ROME – Pope Francis closed a marathon of activities and messages over the weekend Sunday with a livestreamed Mass on the feast of Pentecost, insisting the Holy Spirit is a gift from God that unites and for whom distinctions such as “conservative” or “progressive” have no meaning.
Pointing to St. Paul’s letter First Letter to the Corinthians, in which he says that “there are different kinds of gifts” in the Christian community “but the same spirit,” Pope Francis the words “diversity and unity” can, at first blush, seem contradictory.
What St. Paul meant, he said, is that “the Holy Spirit is the one who brings together the many; and that the Church was born this way: we are all different, yet united by the same Holy Spirit.”
Noting that each of the apostles Jesus called were different – some were fishermen, some tax collectors, some were meek in personality, and others more excitable – Francis said, “Jesus did not change them; he did not make them into a set of prepackaged models. He left their differences and now he unites them by anointing them with the Holy Spirit.”
“We too have our differences,” of opinion, choices and ideas, he said, cautioning against the temptation to “always fiercely to defend our ideas, believing them to be good for everybody and agreeing only with those who think as we do,” he said.
“This is a faith created in our own image; it is not what the Spirit wants,” the pope said. “We might think that what unite us are our beliefs and our morality. But there is much more: our principle of unity is the Holy Spirit.”
Francis urged Catholics to look at one another with the eyes of the Holy Spirit, rather than the world, which “sees us only as on the right or left,” whereas the Holy Spirit “sees us as sons and daughters of the Father and brothers and sisters of Jesus.”
“The world sees conservatives and progressives; the Spirit sees children of God. A worldly gaze sees structures to be made more efficient; a spiritual gaze sees brothers and sisters pleading for mercy,” he said, noting that when going out to proclaim the Gospel, the disciples could have broken up into small groups based on common roots.
They could have also waited until they felt that they better understood Jesus’s teachings, but this is not what happened, he said, insisting that the Holy Spirit “does not want the memory of the Master to be cultivated in small groups locked in upper rooms where it is easy to ‘nest.’”
Rather, “he opens doors and pushes us to press beyond what has already been said and done, beyond the precincts of a timid and wary faith. In the world, unless there is tight organization and a clear strategy, things fall apart. In the Church, however, the Spirit guarantees unity to those who proclaim the message.”
Pope Francis also stressed that the Holy Spirit is a gift and warning against attitudes such as narcissism, victimhood and pessimism, which he said are “enemies” of the Holy Spirit that prevent people from receiving it.
He closed his homily praying that God would free the Church “from the paralysis of selfishness and awaken in us the desire to serve, to do good.”
“Even worse than this crisis is the tragedy of squandering it by closing in on ourselves,” he said, and asked the Holy Spirit to “make us builders of unity” and to give the Church “the courage to go out of ourselves, to love and help each other, in order to become one family.”
Francis’s Mass Sunday capped an unusually busy weekend for the pontiff, despite restrictions still in place due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Prior to Sunday’s Mass, which was livestreamed from St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis Saturday evening prayed a rosary in the Lourdes grotto of the Vatican gardens for an end to the coronavirus. Roughly 130 people were present at the event, which marked the largest papal gathering since Italy’s strict lockdown began in early March.
After the rosary, recited by doctors, nurses, priests and families directly impacted by the coronavirus, Francis closed praying one of two Marian prayers he published in early May for the coronavirus, asking God to be close to those suffering due to the pandemic, and to have mercy on those who have died.
He also issued several messages over the weekend, including a letter to the priests of Rome for Pentecost, a video message for a virtual Pentecost vigil held by the Charismatic Renewal International Service (CHARIS), and a separate video message for a Pentecost initiative organized by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
In his message to CHARIS, Francis said the Holy Spirit is needed “Today more than ever.”
“Today the world is suffering, it is wounded…It needs our witness to the Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus,” he said, insisting that, “We can only give this witness with the strength of the Holy Spirit.”
Faced with the aftermath of COVID-19, “We have before us the duty to build a new reality,” he said, insisting that, “When we exit this pandemic, we cannot continue doing what we have been doing, and how we have been doing it. No, everything must be different.”
“All the suffering will not have served any purpose if we do not build among everyone a more just, more equitable, more Christian society, not just in name, but in reality, a reality which leads us to Christian conduct,” he said, adding that, “If we do not work to end the pandemic of poverty in the world, the pandemic of poverty in each of our countries, in the city where each one of us lives, this time will have been in vain.”
In his message to Welby, sent as part of Welby’s “Thy Kingdom Come” global prayer initiative for Pentecost, Francis spoke of the comfort the Holy Spirit brings to those who, like the disciples at the time of Jesus, suffer fear and uncertainty, saying, “The Spirit assures us that we are not alone, that God sustains us.”
“Dear friends, we must give in turn the gift that we have received: we are called to share the comfort of the Spirit, the closeness of God,” he said, voicing his desire that in this task, Christians “can be more deeply united as witnesses of mercy for the human family so severely tested in these days.”
“We need to be united in facing all those pandemics that are spreading, that of the virus, but also those of hunger, war, contempt for life, and indifference to others,” he said, adding, “Only by walking together will we be able to go far.”
In his lengthy, four-page letter to priests in the diocese of Rome, the pope said he wanted to write to them since he was unable to celebrate his annual Chrism Mass, during which holy oils used in sacraments in the upcoming year are blessed and which is usually attended by the diocese’s priests, which was postponed due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Despite quarantines and imposed distancing, Francis said he heard from many priests either by phone or email, and “I was able to see, in those sincere dialogues, that the necessary distance was not synonymous with withdrawal or isolation of the self that anesthetizes, sedates and extinguishes the mission.”
Noting that priests in particular have shared in the fear and grief of their people, he said that, “drenched in the storm that raged, you made an effort to be present and accompany your communities: you saw the wolf coming and did not flee or abandon the flock.”
“The complexity of what had to be faced did not allow for ‘recipes’ or textbook answers,” he said, calling the pandemic a time of weeping for priests, just as Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.
Challenging questions provoked by the pandemic cannot be answered “simply by the reopening of various activities,” he said, insisting that there is an “indispensable” need to develop “a way of listening which is attentive but full of hope, serene but tenacious, constant but not anxious, which can prepare and pave the way for the Lord’s call to us.”
“As a priestly community we are called to announce and prophesy the future, like the sentinel announcing the dawn that brings a new day,” the pope said, noting that will either be “something new, or it will be more, much more and worse than usual.”
He underlined the necessity of taking up this task with the “realistic and creative imagination” of faith, and urged priests to let themselves be surprised “by our faithful and simple people, so many times tried and torn, but also visited by the Lord’s mercy.”
He closed his letter encouraging priests to embody the words of St. Paul, who in scripture said that, “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Francis prayed that these words, “may spread like perfumed oil in the different corners of our city and thus awaken the discreet hope that many – tacitly – conserve in their hearts.”
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