Pentecost marks the beginning of the Church when the Lord sent down upon the apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Holy Spirit is the culmination of Easter for through it, the mission of Christ continues. Pentecost is not the end of what Jesus had brought about for us but only the beginning. Just as the apostles were able to go forth and accomplish miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit, so does the Spirit work in our lives each day. From a small group of followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit has enabled the Church to grow to what it is today.
As we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, we open our hearts to his presence among us. He reminds us that it is prayer which is the most important part of our relationship with God and that he is the one who enables us to pray, even though we may not recognize it. St. Paul makes this very clear when he tells us, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. The one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will” (Rom 8:27). It is hard for us to imagine that the Holy Spirit is so much a part of our being that he speaks within us and for us before God. To open our hearts to listen to the Spirit within us is to know his presence as well as that of the Trinity as part of our very being. This is why the celebration of the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity immediately follows Pentecost and the Easter season.
Pope Francis, in his recent Wednesday Audience May 22, reminded us of the Holy Spirit’s power in praying within us. He said, “Do not forget this: the protagonist of all Christian prayer is the Holy Spirit. We can never pray without the strength of the Holy Spirit; it is he who moves us to pray well.” In reflecting on the prayer, the Our Father, Pope Francis expressed: “This is the root of Christian prayer: To call God ‘Father’ but this requires courage. It is not so much a formula as it is a feeling of intimacy into which we are introduced by grace. Jesus is the one who reveals the Father and gives us familiarity with him.” All of this is carried out through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
In a profound reflection at a Wednesday general audience May 16, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI spoke in the same manner as Pope Francis. Quoting the above referenced words of St. Paul in Romans 8, Pope Benedict reflected: “We want to pray, but God is far, we do not have the words, language to speak with God, not even the thought. We can only open ourselves, set our time at the disposal of God, waiting for him to help us enter into true dialogue. The Apostle says: this very lack of words, the absence of words, even the desire to enter into contact with God is a prayer that the Holy Spirit not only understands, but carries, interprets, to God. It is precisely our weakness which becomes, through the Holy Spirit, true prayer, true contact with God. The Holy Spirit is almost the interpreter who makes God and us ourselves understand what we want to say.” Pope Benedict further explained that it is only with this presence of the Holy Spirit that our union with Christ is realized and that we are able to be in union with him and the Father.
Pope Benedict further explained that there are three consequences that result from our listening to the Holy Spirit praying within us. Many of his insights were echoed in the homily Pope Francis gave last year on the Solemnity of Pentecost. The first result is that “With prayer animated by the Spirit we are enabled to abandon every form of fear and slavery, living the authentic freedom of the children of God.” Pope Francis expressed last year that, “The Spirit frees hearts chained by fear. He overcomes all resistance.” According to Pope Benedict, the second consequence of listening to the Holy Spirit praying within us is that “the very relationship with God becomes so profound that no other reality or situation affects it. We understand that with prayer we are not liberated from trials and suffering, but we can live through them in union with Christ, with his suffering, in the hope of also participating in his glory (Rom 8:17).” Pope Francis last year emphasized this consequence when he stated, “the change that the Spirit brings … does not revolutionize life around us but, changes our hearts. It does not free us from the weight of our problems, but liberates us within so that we can face them.” The third consequence of our listening to the Holy Spirit praying within us according to Pope Benedict is that prayer “opens also to the dimension of all humanity and of all creation, in the exception that ‘creation work with eager longing for the revealing of the Son of God’ (Rom 8:19). This means that prayer sustained by the Spirit of Christ speaking in the depths of each of us does not stay closed in on itself. It is never just prayer for me but, opens itself to sharing the suffering of our time, of others. It becomes intercession for others.” Pope Francis expressed this insight last year when he stated, “The spirit grants intimacy with God, the inner strength to keep going. Yet, at the same time, he is a centrifugal force, that is, one pushing outward. The one who centers us is also the one who drives us to the peripheries, every human periphery. The one who reveals God also open our hearts to our brothers and sisters.”
The combined insights of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis on the power of the Holy Spirit praying within us certainly are testimony to the living power of the Holy Spirit within the lives of these men. We are blessed with such great leadership in the Church reminding us of the love of God within our hearts. As we celebrate Pentecost, we open our hearts to the wisdom of St. John Paul II who also gave us great witness in regard to the power of the prayer of the Holy Spirit speaking within us. His testimony truly comes from one who is a Saint of the Church. In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, St. John Paul II responded to the question, “How does the Pope pray?” in a manner affirming the insights of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict. St. John Paul II stated, “You would have to ask the Holy Spirit! The Pope prays as the Holy Spirit permits him to pray. I think he has to pray in a way which, deepening the mystery revealed in Christ, he can better fulfill his ministry. The Holy Spirit certainly guides him in this. But man must not put up obstacles. ‘The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness.’” St. John Paul II continued to reflect, “Through prayer God reveals himself above all as Mercy – that is, Love that goes out to those who are suffering. Love that sustains, uplifts, and invites us to trust. The victory of good in the world is united organically with this truth. A person who prays professes such a truth and in a certain sense makes God, who is merciful Love, present in the world.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily on Pentecost Sunday last year with an appropriate prayer for us at this time of Pentecost as the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity approaches: Holy Spirit, violent wind of God, blow upon us, blow into our hearts and make us breathe forth the tenderness of the Father! Blow upon the Church and impel her to the ends of the earth, so that, brought by you, she may bring nothing other than you. Blow upon our world the soothing warmth of peace and the refreshing cool of hope. Come Holy Spirit, change us within and renew the face of the earth. Amen.