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In the last words of the Gospel that we have just heard, Jesus says something that can give us hope and cause us to reflect. He said to his disciples: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything I have told you (Jn 14:26).
“All”, “everything” – these words are striking; they make us wonder: how does the Spirit give this new and complete understanding to those who receive it? It is not a question of quantity, nor of an academic question: God does not want to make us encyclopedias or polymaths. No. It is a question of quality, of perspective, of perception. The Spirit makes us see everything in a new way, with the eyes of Jesus. I would put it this way: in the great journey of life, the Spirit teaches us where to start, which paths to take and how to walk.
First, where to start. The Spirit shows us the starting point of spiritual life. What is that? Jesus speaks of this in the first verse of the Gospel, when he says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (v. 15). If you love me, you will keep…. This is the “logic” of the Spirit. We tend to think just the opposite: if we keep the commandments, we will love Jesus. We tend to think that love comes from our custody, loyalty, and devotion.
“The Holy Spirit is an active memory; he constantly revives the love of God in our hearts. We have experienced his presence in the forgiveness of our sins, in times when we are filled with his peace, freedom and consolation.
Yet the Spirit reminds us that without love as the basis, all else is in vain. And this love does not come so much from our abilities, but from his gift. He teaches us to love and we must ask for this gift. The Spirit of love pours love into our hearts, makes us feel loved and teaches us to love. He is the “engine” of our spiritual life. He started it in us. But if we don’t start with the Spirit, or with the Spirit, or by the Spirit, we won’t get anywhere.
The Spirit himself reminds us of this, for he is the memory of God, the one who reminds us of everything Jesus said (cf. v. 26). The Holy Spirit is an active memory; he constantly revives the love of God in our hearts. We have experienced his presence in the forgiveness of our sins, in times when we are filled with his peace, freedom and consolation. It is essential to cherish this spiritual memory. We always remember things that are wrong; we listen to the voice within us that reminds us of our failings and failures, the voice that keeps saying, “Listen, yet another failure, yet another disappointment.
You will never succeed; you can’t do it.” That’s a terrible thing to say. Yet the Holy Spirit tells us something completely different. He reminds us, “Have you fallen? You are a son or daughter of God. You are an only child, chosen, precious and loved. Even when you lose confidence in yourself, God has confidence in you! It is the “memory” of the Spirit, what the Spirit constantly reminds us of: God knows you. You can forget God, but he does not forget you. He always remembers you.
However, you may well object: these are fine words, but I have problems, hurts and worries that cannot be solved by easy words of comfort! Now it is precisely there that the Holy Spirit asks you to let him enter. For he, the Comforter, is the Spirit of healing, of resurrection, who can transform the burning wounds within you. He teaches us not to harbor the memory of all those people and situations that have hurt us, but to let him purify those memories with his presence. That’s what he did with the apostles and their failures. They had abandoned Jesus before the Passion; Peter had denied him; Paul had persecuted Christians. We also think about our own mistakes. How many of them, and so much guilt! Left to themselves, they had no way out. Left to themselves, no. But with the Comforter, yes.
Because the Spirit heals memories. How? By putting at the top of the list what really matters: the memory of God’s love, his look of love. In this way, he puts order in our lives. He teaches us to accept ourselves, to forgive ourselves and to forgive ourselves; it teaches us to reconcile ourselves with the past. And start fresh.
In addition to reminding us where to start, the Spirit teaches us the paths to take. We see this in the second reading, where Saint Paul explains that those “led by the Spirit of God” (Rom 8:14) “do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (v. 4).
“The Holy Spirit corrects you; he makes you weep for your sins; it pushes you to change, to fight against your lies and deceptions, even when it takes hard work, inner struggle and sacrifice.
The Spirit, at every crossroads in our lives, suggests the best path for us to follow. It is therefore important to be able to distinguish his voice from the voice of the evil spirit. Both speak to us: we must learn to distinguish the voice of the Spirit, be able to recognize this voice and follow its direction, follow the things it tells us.
Consider a few examples. The Holy Spirit will never tell you that on your journey everything is going well. He will never tell you, because it is not true. No, he corrects you; he makes you weep for your sins; it pushes you to change, to fight against your lies and deceptions, even when it takes hard work, inner struggle and sacrifice.
The evil spirit, on the contrary, pushes you to always do what you want, what pleases you. It makes you think you have the right to use your freedom as you see fit. Then, once you feel empty inside – and how many of us have experienced that terrible feeling of emptiness! – then he blames you and knocks you down. The evil spirit blames you, it becomes the accuser. It knocks you down and destroys you. The Holy Spirit, correcting you on the way, never leaves you lying on the ground: He takes you by the hand, comforts you and encourages you constantly.
Then again, whenever you feel troubled by bitterness, pessimism and negativity – how many times have we fallen into this! – then it is good to remember that these things never come from the Holy Spirit. Bitterness, pessimism, sad thoughts, never come from the Holy Spirit. They come from evil, which is comfortable with negativity. He often uses this strategy: he stirs up impatience and self-pity, and with self-pity the need to blame others for all our problems. It makes us angry, suspicious, grouchy. Complaining is the language of the evil spirit; he wants to make you feel sorry, to be gloomy, to put on a funereal face. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, urges us never to be discouraged and to always start over.
He always encourages you to get up. He takes you by the hand and says, “Get up! How do we do that? By jumping in, without waiting for someone else. And by spreading hope and joy, not complaints; never envy others. Never! Envy is the door through which the evil spirit enters. The Bible tells us this: through the envy of the devil, evil entered the world. So never be envious! The Holy Spirit brings you good; it causes you to rejoice in the success of others.
The Holy Spirit is practical, not idealistic. He wants us to focus on the here and now, because the time and place we find ourselves in are themselves filled with grace. These are the concrete times and places of grace, here and now. This is where the Holy Spirit leads us. The spirit of evil, however, would take us away from the here and now and place us somewhere else. Often it anchors us to the past: to our regrets, our nostalgia, our disappointments. Or it points us towards the future, fueling our fears, our illusions and our false hopes. But not the Holy Spirit. The Spirit leads us to love, concretely, here and now, not an ideal world or an ideal Church, an ideal religious congregation, but the real ones, as they are, seen in broad daylight, with transparency and simplicity. How very different from the evil one, which foments useless gossip and chatter. Unnecessary chatter is a bad habit; it destroys a person’s identity.
The Holy Spirit wants us to be together; he makes us the Church and today – here is the third and last aspect – he teaches the Church how to walk. The disciples hunkered down in the Cenacle; then the Spirit came down and brought them out. Without the Spirit, they were alone, alone, crowded together. With the Spirit, they were open to everyone. In each era, the Spirit overturns our preconceived ideas and opens us to its novelty.
“We must remember this: the Spirit rejuvenates the Church. Not us and our efforts to dress it up a bit. Because the Church cannot be “programmed” and any effort of “modernization” is not enough.
God, the Spirit, is always new! He constantly teaches the Church the vital importance of moving forward, moved to share the gospel. The importance of our being, not a safe fold, but an open pasture where all can graze on the beauty of God. He teaches us to be an open house without dividing walls. The worldly mind drives us to focus on our own problems and interests, on our need to appear relevant, on our fierce defense of the nation or group to which we belong. This is not the way of the Holy Spirit. It invites you to forget yourself and open your heart to everyone. In this way he rejuvenates the Church. We must remember this: the Spirit rejuvenates the Church. Not us and our efforts to dress it up a bit. Because the Church does not “program” itself and any effort of “modernization” is not enough. The Spirit frees us from the obsession with emergencies. He invites us to follow his paths, always old and always new, the paths of witness, of poverty and of mission, and thus he frees us from ourselves and sends us out into the world.
And finally, strangely, the Holy Spirit is the author of the division, of the heckling, of a certain disorder. Think of the morning of Pentecost: he is the author of it… he creates the division of languages and attitudes… it was heckling, that! Yet, at the same time, he is the author of harmony. It divides with the variety of charisms, but it is a false division, because true division is part of harmony. He creates division with the charisms and he creates harmony with all this division. This is the wealth of the Church.
Brothers and sisters, let us sit in the school of the Holy Spirit, so that he may teach us all things. Let us invoke him every day, so that he reminds us to make God’s gaze on us our starting point, to make decisions by listening to his voice and to walk together in the Church, docile to him and open to the world. Amen.