks the way to hope, if your heart has a festering wound, if you can see no way out, then open your heart to the Holy Spirit.” He recalled that St. Bonaventure, speaking of the Holy Spirit, said, “where the trials are greater, he brings greater comfort, not like the world, which comforts and flatters us when things go well, but derides and condemns us when they do not.”

If your heart has a festering wound, if you can see no way out, then open your heart to the Holy Spirit.

Francis recalled the first Pentecost when “the apostles were alone and bewildered, cowering behind closed doors, living in fear and overwhelmed by their weaknesses, failings and their sins, for they had denied Christ. The years they had spent with Jesus had not changed them: they were no different than they had been.” But then, he said, “they received the Spirit, and everything changed: the problems and failings remained, yet they were no longer afraid of them, nor of any who would be hostile to them. They sensed comfort within and they wanted to overflow with the comfort of God. Before, they were fearful; now their only fear was that of not testifying to the love they had received.”

As followers of Christ, Francis said, “We too are called to testify in the Holy Spirit, to become paracletes, comforters. The Spirit is asking us to embody the comfort he brings…. by drawing near to others. Not with trite words, but with prayer and closeness.” He reminded them that “closeness, compassion and tenderness are God’s ‘trademark,’ always.”

Pope Francis declared, “The Paraclete is telling the Church that today is the time for comforting. It is more the time for joyfully proclaiming the Gospel than for combatting paganism. It is the time for bringing the joy of the Risen Lord, not for lamenting the drama of secularization. It is the time for pouring out love upon the world, yet not embracing worldliness. It is more the time for testifying to mercy, than for inculcating rules and regulations. It is the time of the Paraclete! It is the time of freedom of heart, in the Paraclete.”

“Today is more the time for joyfully proclaiming the Gospel than for combatting paganism. It is the time for bringing the joy of the Risen Lord, not for lamenting the drama of secularization. It is the time for pouring out love upon the world, yet not embracing worldliness.

The first Latin American pope told his global audience: “The Paraclete is also the Advocate.” He explained that “in Jesus’ day, advocates did not do what they do today: rather than speaking in the place of defendants, they simply stood next to them and suggested arguments they could use in their own defence.” He added, “that is what the Paraclete—the Spirit of truth—does” for us, too. “He does not take our place but defends us from the deceits of evil by inspiring thoughts and feelings. He does so discreetly, without forcing us: he proposes but does not impose. “

On the other hand, he said, “The spirit of deceit, the evil one, does the opposite: he tries to force us; he wants to make us think that we must always yield to the allure and the promptings of vice.”

Like a spiritual director, the Jesuit pope advised believers “to accept three suggestions that are typical of the Paraclete, our Advocate,” which are “three fundamental antidotes to three temptations that today are so widespread.”

He said the Holy Spirit’s first advice is “Live in the present.” He said the Spirit “affirms the primacy of today, against the temptation to let ourselves be paralyzed by rancour or memories of the past, or by uncertainty or fear about the future. The Spirit reminds us of the grace of the present moment. There is no better time for us: now, here and now, is the one and only time to do good, to make our life a gift. Let us live in the present!”

Secondly, Francis said, the “Spirit tells us, ‘Look to the whole’. The whole, not the part.” He explained that “The Spirit does not mould isolated individuals but shapes us into a Church in the wide variety of our charisms, into a unity that is never uniformity.” He said, “The Paraclete affirms the primacy of the whole” and “there, in the whole, in the community, the Spirit prefers to work and to bring newness.”

He recalled that the apostles “were all quite different. They included Matthew, a tax collector who collaborated with the Romans, and Simon called the zealot, who fought them. They had contrary political ideas, different visions of the world” but “once they received the Spirit, they learned to give primacy not to their human viewpoints but to the ‘whole’ that is God’s plan.”

Addressing members of the church today, in words that could also be said to have particular relevance to the church in the United States, Pope Francis said, “if we listen to the Spirit, we will not be concerned with conservatives and progressives, traditionalists and innovators, right and left. When those become our criteria, then the Church has forgotten the Spirit.” He reminded them that “The Paraclete impels us to unity, to concord, to the harmony of diversity. He makes us see ourselves as parts of the same body, brothers and sisters of one another.” He warned that “the enemy wants diversity to become opposition and so he makes them become ideologies.” Adding to his prepared text, Francis said: “Say no to ideologies, yes to the whole.”

The Jesuit pope told his global audience that the Holy Spirit’s third advice is “Put God before yourself.” He explained that “this is the decisive step in the spiritual life,” it means “a humble openness to God.” He said, “the Spirit affirms the primacy of grace. Only by emptying ourselves, do we leave room for the Lord; only by giving ourselves to him, do we find ourselves; only by becoming poor in spirit, do we become rich in the Holy Spirit.”

Francis said “this is also true of the Church. We save no one, not even ourselves, by our own efforts. If we give priority to our own projects, our structures, our plans for reform, we will be concerned only about effectiveness, efficiency, we will think only in horizontal terms and, as a result, we will bear no fruit. An ‘-ism’ is an ideology that divides and separates. The Church is human, but it is not merely a human organization, it is the temple of the Holy Spirit.”

He reminded them that, “Jesus brought the fire of the Spirit to the earth and the Church is reformed by the anointing of grace, the gratuity of the anointing of grace, the power of prayer, the joy of mission and the disarming beauty of poverty. Let us put God in first place!”

Pope Francis concluded by summarizing his homily in a prayer: “Holy Spirit, Paraclete Spirit, comfort our hearts. Make us missionaries of your comfort, paracletes of your mercy before the world. Our Advocate, sweet counsellor of the soul, make us witnesses of the ‘today’ of God, prophets of unity for the Church and humanity, and apostles grounded in your grace, which creates and renews all things. Amen.”

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