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The Holy Spirit: Light of the Soul

General Audience — April 24, 1991

The spiritual life needs enlightenment and guidance. For this reason, in establishing the Church and sending the apostles into the world, Jesus entrusted to them the task of teaching all nations, as we read in the Gospel according to Matthew (cf. 28:19-20), and also of "proclaiming the Gospel to every creature," as the canonical text of Mark's Gospel says (16:15). St. Paul, too, speaks of the apostolate as an "enlightenment of all" (Eph 3:9).

But the Church's work of evangelizing and teaching belongs to the ministry of the apostles and their successors, and in a different way, to all the members of the Church. It is to continue for all time the work of Christ, the "one Teacher" (Mt 23:8), who has brought to humanity the fullness of God's revelation. There is still the need for an interior teacher who penetrates the human heart and spirit with Jesus' teaching. This is the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus himself calls the "Spirit of truth," and whom he promises as the one who will guide them to all truth (cf. Jn 14:17; 16:13). If Jesus has said to himself: "I am the truth" (Jn 14:6), the Holy Spirit makes this truth of Christ known and spreads it: "He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears...he will take from what is mine and declare it to you" (Jn 16:13-14). The Spirit is the light of the soul: Lumen cordium, as we call him in the sequence of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit was a light and interior teacher for the apostles, who had to know Christ in depth to be able to fulfill their task as his evangelizers. He was and is the same for the Church, and in the Church, for believers of every generation, and in a particular way, for theologians and spiritual directors, for catechists and those responsible for Christian communities. He was and is the same for all inside or outside the visible boundaries of the Church who want to follow the ways of God with a sincere heart and, without fault of their own, do not find someone to help them solve the riddle of life and discover revealed truth. May the Lord grant all our brothers and sisters—millions and even billions of human beings—the grace of acceptance and docility to the Holy Spirit in what can be the decisive moments of their life.

For us Christians, the interior teaching of the Holy Spirit is a joyous certitude. It is founded on the word of Christ about the coming of "another Advocate," whom he said "the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you" (Jn 14:26). "He will guide you to all truth" (Jn 16:13).

One can conclude from this text that Jesus did not entrust his word only to the memory of his listeners. This memory would be assisted by the Holy Spirit, who would continually revive in the apostles a recollection of the events and the meaning of the Gospel mysteries.

The Holy Spirit has guided the apostles in handing on the word and life of Jesus. The Spirit inspired both their oral preaching and their writings, as well as the editing of the Gospels, as we have seen in the catechesis on the Holy Spirit and revelation.

He also helps the readers of Scripture to understand the divine meaning within the text, of which he is the inspiration and the principal author. He alone enables one to know "the depths of God" (1 Cor 2:10) which are contained in the sacred text. It was he who was sent to instruct the disciples in the teachings of their Master (cf. Jn 16:13).

The apostles themselves, the first to hand on the word of Christ, speak of this interior teaching of the Holy Spirit. St. John writes: "But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One [Christ], and you all have knowledge. I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth" (1 Jn 2:20-21). According to the Fathers of the Church and the majority of contemporary exegetes, this "anointing" (chrisma) signifies the Holy Spirit. St. John even states that those who live according to the Spirit do not need other teachers: "As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him" (1 Jn 2:27).

Even the Apostle Paul speaks of an understanding according to the Spirit which is not the fruit of human wisdom, but of divine enlightenment: "Now the natural person (psychikòs), however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone" (1 Cor 2:14-15).

Christians, therefore, having received the Holy Spirit, the anointing of Christ, possess in themselves a source of knowledge of the truth, and the Holy Spirit is the sovereign teacher who enlightens and guides them.

If they are docile and faithful to his divine teaching, the Holy Spirit preserves them from error by giving them victory in the continual struggle between the "spirit of truth" and the "spirit of deceit" (cf. 1 Jn 4:6). The spirit of deceit which does not acknowledge Christ (cf. 1 Jn 4:3) is spread by the "false prophets" who are always present in the world, even among Christian people, with an activity that is sometimes open and even sensational, or sometimes underhanded and sly. Like Satan, they too sometimes masquerade as "angels of light" (cf. 2 Cor 11:14) and present themselves with apparent charisms of prophetic and apocalyptic inspiration. This already occurred in apostolic times. For this reason, St. John warns: "Do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 Jn 4:1). The Holy Spirit, as Vatican II recalls (cf. LG 12), protects the Christian from error by enabling him to discern what is genuine from what is false. The Christian will always need good criteria to discern the things he hears or reads in matters of religion, Sacred Scripture, manifestations of the supernatural, etc. These criteria are conformity to the Gospel, harmony with the teaching of the Church established and set by Christ to preach his truth, the moral conduct of the person speaking or writing and the fruits of holiness which result from what is presented or proposed.

The Holy Spirit teaches the Christian the truth as a principle of life. He shows the concrete application of Jesus' words in each one's life. He enables one to discover the contemporary value of the Gospel for all human situations. He adapts the understanding of the truth to every circumstance, so that this truth does not remain merely abstract and speculative, but frees the Christian from the dangers of duplicity and hypocrisy.

To this end, the Holy Spirit enlightens each one personally, to guide him in his conduct, by showing him the way to go and by giving him just a glimpse of the Father's plan for his life. St. Paul seeks this great grace of light for the Colossians: "the spiritual understanding" which can enable them to understand the divine will. In fact, he assures them: "We do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his [God's] will through all wisdom and spiritual understanding, to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit..." (Col 1:9-10). For all of us this grace of light is necessary to have a good knowledge of God's will for us and to be able to live our personal vocation fully.

Problems are never lacking and they sometimes seem insoluble. But the Holy Spirit helps us in our difficulties and gives us light. He can reveal the divine solution, as he did at the time of the annunciation in regard to the problem of reconciling motherhood with the desire for preserving one's virginity. Even when it is a question of a unique mystery such as the role of Mary in the Incarnation of the Word, the Holy Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity, proper to the divine mind, which knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs, even the most complex and inscrutable.

All of this is given and accomplished in the soul by the Holy Spirit through his gifts, the graces which one can carefully discern, not according to the criteria of human wisdom, which is foolishness in God's sight, but with that divine wisdom which can seem foolishness in the eyes of men (cf. 1 Cor 1:18-25). Only the Holy Spirit "scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God" (1 Cor 2:10-11). And if there is opposition between the spirit of the world and the Spirit of God, Paul reminds Christians: "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God" (1 Cor 2:12). Unlike the "natural person," the "spiritual person" (pneumatikòs) is sincerely open to the Holy Spirit, docile and faithful to his inspirations (cf. 1 Cor 2:14-16). Thus, he habitually possesses the ability to make right judgments under the guidance of divine wisdom.

A sign that our discernment is in real contact with the Holy Spirit is and will always be adherence to revealed truth as it is proposed by the Church's Magisterium. The interior teacher does not inspire dissent, disobedience or even merely an unjustified resistance to the pastors and teachers established by him in the Church (cf. Acts 20:29). It belongs to the Church's authority, as the Council said in the Constitution Lumen Gentium (n. 12), to "not quench the Spirit, but to test everything and retain what is good" (cf. 1 Thess 5:12; 19-21). This is the direction of ecclesial and pastoral wisdom which also comes from the Holy Spirit.