· Vatican City ·

Pope Francis continues catechesis on the Holy Spirit

Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom

 Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom  ING-023
07 June 2024

At the General Audience on Wednesday morning, 5 June, Pope Francis renewed his appeal for peace in Ukraine, Palestine, Israel and Myanmar, and announced that he will prepare a document on the Sacred Heart of Jesus that will be published in September. Earlier, continuing his catechetical series on the Holy Spirit and the Bride, the Pope reflected on the freedom of the Spirit. Commenting on a passage from the Gospel according to John, he explained that the freedom which the Spirit offers “is not freedom to do what one wants, but the freedom to freely do what God wants”. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s words to the faithful gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Good morning!

In today’s catechesis, I would like to reflect with you on the name by which the Holy Spirit is called in the Bible.

The first thing we know of a person is their name. It is by their name that we address them, that we distinguish and remember them. The third Person of the Trinity also has a name: he is called the Holy Spirit. But “Spirit” is the Latinised version. The name of the Spirit, the one by which the first recipients of revelation knew him, by which the prophets, the psalmists, Mary, Jesus, and the Apostles invoked him, is Ruach, which means breath, wind, air.

In the Bible, a name is so important that it is almost identified with the person himself. To sanctify the name of God is to sanctify and honour God himself. It is never a merely conventional designation: it always says something about the person, their origin, or their mission. This is also the case with the name Ruach. It contains the first fundamental revelation about the Person and function of the Holy Spirit.

It was precisely by observing the wind and its manifestations that the biblical writers were led by God to discover a “wind” of a different nature. It is not by accident that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles accompanied by the “rush of a mighty wind” (cf. Acts 2:2). It was as if the Holy Spirit wanted to put his signature on what was happening.

What, then, does his name, Ruach, tell us about the Holy Spirit? The image of the wind serves first of all to express the Holy Spirit’s power. “Spirit and power”, or “power of the Spirit” is a recurring combination throughout the Bible. For the wind is an overwhelming force, an indomitable force, capable even of moving oceans.

Again, however, to discover the full meaning of the realities of the Bible, one must not stop at the Old Testament, but come to Jesus. Alongside power, Jesus will highlight another characteristic of the wind: its freedom. To Nicodemus, who visits him at night, Jesus solemnly says: “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8).

The wind is the only thing that absolutely cannot be bridled, cannot be “bottled up” or put in a box. We seek to “bottle up” the wind or put it in a box: it’s not possible. It is free. To presume to enclose the Holy Spirit in concepts, definitions, theses or treatises, as modern rationalism has sometimes attempted to do, is to lose it, nullify it, or reduce it to the purely human spirit, to a simple spirit. There is, however, a similar temptation in the ecclesiastical field, and it is that of wanting to enclose the Holy Spirit in canons, institutions, definitions. The Spirit creates and inspires institutions, but he himself cannot be “institutionalised,” “objectified”. The wind blows “where it wills”; in the same way the Spirit distributes his gifts “as he wills” (1 Cor 12:11).

Saint Paul made all of this the fundamental law of Christian action: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17), he said. A free person, a free Christian, is one who has the Spirit of the Lord. This is a very special freedom, quite different from what is commonly understood. It is not freedom to do what one wants, but the freedom to freely do what God wants! Not freedom to do good or evil, but freedom to do good and do it freely, that is, by attraction, not compulsion. In other words, the freedom of children, not of slaves.

Saint Paul was well aware of the abuse or misunderstanding that can arise from this freedom. In fact, he wrote to the Galatians: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another” (Gal 5:13). This is a freedom that expresses itself in what appears to be its opposite; it is expressed in service, and in service is true freedom.

We know when this freedom becomes a “pretext for the flesh”. Paul gives an ever relevant list: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like” (Gal 5:19-21). But so too is the freedom that allows the rich to exploit the poor, an ugly freedom that allows the strong to exploit the weak, and everyone to exploit the environment with impunity. And this is an ugly freedom, it is not the freedom of the Spirit.

Brothers and sisters, where do we obtain this freedom of the Spirit, so contrary to the freedom of selfishness? The answer is in the words Jesus addressed one day to his listeners: “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The freedom that Jesus gives us. Let us ask Jesus to make us, through his Holy Spirit, truly free men and women. Free to serve, in love and joy. Thank you!

Special Greetings

I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, especially the groups from England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Cameroon, Australia, Malaysia, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you, and upon your families, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!

We are passing through this month dedicated to the Sacred Heart. December 27 of last year marked the 350th anniversary of the first manifestation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. That occasion marked the beginning of a period of celebrations that will end on 27 June next year. This is why I am pleased to prepare a document that brings together the precious reflections of previous Magisterial texts and a long history that goes back to the Sacred Scriptures, in order to re-propose today, to the whole Church, this devotion imbued with spiritual beauty. I believe it will do us great good to meditate on various aspects of the Lord’s love, which can illuminate the path of ecclesial renewal, and say something meaningful to a world that seems to have lost its heart. I ask you to accompany me with prayer, during this time of preparation, with the intention of making this document public next September.

Lastly, my thoughts turn to young people, to the sick, to the elderly and to newlyweds. The feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the memory of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which the Church is getting ready to celebrate in the next few days, remind us of the need to correspond to Christ’s redemptive love, and they invite us to entrust ourselves confidently to the intercession of the Mother of the Lord.

Let us ask the Lord, through his mother’s intercession, for peace. Peace in martyred Ukraine, peace in Palestine, in Israel, peace in Myanmar. Let us pray that the Lord may grant us the gift of peace and that the world will not suffer so much because of wars. May the Lord bless us all! Amen.

I give you all my blessing!