Lenten SermonVATICAN CITYMARCH 27, 2009Excerpt:
Up to now we have dealt with the conscience, the first area in which guidance of the Holy Spirit is exercised. There is a second area, which is the Church. The internal witness of the Holy Spirit should be combined with the external, visible and objective witness, which is the apostolic magisterium. In the book of Revelation, at the end of each of the seven letters, we hear the admonishment: "Let anyone who can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches" (Revelation 2:7).
The Spirit also speaks to the churches and the communities, not just to individuals. In the Acts of the Apostles St. Peter brings the two testimonies of the Holy Spirit together, the interior and exterior, the personal and the public. He has just finished speaking to the crowd about Christ put to death and resurrected, and they feel "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). He spoke the same words in front of the heads of the Sanhedrin, and they became irate (cfr. Acts 4:8). The same words, the same preacher, but an entirely different effect. How could this be? The explanation is found in these words that the Apostle said at that time: "We are witnesses to this, we and the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him." (Acts 5:32)
The two testimonies need to come together so that the faith can flower: the apostle's who proclaims the word and the Holy Spirit's that allows it to be accepted. The same idea is expressed in the gospel of John, when, speaking about the Paraclete, Jesus says: "he will be my witness. And you too will be witnesses" (John 15:26).
It is just as deadly to try to forego either of the two guides of the Spirit. When the interior testimony is neglected, we easily fall into legalism and authoritarianism; when the exterior, apostolic testimony is neglected, we fall into subjectivism and fanaticism. In ancient times the Gnostics refused the apostolic, official testimony. St. Irenaeus wrote these famous words in apposition to them:
"For this gift of God has been entrusted to the Church, as breath was to the first created man… of which all those are not partakers who do not join themselves to the Church… Alienated thus from the truth, they do deservedly wallow in all error, tossed to and fro by it, thinking differently in regard to the same things at different times, and never attaining to a well-grounded knowledge".
When everything is reduced to just the personal, private listening to the Spirit, the path is opened to a unstoppable process of division and subdivision, because everyone believe they are right. And the very division and multiplication of denominations and sects, often contrasting each other in their essential points, demonstrates that the same Spirit of truth in speaking cannot be in all, because otherwise he would be contradicting himself.Full sermon Image