Monday, June 12, 2006

"His Will Is Unity"

For those who haven't been keeping close watch, last weekend a gigantic gathering of the "New Ecclesiastical Movements" was held in Rome. The Movements are those groups which, over the last 50 years, have sprung up to encourage among laypeople a sense of ownership in the life of the global church and to serve particular areas or charisms in Catholic life.

While John Paul II -- who convoked the first of these gatherings in 1998 -- was a staunch supporter of the movements, seeing their zeal as an indicator of what he called a "New Springtime" in the church's story, Benedict XVI has implied reservations about the path some of the groups have taken in their approach to the activity of the wider Catholic fold.

Last Saturday night, at a vigil for the estimated 450,000 people who turned out -- a mass of humanity not seen since Benedict's election in April, 2005 -- the Pope delivered a resounding message in the hope of guiding the groups back to an identity forged within the context of the church's wider communion as opposed to being distinct from it. (The English translation of these remarks was held up for several days.)

The key concept in the papal remarks was that of "unity" -- a term Benedict used no less than 13 times in the course of his homily -- specifically, unity with what he termed the "joints" of the body of the church, making specific mention of the importance of unity with its pastors and bishops. By contrast, "truth" was invoked but three times in the 3,500-word talk.

As an aside, the estimates for the crowd shattered all expectations for the event. A convocation that was thought to draw no more than 250,000 boomed to twice that number, stunning practically all observers -- not to mention the Romans who've seen it all before.

To give but one example, an ecclesiastical luminary dropped by the Basilica of St Mary Major on Friday evening of the weekend. While the Movements had spread across the city and held their own prayer services in the various churches of the Urb, the oldest church in the world dedicated to Mary was given over to the Comunione e Liberazione, Benedict's favorite among the multiplicity of groups.

As thousands were milling around outside, talking amongst themselves, sending text messages, drinking coffees, it was easy to assume that the CL service had ended.

"And then," my friend said, "the doors of the Basilica swung open, and I realized that these were the people who could not fit inside."

With that, excerpts of the Pope's words -- one of the most important messages of his pontificate to date:
Dear friends, the Movements were born precisely of the thirst for true life; they are Movements for life in every sense.

Where the true source of life no longer flows, where people only appropriate life instead of giving it, wherever people are ready to dispose of unborn life because it seems to take up room in their own lives, it is there that the life of others is most at risk.

If we want to protect life, then we must above all rediscover the source of life; then life itself must re-emerge in its full beauty and sublimeness; then we must let ourselves be enlivened by the Holy Spirit, the creative source of life.

The theme of freedom has just been mentioned. The Prodigal Son's departure is linked precisely with the themes of life and freedom. He wanted life and therefore desired to be totally liberated. Being free, in this perspective, means being able to do whatever I like, not being bound to accept any criterion other than and over and above myself. It means following my own desires and my own will alone.

Those who live like this very soon clash with others who want to live the same way. The inevitable consequence of this selfish concept of freedom is violence and the mutual destruction of freedom and life.

Sacred Scripture, on the other hand, connects the concept of freedom with that of sonship. St Paul says: "You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship", through which we cry, ""Abba! Father!'" (Rom 8: 15). What does this mean?

St Paul presupposes the social system of the ancient world in which slaves existed. They owned nothing, so they could not be involved in the proper development of things.

Co-respectively, there were sons who were also heirs and were therefore concerned with the preservation and good administration of their property or the preservation of the State. Since they were free, they also had responsibility.

Leaving aside the sociological background of that time, the principle still holds true: freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. True freedom is demonstrated in responsibility, in a way of behaving in which one takes upon oneself a shared responsibility for the world, for oneself and for others.

The son, to whom things belong and who, consequently, does not let them be destroyed, is free. All the worldly responsibilities of which we have spoken are nevertheless partial responsibilities for a specific area, a specific State, etc.

The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, makes us sons and daughters of God. He involves us in the same responsibility that God has for his world, for the whole of humanity. He teaches us to look at the world, others and ourselves with God's eyes. We do not do good as slaves who are not free to act otherwise, but we do it because we are personally responsible for the world; because we love truth and goodness, because we love God himself and therefore, also his creatures. This is the true freedom to which the Holy Spirit wants to lead us.

The Ecclesial Movements want to and must be schools of freedom, of this true freedom. Let us learn in them this true freedom, not the freedom of slaves that aims to cut itself a slice of the cake that belongs to everyone even if this means that some do not get any.

We want the true, great freedom, the freedom of heirs, the freedom of children of God. In this world, so full of fictitious forms of freedom that destroy the environment and the human being, let us learn true freedom by the power of the Holy Spirit; to build the school of freedom; to show others by our lives that we are free and how beautiful it is to be truly free with the true freedom of God's children.

The Holy Spirit, in giving life and freedom, also gives unity. These are three gifts that are inseparable from one another. I have already gone on too long; but let me say a brief word about unity.

To understand it, we might find a sentence useful which at first seems rather to distance us from it. Jesus said to Nicodemus, who came to him with his questions by night: "The wind blows where it wills" (Jn 3: 8). But the Spirit's will is not arbitrary. It is the will of truth and goodness.

Therefore, he does not blow from anywhere, now from one place and then from another; his breath is not wasted but brings us together because the truth unites and love unites.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Spirit who unites the Father with the Son in Love, which in the one God he gives and receives. He unites us so closely that St Paul once said: "You are all one in Jesus Christ" (Gal 3: 28).

With his breath, the Holy Spirit impels us towards Christ. The Holy Spirit acts corporeally; he does not only act subjectively or "spiritually".

The Risen Christ said to his disciples, who supposed that they were seeing only a "spirit": "It is I myself; touch me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have" (cf. Lk 24: 39).

This applies for the Risen Christ in every period of history. The Risen Christ is not a ghost, he is not merely a spirit, a thought, only an idea.

He has remained incarnate - it is the Risen One who took on our flesh - and always continues to build his Body, making us his Body. The Spirit breathes where he wills, and his will is unity embodied, a unity that encounters the world and transforms it.
In his Letter to the Ephesians, St Paul tell us that this Body of Christ, which is the Church, has joints (cf. 4: 16) and even names them: they are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (cf. 4: 12). In his gifts, the Spirit is multifaceted - we see it here. If we look at history, if we look at this assembly here in St Peter's Square, then we realize that he inspires ever new gifts; we see how different are the bodies that he creates and how he works bodily ever anew.

But in him multiplicity and unity go hand in hand. He breathes where he wills. He does so unexpectedly, in unexpected places and in ways previously unheard of. And with what diversity and corporality does he do so! And it is precisely here that diversity and unity are inseparable.

He wants your diversity and he wants you for the one body, in union with the permanent orders - the joints - of the Church, with the successors of the Apostles and with the Successor of St Peter.

He does not lessen our efforts to learn the way of relating to one another; but he also shows us that he works with a view to the one body and in the unity of the one body. It is precisely in this way that unity obtains its strength and beauty.

May you take part in the edification of the one body! Pastors must be careful not to extinguish the Spirit (cf. I Thes 5: 19) and you will not cease to bring your gifts to the entire community.

Once again, the Spirit blows where he wills. But his will is unity. He leads us towards Christ through his Body.

"From Christ", St Paul tells us, "the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love" (Eph 4: 16).
For an enriching experience, go read it in full.

AP/Pier Paolo Cito