Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hieromartyr Hypatius, Bishop of Gangra, March 30

Hieromartyr Hypatius, Bishop of Gangra, was bishop of the city of Gangra in Paphlagonia (Asia Minor). In the year 325 he participated in the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea, at which the heresy of Arius was anathematized.

Born in Cilicia, he was bishop in the town of Gangra. At the First Ecumenical Council, he was lauded on all sides for his devout life and miracles. The Emperor Constantius ordered a bust of Hypatius to be made in the saint's lifetime, and he kept this bust in his palace as a weapon against every adverse power.

When St Hypatius was returning in 326 from Constantinople to Gangra, followers of the schismatics Novatus and Felicissimus fell upon him in a gorge and he was pushed off the road into the mud. The heretics also ran him through with swords and spears. On top of that, a woman of that company threw a rock at his head, and the saint thus finished his earthly course. But this woman suddenly went insane, and, taking the same rock, began to strike herself with it. When they brought her to the grave of St Hypatius and prayed for her, she was healed by Hypatius's compassionate spirit and spent the rest of her life in repentance and prayer

Like the Protomartyr Stephen, St Hypatius prayed for his murderers. The murderers hid his body in a cave, where a Christian who kept straw there found his body. Recognizing the bishop's body, he hastened to the city to report this, and the inhabitants of Gangra piously buried their beloved archpastor.

After his death, the relics of St Hypatius were famous for numerous miracles, particularly for casting out demons and for healing the sick.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

St. Maria Goretti

Saint Maria Goretti (October 16, 1890 – July 6, 1902) is an Italian Roman Catholic Virgin Martyr saint. She is one of the youngest saints of the Roman Catholic Church. She was martyred after dying from multiple stab wounds, inflicted by her attempted rapist after she refused him because of love of Jesus and her loyalty to God's commandments.


Early life

St. Maria Goretti was born "Maria Teresa Goretti" in the year 1890 in Corinaldo, in the Province of Ancona, then the Kingdom of Italy. She was the third out of six children. By the time she was six, her family had become so poor that they were forced to give up their farm, move, and work for other farmers. Soon, Maria's father became very sick. Luigi Goretti died when Maria was nine. While her brother, mother and sisters worked in the fields, Maria would cook, sew, and keep the house clean. It was a hard life, but the family was very close. They shared a deep love for God and the Faith. She and her family moved to Le Ferriere di Conca, near modern Latina and Nettuno in Lazio, where they lived in a building they shared with another family, the Serenellis.

Maria's martyrdom

On July 5, 1902, finding eleven-year old Maria alone sewing, Alessandro Serenelli came in and threatened her with death if she did not do as he said. She would not submit, however, protesting that what he wanted to do was a mortal sin and warning Alessandro that he would go to Hell . Alessandro at first choked Maria, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times. The injured yet still-living Maria tried to reach for the door, but Alessandro stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away.

Maria's little sister Teresa awoke with the noise and started crying, and when Serenelli's father and Maria's mother came to check on the little girl, they found the bleeding Maria and took her to the nearest hospital in Nettuno. She underwent surgery without anesthesia, but her injuries were already beyond anything the doctors could do. Halfway throughout the surgery, Maria woke up. She insisted that it stay that way. The pharmacist of the hospital in which she died asked her, "Maria, think of me in Paradise." She looked to the old man: "Well, who knows, which of us is going to be there first." "You Maria," he replied. "Then I will gladly think of you," Maria said with a smile. The following day, twenty hours after the attack, having expressed forgiveness for her murderer and stating that she wanted to have him in Heaven with her, Maria died of her injuries.

Serenelli's imprisonment and repentance

Alessandro Serenelli was captured shortly after Maria's death. Originally, he was going to be sentenced to death, but since he was a minor at that time the sentence was commuted for 30 years in prison. He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world, for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini visited him in jail. Serenelli wrote a thank you note to the Bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream, "in which Maria Goretti gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands."

After his release, Alessandro Serenelli visited Maria's still-living mother, Assunta, and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her deathbed then she couldn't do less, and they attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side. Alessandro reportedly prayed every day to Maria Goretti and referred to her as "my little saint."

Serenelli later became a Capuchin laybrother, living in a convent and working as its receptionist and gardener, until dying peacefully in the year 1970.

Beatification and canonization

On the evening of the beatification ceremonies in Saint Peter's, April 27, 1947, Pope Pius XII walked over to the mother of Maria Goretti, nicknamed "Mamma Assunta" by her neighbors. She almost fainted. "When I saw the Pope coming, I prayed, Madonna, please help me. He put his hand on my head and said, blessed mother, happy mother, mother of a Blessed!" They both had eyes wet with tears.

Three years later on June 24, 1950, Pope Pius XII canonized Blessed Maria Goretti as a Virgin and Martyr saint, the "Saint Agnes of the 20th century." Mamma Assunta was again present at the ceremony, along with her four remaining sons and daughters. She was the first mother ever to attend the canonization ceremony of her child. Alessandro Serenelli, her repentant murderer, was also present at the canonization.

Owing to the huge crowd present, the ceremonies associated with the canonization of Blessed Maria Goretti were held outside of the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Piazza San Pietro on June 24, 1950. Pope Pius XII spoke, not as before in Latin, but in Italian. "We order and declare, that the blessed Maria Goretti can be venerated as a Saint and We introduce her into the Canon of Saints." Some 500,000 people, among them a majority of youth, had come from around the World. Pope Pius XII asked them:

"Young people, pleasure of the eyes of Jesus, are you determined to resist any attack on your chastity with the help of grace of God?"
A resounding "yes" was the answer.

Feast day

Saint Maria Goretti's feast day, celebrated on 6 July, was inserted in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints for the first time when it was revised in 1969. It was not in the General Roman Calendar of 1962.

In art

St Maria Goretti is represented in art as a wavy-haired young girl in farmer clothes or a white dress, with a bouquet of lilies in her hands, and she is sometimes counted among the ranks of the Passionist order since her spiritual formation was guided by the Passionists.

Papal honors for Maria Goretti

Pope Pius XII was not the only Pope who had high praise for the Saint. While most saints are often left to local care after their canonization, St Maria Goretti received two Papal visits to her shrine. On September 14, 1969, Pope Paul VI visited her shrine in Nettuno and honored her with these words:

"The value of Christian virtue is so great, so overwhelming, so imperative, that it is worth more than life. Purity is not just a separate part of our being. It belongs to our existence as a whole, it is essential for our life. Purity brings us in harmony of body and soul."

Ten years later, on September 1, 1979, Pope John Paul II honored St Maria Goretti with a visit and spoke before thousands of faithful:

"Maria Goretti, so illuminating with her spiritual beauty, challenges us to a firm and secure faith in the Word of God, as the only source of truth, to remain firm against the temptations of this world."

"Young people, look at Maria Goretti, don’t be tempted by the tempting atmosphere of our permissive society, which declares, everything is possible. Look to Maria Goretti, love, live, defend your chastity."

"Young people, don’t be afraid to carry the torch of your life, light and ideals into modern society."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast

In thee, O Mother, was exactly preserved what was according to the divine image. for thou didst take the cross and follow Christ, and by thy life, didst teach us to ignore the flesh, since it is transitory, but to care for the soul as an immortal thing. Therefore, thy spirit, St. Mary, rejoices with the Angels.

Having escaped the fog of sin, and having illumined thy heart with the light of penitence, O glorious one, thou didst come to Christ and didst offer to Him His immaculate and holy Mother as a merciful intercessor. Hence thou hast found remission of transgressions, and with the Angels thou ever rejoicest.

Born probably about 344; died about 421. At the early age of twelve Mary left her home and came to Alexandria, where for upwards
of seventeen years she led a life of public prostitution. At the end of that time, on the occasion of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, she embarked for Palestine, not however with the intention of making the pilgrimage, but in the hope that life on board ship would afford her new and abundant opportunities of gratifying an insatiable lust. Arrived in Jerusalem she persisted in her shameless life, and on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross joined the crowds towards the church where the sacred relic was venerated, hoping to meet in the gathering some new victims whom she might allure into sin. And now came the turning-point in her career. When she reached the church door, she suddenly felt herself repelled by some secret force, and having vainly attempted three or four times to enter, she retired to a corner of thechurchyard, and was struck with remorse for her wicked life, which she recognized as the cause of her exclusion from the church. Bursting into bitter tears and beating her breast, she began to bewail her sins. Just then her eyes fell upon a statue of the Blessed Virgin above the spot where she was standing, and in deep faith and humility of heart she besought Our Lady for help, and permission to enter the church and venerate the sacred wood on which Jesus had suffered, promising that if her request were granted, she would then renounce forever the world and its ways, and forthwith depart whithersoever Our Lady might lead her. Encouraged by prayer and counting on the mercy of the Mother of God, she once more approached the door of the church, and this time succeeded in entering without the slightest difficulty. Having adored the Holy Cross and kissed the pavement of the church, she returned to Our Lady's statue, and while praying there for guidance as to her future course, she seemed to hear a voice from afar telling her that if she crossed the Jordan, she would find rest. That same evening Mary reached the Jordan and received Holy Communion in a church dedicated to the Baptist, and the day following crossed the river and wandered eastward into the desert that stretches towards Arabia. Here she had lived absolutely alone for forty-seven years, subsisting apparently on herbs, when a priest and monk, named Zosimus, who after the custom of his brethren had come out from his monastery to spend Lent in the desert, met her and learned from her own lips the strange and romantic story of her life. As soon as they met, she called Zosimus by his name and recognized him as a priest. After they had conversed and prayed together, she begged Zosimus to promise to meet her at the Jordan on Holy Thursday evening of the following year and bring with him the Blessed Sacrament. When the appointed evening arrived, Zosimus, we are told, put into a small chalice a portion of the undefiled Body and the precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ (P.L. LXXIII, 686; "Mittens in modico calice intemerati corporis portionem et pretiosi sanguinis D.N.J.C." But the reference to both species is less clear in Acta SS., IX, 82: "Accipiens parvum poculum intemerati corporis ac venerandi sanguinis Christi Dei nostri"), and came to the spot that had been indicated. After some time Mary appeared on the eastern bank of the river, and having made the sign of the cross, walked upon the waters to the western side. Having received Holy Communion, she raised her hands towards heaven, and cried aloud in the words of Simeon: "Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace, because my eyes have seen thy salvation". She then charged Zosimus to come in the course of a year to the spot where he had first met her in the desert, adding that he would find her then in what condition God might ordain. He came, but only to find the poor saint's corpse, and written beside it on the ground a request that he should bury her, and a statement that she had died a year before, on the very night on which he had given her Holy Communion, far away by the Jordan's banks. Aided, we are told, by a lion, he prepared her grave and buried her, and having commended himself and the Church to her prayers, he returned to his monastery, where now for the first time he recounted the wondrous story of her life. The saint's life was written not very long after her death by one who states that he learned the details from the monks of the monastery to which Zosimus had belonged. Many authorities mention St. Sophronius, who became Patriarch of Jerusalem in 635, as the author; but as the Bollandists give good reasons for believing that the Life was written before 500, we may conclude that it is from some other hand. The date of the saint is somewhat uncertain. The Bollandists place her death on 1 April, 421, while many other authorities put it a century later. The Greek Church celebrates her feast on 1 April, while the Roman Martyrology assigns it to 2 April, and the Roman Calendar to 3 April. The Greek date is more likely to be correct; the others may be due to the fact that on those days portions of her relics reached the West. Relics of the saint are venerated at Rome, Naples, Cremona, Antwerp, and some other places.



"It is good to hide the secret of a king, but it is glorious to reveal and preach the works of God" (Tobit 12:7) So said the Archangel Raphael to Tobit when he performed the wonderful healing of his blindness. Actually, not to keep the secret of a king is perilous and a terrible risk, but to be silent about the works of God is a great loss for the soul. And I (says St. Saphronius), in writing the life of St. Mary of Egypt, am afraid to hide the works of God by silence. Remembering the misfortune threatened to the servant who hid his God-given talent in the earth (Mat. 25:18-25), I am bound to pass on the holy account that has reached me. And let no one think (continues St. Saphronius) that I have had the audacity to write untruth or doubt this great marvel --may I never lie about holy things! If there do happen to be people who, after reading this record, do not believe it, may the Lord have mercy on them because, reflecting on the weakness of human nature, they consider impossible these wonderful things accomplished by holy people. But now we must begin to tell this most amazing story, which has taken place in our generation.

There was a certain elder in one of the monasteries of Palestine, a priest of the holy life and speech, who from childhood had been brought up in monastic ways and customs. This elder's name was Zosimas. He had been through the whole course of the ascetic life and in everything he adhered to the rule once given to him by his tutors as regard spiritual labours. he had also added a good deal himself whilst labouring to subject his flesh to the will of the spirit. And he had not failed in his aim. He was so renowned for his spiritual life that many came to him from neighboring monasteries and some even from afar. While doing all this, he never ceased to study the Divine Scriptures. Whether resting, standing, working or eating food (if the scraps he nibbled could be called food), he incessantly and constantly had a single aim: always to sing of God, and to practice the teaching of the Divine Scriptures. Zosimas used to relate how, as soon as he was taken from his mother's breast, he was handed over to the monastery where he went through his training as an ascetic till he reached the age of 53. After that, he began to be tormented with the thought that he was perfect in everything and needed no instruction from anyone, saying to himself mentally, "Is there a monk on earth who can be of use to me and show me a kind of asceticism that I have not accomplished? Is there a man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?"

Thus thought the elder, when suddenly an angel appeared to him and said:

"Zosimas, valiantly have you struggled, as far as this is within the power of man, valiantly have you gone through the ascetic course. But there is no man who has attained perfection. Before you lie unknown struggles greater than those you have already accomplished. That you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land like the renowned patriarch Abraham and go to the monastery by the River Jordan."

Zosimas did as he was told. he left the monastery in which he had lived from childhood, and went to the River Jordan. At last he reached the community to which God had sent him. Having knocked at the door of the monastery, he told the monk who was the porter who he was; and the porter told the abbot. On being admitted to the abbot's presence, Zosimas made the usual monastic prostration and prayer. Seeing that he was a monk the abbot asked:

"Where do you come from, brother, and why have you come to us poor old men?"

Zosimas replied:

"There is no need to speak about where I have come from, but I have come, father, seeking spiritual profit, for I have heard great things about your skill in leading souls to God."

"Brother," the abbot said to him, "Only God can heal the infirmity of the soul. May He teach you and us His divine ways and guide us. But as it is the love of Christ that has moved you to visit us poor old men, then stay with us, if that is why you have come. May the Good Shepherd Who laid down His life for our salvation fill us all with the grace of the Holy Spirit."

After this, Zosimas bowed to the abbot, asked for his prayers and blessing, and stayed in the monastery. There he saw elders proficient both in action and the contemplation of God, aflame in spirit, working for the Lord. They sang incessantly, they stood in prayer all night, work was ever in their hands and psalms on their lips. Never an idle word was heard among them, they know nothing about acquiring temporal goods or the cares of life. But they had one desire -- to become in body like corpses. Their constant food was the Word of God, and they sustained their bodies on bread and water, as much as their love for God allowed them Seeing this, Zosimas was greatly edified and prepared for the struggle that lay before him.

Many days passed and the time drew near when all Christians fast and prepare themselves to worship the Divine Passion and Ressurection of Christ. The monastery gates were kept always locked and only opened when one of the community was sent out on some errand. It was a desert place, not only unvisited by people of the world but even unknown to them.

There was a rule in that monastery which was the reason why God brought Zosimas there. At the beginning of the Great Fast [on Forgiveness Sunday] the priest celebrated the holy Liturgy and all partook of the holy body and blood of Christ. After the Liturgy they went to the refectory and would eat a little lenten food.

Then all gathered in church, and after praying earnestly with prostrations, the elders kissed one another and asked forgiveness. And each made a prostration to the abbot and asked his blessing and prayers for the struggle that lay before them. After this, the gates of the monastery were thrown open, and singing, "The Lord is my light and my Savior; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 26:1) and the rest of that psalm, all went out into the desert and crossed the River Jordan. Only one or two brothers were left in the monastery, not to guard the property (for there was nothing to rob), but so as not to leave the church without Divine Service. Each took with him as much as he could or wanted in the way of food, according to the needs of his body: one would take a little bread, another some figs, another dates or wheat soaked in water. And some took nothing but their own body covered with rags and fed when nature forced them to it on the plants that grew in the desert.

After crossing the Jordan, they all scattered far and wide in different directions. And this was the rule of life they had, and which they all observed -- neither to talk to one another, nor to know how each one lived and fasted. If they did happen to catch sight of one another, they went to another part of the country, living alone and always singing to God, and at a definite time eating a very small quantity of food. In this way they spent the whole of the fast and used to return to the monastery a week before the Resurrection of Christ, on Palm Sunday. Each one returned having his own conscience as the witness of his labour, and no one asked another how he had spent his time in the desert. Such were rules of the monastery. Everyone of them whilst in the desert struggled with himself before the Judge of the struggle -- God -- not seeking to please men and fast before the eyes of all. For what is done for the sake of men, to win praise and honour, is not only useless to the one who does it but sometimes the cause of great punishment.

Zosimas did the same as all. And he went far, far into the desert with a secret hope of finding some father who might be living there and who might be able to satisfy his thirst and longing. And he wandered on tireless, as if hurrying on to some definite place. He had already waled for 20 days and when the 6th hour came he stopped and, turning to the East, he began to sing the sixth Hour and recite the customary prayers. He used to break his journey thus at fixed hours of the day to rest a little, to chant psalms standing and to pray on bent knees.

And as he sang thus without turning his eyes from the heavens, he suddenly saw to the right of the hillock on which he stood the semblance of a human body. At first he was confused thinking he beheld a vision of the devil, and even started with fear. But, having guarded himself with he sign of the Cross and banished all fear, he turned his gaze in that direction and in truth saw some form gliding southwards. It was naked, the skin dark as if burned up by the heat of the sun; the hair on its head was white as a fleece, and not long, falling just below its neck. Zosimas was so overjoyed at beholding a human form that he ran after it in pursuit, but re form fled from him. He followed. At length, when he was near enough to be heard, he shouted:

"Why do you run from an old man and a sinner? Slave of the True God, wait for me, whoever you are, in God's name I tell you, for the love of God for Whose sake you are living in the desert."

"Forgive me for God's sake, but I cannot turn towards you and show you my face, Abba Zosimas. For I am a woman and naked as you see with the uncovered shame of my body. But if you would like to fulfil one wish of a sinful woman, throw me your cloak so that I can cover my body and can turn to you and ask for your blessing."

Here terror seized Zosimas, for he heard that she called him by name. But he realized that she could not have done so without knowing anything of him if she had not had the power of spiritual insight.

He at once did as he was asked. He took off his old, tattered cloak and threw it to her, turning away as he did so. she picked it up and was able to cover at least a part of her body. The she turned to Zosimas and said:

"Why did you wish, Abba Zosimas, to see a sinful woman? What do you wish to hear or learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great struggles?"

Zosimas threw himself on the ground and asked for her blessing. She likewise bowed down before him. And thus they lay on the ground prostrate asking for each other's blessing. And one word alone could be heard from both: "Bless me!" After a long while the woman said to Zosimas:

"Abba Zosimas, it is you who must give blessing and pray. You are dignified by the order of priesthood and for may years you have been standing before the holy altar and offering the sacrifice of the Divine Mysteries."

This flung Zosimas into even greater terror. At length with tears he said to her:

"O mother, filled with he spirit, by your mode of life it is evident that you live with God and have died to the world. The Grace granted to you is apparent -- for you have called me by name and recognized that I am a priest, though you have never seen me before. Grace is recognized not by one's orders, but by gifts of the Spirit, so give me your blessing for God's sake, for I need your prayers."

Then giving way before the wish of the elder the woman said:

"Blessed is God Who cares for the salvation of men and their souls."

Zosimas answered:


And both rose to their feet. Then the woman asked the elder:

"Why have you come, man of God, to me who am so sinful? Why do you wish to see a woman naked an devoid of every virtue? Though I know one thing -- the Grace of the Holy Spirit has brought you to render me a service in time. Tell me, father, how are the Christian peoples living? And the kings? How is the Church guided?"

Zosimas said:

"By your prayers, mother, Christ has granted lasting peace to all. But fulfill the unworthy petition of an old man and pray for the whole world and for me who am a sinner, so that my wanderings in the desert may not be fruitless."

She answered:

"You who are a priest, Abba Zosimas, it is you who must pray for me and for all -- for this is your calling. But as we must all be obedient, I will gladly do what you ask."

And with these words she turned to the East, and raising her eyes to heaven and stretching out her hands, she began to pray in a whisper. One could not hear separate words, so that Zosimas could not understand anything that she said in her prayers. Meanwhile he stood, according to his own word, all in a flutter, looking at the ground without saying a word. And he swore, calling God to witness, that when at length he thought that her prayer was very long, he took his eyes off the ground and saw that she was raised bout a forearm's distance from the ground and stood praying in the air. When he saw this, even greater terror seized him and he fell on the ground weeping and repeating may times, "Lord have mercy."

And whilst lying prostrate on the ground he was tempted by a thought: Is it not a spirit, and perhaps her prayer is hypocrisy. But at the very same moment the woman turned round, raised the elder from the ground and said:

"Why do thought confuse you, Abba, and tempt you about me, as if I were a spirit and a dissember in prayer? Know, holy father, that I am only a sinful woman, though I am guarded by Holy baptism. And I am no spirit but earth and ashes, and flesh alone."

And with these words she guarded herself with the sign of the Cross on her forehead, eyes, mouth and breast, saying:

"May God defend us from the evil one and from his designs, for fierce is his struggle against us."

Hearing and seeing this, the elder fell to the ground and, embracing her feet, he said with tears:

"I beg you, by the Name of Christ our God, Who was born of a Virgin, for Whose sake you have stripped yourself, for Whose sake you have exhausted your flesh, do not hide from your slave, who you are and whence and how you came into this desert. Tell me everything so that the marvellous works of God may become known. A hidden wisdom and a secret treasure -- what profit is there in them? Tell me all, I implore you. for not out of vanity or for self-display will you speak but to reveal the truth to me, an unworthy sinner. I believe in God, for whom you live and whom you serve. I believe that He led me into this desert so as to show me His ways in regard to you. It is not in our power to resist the plans of God. If it were not the will of God that you and you r life would be known, He would not have allowed be to see you and would not have strengthened me to undertake this journey, one like me who never before dared to leave his cell."

Much more said Abba Zosimas. But the woman raised him and said:

"I am ashamed, Abba, to speak to you of my disgraceful life, forgive me for God's sake! But as you have already seen my naked body I shall likewise lay bare before you my work, so that you may know with what shame and obscenity my soul is filled. I was not running away out of vanity, as you thought, for what have I to be proud of -- I who was the chosen vessel of the devil? But when I start my story you will run from me, as from a snake, for your ears will not be able to bear the vileness of my actions. But I shall tell you all without hiding anything, only imploring you first of all to pray incessantly for me, so that I may find mercy on the day of Judgment."

The elder wept and the woman began her story.

"My native land, holy father, was Egypt. Already during the lifetime of my parents, when I was twelve years old, I renounced their love and went to Alexandria. I am ashamed to recall how there I at first ruined my maidenhood and then unrestrainedly and insatiably gave myself up to sensuality It is more becoming to speak of this briefly, so that you may just know my passion and my lechery. for about seventeen years, forgive me, I lived like that. I was like a fire of public debauch. And it was not for the sake of gain -- here I speak the pure truth. Often when they wished to pay me, I refused the money. I acted in this way so as to make as many men as possible to try to obtain me, doing free of charge what gave me pleasure. do not think that I was rich and that was the reason why I did not take money. I lived by begging, often by spinning flax, but I had an insatiable desire and an irrepressible passion for lying in filth. This was life to me. Every kind of abuse of nature I regarded as life.

That is how I lived. Then one summer I saw a large crowd of Lybians and Egyptians running towards the sea. I asked one of them, `Where are these men hurrying to?' He replied, `They are all going to Jerusalem for the Exaltation of the Precious and Lifegiving Cross, which takes place in a few days.' I said to him, `Will they take me with them if I wish to go?' `No one will hinder you if you have money to pay for the journey and for food.' And I said to him, `To tell you truth, I have no money, neither have I food. But I shall go with them and shall go aboard. And they shall feed me, whether they want to or not. I have a body -- they shall take it instead of pay for the journey.' I was suddenly filled with a desire to go, Abba, to have more lovers who could satisfy my passion. I told you, Abba Zosimas, not to force me to tell you of my disgrace. God is my witness, I am afraid of defiling you and the very air with my words."

Zosimas, weeping, replied to her:

"Speak on for God's sake, mother, speak and do not break the thread of such an edifying tale."

And, resuming her story, she went on:

"That youth, on hearing my shameless words, laughed and went off. While I, throwing away my spinning wheel, ran off towards the sea in the direction which everyone seemed to be taking. and, seeing some young men standing on the shore, about ten or more of them, full of vigour and alert in their movements, I decided that they would do for my purpose (it seemed that some of them were waiting for more travellers whilst others had gone ashore). Shamelessly, as usual, I mixed with the crowd, saying, `Take me with you to the place you are going to; you will not find me superfluous.' I also added a few more words calling forth general laughter. Seeing my readiness to be shameless, they readily took me aboard the boat. Those who were expected came also, and we set sail at once.

How shall I relate to you what happened after this? Whose tongue can tell, whose ears can take in all that took place on the boat during that voyage! And to all this I frequently forced those miserable youths even against their own will. There is no mentionable or unmentionable depravity of which I was not their teacher. I am amazed, Abba, how the sea stood our licentiousness, how the earth did not open its jaws, and how it was that hell did not swallow me alive, when I had entangled in my net so many souls. But I think God was seeking my repentance. For He does not desire the death of a sinner but magnanimously awaits his return to Him. At last we arrived in Jerusalem. I spent the days before the festival in the town, living the save kind of life, perhaps even worse. I was not content with the youths I had seduced at sea and who had helped be to get to Jerusalem; many others -- citizens of the town and foreigners -- I also seduced.

The holy day of the Exaltation of the Cross dawned while I was still flying about -- hunting for youths. At daybreak I saw that everyone was hurrying to the church, so I ran with the rest. When the hour for the holy elevation approached, I was trying to make my way in with the crowd which was struggling to get through the church doors. I ad at last squeezed through with great difficulty almost to the entrance of the temple, from which the lifegiving Tree of the Cross was being shown to the people. But when I trod on the doorstep which everyone passed, I was stopped by some force which prevented by entering. Meanwhile I was brushed aside by the crowd and found myself standing alone in the porch. Thinking that this had happened because of my woman's weakness, I again began to work my way into the crowd, trying to elbow myself forward. But in vain I struggled. Again my feet trod on the doorstep over which others were entering the church without encountering any obstacle. I alone seemed to remain unaccepted by the church. It was as if there was a detachment of soldiers standing there to oppose my entrance. Once again I was excluded by the same mighty force and again I stood in the porch.

Having repeated my attempt three or four times, at last I felt exhausted and had no more strength to push and to be puched, so I went aside and stood in a corner of the porch. And only then with great difficulty it began to dawn on me, and I began to understand the reason why I was prevented from being admitted to see the life-giving Cross. The word of salvation gently touched the eyes of my heart and revealed to me that it was my unclean life which barred the entrance to me. I began to weep and lament and beat my breast, and to sigh from the depths of my heart. And so I stood weeping when I saw above me the ikon of the most holy Mother of God. And turning to her my bodily and spiritual eyes I said:

`O Lady, Mother of God, who gave birth in the flesh to God the Word, I know, O how well I know, that it is no honour or praise to thee when one so impure and depraved as I look up to thy ikon, O ever-virgin, who didst keep thy body and soul in purity. rightly do I inspire hatred and disgust before thy virginal purity. But I have heard that God Who was born of thee became man on purpose to call sinners to repentance. Then help me, for I have no other help. Order the entrance of the church to be opened to me. Allow me to see the venerable Tree on which He Who was born of thee suffered in the flesh and on which He shed His holy Blood for the redemption of sinners an for me, unworthy as I am. Be my faithful witness before thy son that I will never again defile my body by the impurity of fornication, but as soon as I have seen the Tree of the Cross I will renounce the world and its temptations and will go wherever thou wilt lead me.'

Thus I spoke and as if acquiring some hope in firm faith and feeling some confidence in the mercy of the Mother of God, I left the place where I stood praying. And I went again and mingled with the crowd that was pushing its way into the temple. And no one seemed to thwart me, no one hindered my entering the church. I was possessed with trembling, and was almost in delirium. Having got as far as the doors which I could not reach before -- as if the same force which had hindered me cleared the way for me -- I now entered without difficulty and found myself within the holy place. And so it was I saw the lifegiving Cross. I saw too the Mysteries of God and how the Lord accepts repentance. Throwing myself on the ground, I worshipped that holy earth and kissed it with trembling. The I came out of the church and went to her who had promised to be my security, to the place where I had sealed my vow. And bending my knees before the Virgin Mother of God, I addressed to her such words as these:

`O loving Lady, thou hast shown me thy great love for all men. glory to God Who receives the repentance of sinners through thee. What more can I recollect or say, I who am so sinful? It is time for me, O Lady to fulfil my vow, according to thy witness. Now lead me by the hand along the path of repentance!' And at these words I heard a voice from on high:

`If you cross the Jordan you will find glorious rest.'

Hearing this voice and having faith that it was for me, I cried to the Mother of God:

`O Lady, Lady, do not forsake me!'

With these words I left the porch of the church and set off on my journey. As I was leaving the church a stranger glanced at me and gave me three coins, saying:

`Sister, take these.'

And, taking the money, I bought three loaves and took them with me on my journey, as a blessed gift. I asked the person who sold the bread: `Which is the way to the Jordan?' I was directed to the city gate which led that way. Running on I passed the gates and still weeping went on my journey. Those I met I asked the way, and after walking for the rest of that day (I think it was nine o'clock when I saw the Cross) I at length reached at sunset the Church of St. John the Baptist which stood on the banks of the Jordan. After praying in the temple, I went down to the Jordan and rinsed my face and hands in its holy waters. I partook of the holy and life-giving Mysteries in the Church of the Forerunner and ate half of one of my loaves. Then, after drinking some water from Jordan, I lay down and passed the night on the ground. In the morning I found a small boat and crossed to the opposite bank. I again prayed to Our Lady to lead me whither she wished. Then I found myself in this desert and since then up to this very day I am estranged from all, keeping away from people and running away from everyone. And I live here clinging to my God Who saves all who turn to Him from faintheartedness and storms."

Zosimas asked her:

"How many years have gone by since you began to live in this desert?"

She replied:

"Forty-seven years have already gone by, I think, since I left the holy city."

Zosimas asked:

"But what food do you find?"

The woman said:

"I had two and a half loaves when I crossed the Jordan. Soon they dried up and became hard as rock. Eating a little I gradually finished them after a few years."

Zosimas asked.

"Can it be that without getting ill you have lived so many years thus, without suffering in any way from such a complete change?"

The woman answered:

"You remind me, Zosimas, of what I dare not speak of. For when I recall all the dangers which I overcame, and all the violent thoughts which confused me, I am again afraid that they will take possession of me."

Zosimas said:

"Do not hide from me anything; speak to me without concealing anything."

And she said to him:

"Believe me, Abba, seventeen years I passed in this desert fighting wild beasts -- mad desires and passions. When I was about to partake of food, I used to begin to regret the meat and fish which of which I had so much in Egypt. I regretted also not having wine which I loved so much. for I drank a lot of wine when I lived in the world, while here I had not even water. I used to burn and succumb with thirst. The mad desire for profligate songs also entered me and confused me greatly, edging me on to sing satanic songs which I had learned once. But when such desires entered me I struck myself on the breast and reminded myself of the vow which I had made, when going into the desert. In my thoughts I returned to the ikon of the Mother of God which had received me and to her I cried in prayer. I implored her to chase away the thoughts to which my miserable soul was succumbing. And after weeping for long and beating my breast I used to see light at last which seemed to shine on me from everywhere. And after the violent storm, lasting calm descended.

And how can I tell you about the thoughts which urged me on to fornication, how can I express them to you, Abba? A fire was kindled in my miserable heart which seemed to burn me up completely and to awake in me a thirst for embraces. As soon as this craving came to me, I flung myself on the earth and watered it with my tears, as if I saw before me my witness, who had appeared to me in my disobedience, and who seemed to threaten punishment for the crime. And I did not rise from the ground (sometimes I lay thus prostrate for a day and a night) until a calm and sweet light descended and enlightened me and chased away the thoughts that possessed me. But always I turned to the eyes of my mind to my Protectress, asking her to extend help to one who was sinking fast in the waves of the desert. And I always had her as my Helper and the Accepter of my repentance. And thus I lived for seventeen years amid constant dangers. And since then even till now the Mother of God helps me in everything and leads me as it were by the hand."

Zosimas asked:

"Can it be that you did not need food and clothing?"

She answered:

"After finishing the loaves I had, of which I spoke, for seventeen years I have fed on herbs and all that can be found in the desert. The clothes I had when I crossed the Jordan became torn and worn out. I suffered greatly from the cold and greatly from the extreme heat. At times the sun burned me up and at other times I shivered from the frost, and frequently falling to the ground I lay without breath and without motion. I struggled with many afflictions and with terrible temptations. But from that time till now the power of God in numerous ways had guarded my sinful soul and my humble body. When I only reflect on the evils from which Our Lord has delivered me I have imperishable food for hope o of salvation. I am fed and clothed by the all-powerful Word of God, the Lord of all. For it is not by bread alone that man lives. And those who have stripped off the rags of sin have no refuge, hiding themselves in the clefts of the rocks (Job 24; Heb. 11:38)."

Hearing that she cited words Scripture, from Moses and Job, Zosimas asked her:

"And so you have read the psalms and other books?"

She smiled at this and said to the elder:

"Believe be, I have not seen a human face ever since I crossed the Jordan, except yours today. I have not seen a beast or a living being ever since I came into the desert. I never learned from books. I have never even heard anyone who sang and read from them. But the word of God which is alive and active, by itself teaches a man knowledge. And so this is the end of my tale. But, as I asked you in the beginning, so even now I implore you for the sake of the Incarnate word of God, to pray to the Lord for me who am such a sinner."

Thus concluding here tale she bowed down before him. And with tears the elder exclaimed:

"Blessed is God Who creates the great and wondrous, the glorious and marvellous without end. Blessed is God Who has shown me how He rewards those who fear Him. Truly, O Lord, Thou dost not forsake those who seek Thee!"

And the woman, not allowing the elder to bow down before her, said:

"I beg you, holy father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our God and Savior, tell no one what you have heard, until God delivers me of this earth. And how depart in peace and again next year you shall see me, and I you, if God will preserve us in His great mercy. But for God's sake, do as I ask you. Next year during Lent do not cross the Jordan, as is your custom in the monastery."

Zosimas was amazed to hear that she know the rules of the monastery and could only say:

"Glory to God Who bestows great gifts on those who love Him."

She continued:

"Remain, Abba, in the monastery. And even if you wish to depart, you will not be to do so. And at sunset of the holy day of the Last super, put some of the lifegiving Body and Blood of Christ into a holy vessel worthy to hold such Mysteries for me, and bring it. And wait for me on the banks of the Jordan adjoining the inhabited parts of the land, so that I can come and partake of the lifegiving Gifts. For, since the time I communicated in the temple of the Forerunner before crossing the Jordan even to this day I have not approached the Holy Mysteries. And I thirst for them with irrepressible love and longing. and therefore I ask and implore you to grant me my wish, bring me the lifegiving Mysteries at the very hour when Our Lord made His disciples partake of His Divine Supper. Tell John the Abbot of the monastery where you live. Look to yourself and to your brothers, for there is much that needs correction. Only do not say this now, but when God guides you. Pray for me!"

With these words she vanished in the depths of the desert. And Zosimas, falling down on his knees and bowing down to the ground on which she had stood, sent up glory and thanks to God. And, after wandering thorough the desert, he returned to the monastery on the day all the brothers returned.

For the whole year he kept silent, not daring to tell anyone of what he had seen. But in his should he pray to God to give him another chance of seeing the ascetic's dear face. and when at length the first Sunday of the Great Fast came, all went out into the desert with the customary prayers and the singing of psalms. Only Zosimas was held back by illness -- he lay in a fever. And then he remembered what the saint had said to him: "and even if you wish to depart, you will not be able to do so."

Many days passed and at last recovering from his illness he remained in the monastery. And when attain the monks returned and the day of the Last Supper dawned, he did as he had been ordered. and placing some of the most pure Body and Blood into a small chalice and putting some gis and dates and lentils soaked in water into a small basket, he departed for the desert and reached the banks of the Jordan and sat down to wait for the saint. He waited for a long while and then began to doubt. then raising his eyes to heaven, he began to pray:

"Grant me O Lord, to behold that which Thou hast allowed be to behold once. do not let me depart in vain, being the burden of my sins."

And then another thought struck him:

"And what is she does come? There is no boat; how will she cross the Jordan to come to me who am so unworthy?"

And as he was pondering thus he saw the holy woman appear and stand on the other side of the river. Zosimas got up rejoicing and glorifying and thanking God. And again the thought came to him that she could not cross the Jordan. Then he saw that she made the sign of the Cross over the waters of the Jordan (and the night was a moonlight one, as he related afterwards) and then she at once stepped on to the waters and began walking across the surface towards him. And when he wanted to prostrate himself, she cried to him while still walking on the water:

"What are you doing, Abba, you are a priest and carrying the divine Gifts!"

He obeyed her and on reaching the shore she said to the elder:

"Bless, father, bless me!"

He answered her trembling, for a state of confusion had overcome him at the sight of the miracle:

"Truly God did not lie when He promised that when we purify ourselves we shall be like Him. Glory to The, Christ our God, Who has shown me through this thy slave how far away I stand from perfection."

Here the woman asked him to say the Creed and our Father. He began, she finished the prayer and according to the custom of that time gave him the kiss of peace on the lips. Having partaken of the Holy Mysteries, she raised her hands to heaven and sighed with tears in her eyes, exclaiming:

"Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Lord, according to Thy word; for my eyes have seen Thy salvation."

Then she said to the elder:

"Forgive me, Abba, for asking you, but fulfil another wish of mine. Go now to the monastery and let God's grace guard you. and next year come again to the same place where I first met you. come for God's sake, for you shall again see me, for such is the will of God."

He said to her:

"From this day on I would like to follow you and always see your holy face. but now fulfil the one and only wish of an old man and take a little of the food I have brought for you."

And he showed her the basket, while she just touched the lentils with the tips of her fingers, and taking three grains said that the Holy spirit guards the substance of the soul unpolluted. Then she said:

"Pray, for God's sake pray for me and remember a miserable wretch."

Touching the saint's feet and asking for her prayers for the Church, the kingdom and himself, he let her depart with tears, while he went off sighing and sorrowful, for he could not hope to vanquish the invincible. Meanwhile she again made the sign of the Cross over the Jordan, and stepped on to the waters and crossed over as before. And the elder returned filled with joy and terror, accusing himself of not having asked the saint her name. But he decided to do so next year.

And when another year had passed, he again went into the desert. he reached the same spot but could see no sign of anyone. so raising his eyes to heaven as before, he prayed:

"Show me, O Lord, Thy pure treasure, which Thou hast concealed in the desert. Show me, I pray Thee, the angel in the flesh, of which the world is not worthy."

Then on the opposite bank of the river, her face turned towards the rising sun, he saw the saint lying dead. Her hands were crossed according to custom and her face was turned to the East. Running up he shed tears over the saint's feet and kissed them, not daring to touch anything else.

For a long time he wept. Then reciting the appointed psalms, he said the burial prayers and thought to himself: "Must I bury the body of a saint? Or will this be contrary to her wishes?" And then he saw words traced on the ground by her head:

"Abba Zosimas, bury on this spot the body of humble Mary. Return to dust that which is dust and pray to the Lord for me, who departed in the month of Fermoutin of Egypt, called April by the Romans, on the first day, on the very night of our Lord's Passion, after having partaken of the Divine Mysteries." [St. Mary died in 522 A. D.]

Reading this the elder was glad to know the saint's name. He understood too that as soon as she had partaken of the Divine Mysteries on the shore of the Jordan she was at once transported to the place where she died. The distance which Zosimas had taken twenty days to cover, Mary had evidently traversed in an hour and had at once surrendered her soul to God.

Then Zosimas thought: "It is time to do as she wished. But how am I to dig a grave with nothing in my hands?"

And then he saw nearby a small piece of wood left by some traveller in the desert. Picking it up he began to dig the ground. But the earth was hard and dry and did not yield to the efforts of the elder. He grew tired and covered with sweat. he sighed from the depths of his soul and lifting up his eyes he saw a big lion standing close to the saint's body and licking her feet. At the sight of the lion he trembled with fear, especially when he called to mind Mary's words that she had never seen wild beasts in the desert. But guarding himself with the sign of the cross, the thought came to him that the power of the one lying there would protect him and keep him unharmed. Meanwhile the lion drew nearer to him, expressing affection by every movement.

Zosimas said to the lion:

"The Great One ordered that her body was to be buried. But I am old and have not the strength to dig the grave (for I have no spade and it would take too long to go and get one), so can you carry out the work with your claws? Then we can commit to the earth the mortal temple of the saint."

While he was still speaking the lion with his front paws began to dig a hole deep enough to bury the body.

Again the elder washed the feet of the saint with his tears and calling on her to pray for all, covered the body with earth in the presence of the lion. It was as it had been, naked and uncovered by anything but the tattered cloak which had been given to her by Zosimas and with which Mary, turning away, had managed to cover part of her body. Then both departed. The lion went off into the depth of the desert like a lamb, while Zosimas returned to the monastery glorifying and blessing Christ our Lord. And on reaching the monastery he told all the brothers about everything, and all marvelled on hearing of God's miracles. And with fear and love they kept the memory of the saint.

Abbot John, as St. Mary had previously told Abba Zosimas, found a number of things wrong in the monastery and got rid of them with God's help. And Saint Zosimas died in the same monastery, almost attaining the age of a hundred, and passed to eternal life. The monks kept this story without writing it down and passed it on by word of mouth to one another.

But I (adds Sophronius) as soon as I heard it, wrote it down. Perhaps someone else, better informed, has already written the life of the Saint, but as far as I could, I have recorded everything, putting truth above all else. may God Who works amazing miracles and generously bestows gifts on those who turn to Him with faith, reward those who seek light for themselves in this story, who hear, read and are zealous to write it, and may He grant them the lot of blessed Mary together with all who at different times have pleased God by their pious thoughts and labours.

And let us also give glory to God, the eternal King, that He may grant us too His mercy in the day of judgment for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom belongs all glory, honour, dominion and adoration with the Eternal Father and the Most Holy and Life-giving Spirit, now and always, and thought all ages. Amen.

"There Is a Very Close Relationship Between Conscience and the Holy Spirit"

"There Is a Very Close Relationship Between Conscience and the Holy Spirit"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 27, 2009 ( Here is the third Lenten sermon for 2009 by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, which he gave today at the Vatican in the presence of Benedict XVI and the Curia.

"All Who Are Guided by the Spirit of God Are Sons of God" (Romans 8:14)

1. A new age of the of the Holy Spirit?

"Thus, condemnation will never come to those who are in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit which gives life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death...anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But when Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin but the spirit is alive because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead has made his home in you, then he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you".

These are four verses about the Holy Spirit from the eighth chapter of the Letter to the Romans. Christ's name is repeated a full six times in the text. The same frequency is repeated throughout the rest of the chapter, if we consider both the times he is referred to by his name and by the word Son. This fact is fundamentally important. It tells us that for Paul the Holy Spirit's work does not substitute Christ's work, rather it continues it, it fulfills it, and it actualizes it.

The fact that the recently elected president of the United States referenced Joachim of Fiore three times during his electoral campaign has renewed interest in medieval monk's teachings. Few of the people who talk about him, especially on the internet, know or care to know just what exactly this author said. Every idea of church or world renewal is offhandedly attributed to him, even the idea of a new Pentecost for the Church, which was invoked by John XXIII.

One thing is certain: whether or not it should be attributed to Joachim of Fiore, the idea of a third era of the Spirit that would follow on the era of the Old Testament Father and the New Testament Christ is false and heretical because it affects the very heart of the Trinitarian dogma. St. Gregory Nazianzen's statement is entirely different. He makes a distinction between three phases in the revelation of the Trinity: in the Old Testament the Father fully revealed himself and the Son is promised and announced; in the New Testament the Son fully revealed himself and the Holy Spirit is promised and announced; in the time of the Church, the Holy Spirit is finally fully known and we rejoice in his presence.[1]

Even I have been put on a list of Joachim of Fiore's followers just because I cited this text of St. Gregory in one of my books. But St. Gregory refers to the order of the manifestation of the Spirit, not its being or acting, and in this sense his position expresses a incontestable truth, that has been peacefully accepted by all tradition.

The so-called Joachimite thesis is ruled out by Paul and the whole New Testament. For them, the Holy Spirit is nothing other than the Spirit of Christ: objectively because it is the fruit of his Paschal mystery, subjectively because he is the one who pours it out over the Church, as Peter will say to the crowd on the very day of Pentecost: "Now raised to the heights by God's right hand, he has received from the Father the Holy Spirit, who was promised, and what you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit." (Acts 2:33) Therefore time of the Spirit is coextensive to the time of Christ.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit that proceeds primarily from the Father, which descends and "rests" in fullness on Jesus, and in him becoming a reality and takes to living among men, as St. Irenaeus says. And in Easter and Pentecost he is poured out over humanity by Jesus. The proof of all this is precisely the cry of "Abba" that the Spirit repeats in the believer (Galatians 4:6) or teaches the believer to repeat (Romans 8:15). How can the Spirit cry out Abba to the Father? He is not begotten by the Father, he is not his Son… He can do it, notes Augustine, because he is the Spirit of the Son and he continues the cry of Jesus.

2. The Spirit as a guide in the Scriptures

After this introduction, I come to the verse from the Eighth Chapter of the Letter to the Romans that I would like to discuss today. "All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:14).

The theme of the Holy Spirit as a guide is not new in Scripture. In Isaiah the journey of the people in the desert is attributed to the guidance of the Spirit. "Yahweh's Spirit led them to rest." (Isaiah 63:14) Jesus himself was "led (ductus) by the Spirit into the desert" (Matthew 4:1). The Acts of the Apostles show us a Church that is, step by step, "led by the Spirit." Even St. Luke's design of having the Gospel followed by the Acts of the Apostles intends to show how the same Spirit that guided Jesus in his earthly life, now guides the Church, as the Spirit "of Christ". Does Peter approach Cornelius and the pagans? It is the Sprit that orders him (Cfr. Acts 10: 19, 11:12). Do the apostles make important decisions in Jerusalem? It is the Spirit that prompted them (15:28).

The guidance of the Spirit is exercised not only in the big decisions, but also in the small things. Paul and Timothy want to preach the Gospel in the Province of Asia, but "the Holy Spirit forbids them to do so"; they try to go toward Bithynia, but "the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them" (Acts 16:6). We then understand why he guides in such a pressing manner: the Holy Spirit pushed the nascent Church to leave Asia and come into the world on a new continent, Europe (Cfr. Acts 16:9).

For John, the guidance of the Paraclete is provided within the realm of knowledge. He is the one who "will guide" the disciples to the full truth (John 16:3); his anointing "teaches everything", to the point that he who possesses him has no need for any other teacher (Cfr. 1 John 2:27). Paul introduces and important new concept. For him the Holy Spirit is not just "the interior teacher"; he is a principle of new life ("those who are guided by him become children of God"!); he does not just say what should be done, rather he also gives the capacity to do what he commands.

In this manner, the guidance of the Spirit is essentially different from that of the Law which allows one to see the good that is to be accomplished, but leaves the person struggling against the evil they do not want (Cfr. Romans 7:15). Earlier in the Letter to the Galatians the Apostle said: "But when you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law" (Galatians 5:18)

Paul's vision of the Spirit's guidance, which is deeper and more ontological (with regards to the very being of the believer) does not exclude the more common vision of the Spirit as an interior teacher, as a guide for the knowledge of truth and of God's will. On this occasion, this is precisely what I would like to talk about.

This is a topic that has been significantly developed within the tradition of the Church. The Church Fathers said that if Christ is the "the way" (odos) that leads to the Father (John 14:6), then the Holy Spirit is "the guide along the way" (odegos).[2] St. Ambrose writes "This is the Spirit, our head and our guide (ductor et princeps), who directs our mind, affirms our affection, attracts us where he wants and turns our steps toward heaven".[3] The hymn Veni creator collects this tradition in the following verse: "Ductore sic te praevio vitemus omne noxium": with you as our guide we will avoid all evil. The Second Vatican Council weighs in on this topic when it describes itself as "God's people who believe they are led by the Spirit of the Lord".[4]

3. The Spirit guides through the conscience

Where is the Paraclete's guidance at work? The first realm, or organ, is the conscience. There is a very close relationship between conscience and the Holy Spirit. What is the famous "voice of conscience" if not a sort of "long distance repeater" through which the Holy Spirit speaks to each person? "My conscience testifies for me in the Holy Spirit", exclaims St. Paul, speaking about his love for his fellow Hebrews (cfr. Romans 9:1).

Through this "organ", the guidance of the Holy Spirit goes beyond the Church, to all people. Even the pagans "can demonstrate the effect of the Law engraved on their hearts, to which their own conscience bears witness" (Romans 2:15). Precisely because the Holy Spirit speaks to every rational being through their conscience, St. Maximums the Confessor said, "we see many people, even among the barbarians and nomads, who turn to a honorable and good life, and scorn the wild laws that had prevailed among them from the beginning".[5]

The conscience is also a sort of interior law, not a written law, different and inferior to the law that exists in the believer through grace, but not in disagreement with it, since it also comes from the same Spirit. Those who only posses this "inferior" law, but obey it, are closer to the Spirit than those who possess the superior law that comes from baptism, but do not live in accordance with it.

Among the believers this interior guide of the conscience is strengthened and elevated by the anointing that "teaches all things, is truthful and does not lie" (1 John 2:27), and it is therefore an infallible guide if they listen to it. In commenting on this very text St. Augustine formulated the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as the "interior teacher". He asks, what does it mean by "you do not need someone to teach you"? Could it mean that a christian individual already knows everything on his own and has no need to read, learn and listen to anyone else? If this was the case, why would the Apostle have written his letter? The truth is that we need to listen to other teachers and preachers, but those who the Holy Spirit speaks intimately to will understand and be helped by what the other teachers say. This explains why many people can listen to the same sermon and teaching, but not all understand it in the same way.[6]

What a consoling reassurance we get from all of this! The word that once rang out in the gospel: "The master is here and is calling you!" (John 11:28), is true for every christian. The same teacher of that time, Christ, that speaks now through his Spirit, is inside of us and calls us. St. Cyril of Jerusalem was right to define the Holy Spirit as "the great instructor, that is teacher, of the Church".[7]

In this personal and intimate realm of the conscience, the Holy Spirit instructs us with "good inspirations", or "interior lights" that all have experienced in some way in life. We are urged to follow the good and avoid evil, attractions and inclinations of the heart that cannot be naturally explained, because they are often contrary to the direction that nature would want to take.

Basing themselves precisely on this ethical component of the person, some eminent scientists and biologists today have come to see beyond the theory that considers human beings to be chance result of the selection of the species. If the law that governs evolution is just the fight for the survival of the fittest, how can we explain certain acts of pure altruism and even self sacrifice for the sake of truth and justice?[8]

4. The Spirit guides through the magisterium of the Church

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".[9]

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.

It is well known that this is the danger to which the protestant world is most exposed, having built the "interior testimony" of the Holy Spirit as the only criteria of truth, against every exterior, ecclesial testimony, other than that of the written Word.[10] Some extreme fringes will even go as far as to separate the interior guidance of the Spirit even from word of the Scriptures. We then have the various movements of "enthusiasts" or "enlightened" who have punctuated the history of the Church, whether catholic, orthodox or protestant. The most frequent result of this tendency, which concentrates all attention on the internal testimony of the Spirit, is that the Spirit slowly looses the capital letter and comes to coincide with the simple human spirit. That is what happened with rationalism.

We should recogonize however that there is also the opposite risk: that of making the external and public testimony of the Spirit absolute, ignoring the internal testimony that works through the conscience enlightened by grace. In other words, it is the risk of reducing the guidance of the Paraclete to only the official magisterium of the Church, thus impoverishing the variegated action of the Holy Spirit.

In this case, the human element, organizational and institutional, can easily prevail. The passivity of the body is fostered and the doors are opened to the marginalization of the laity and the excessive clericalization of the Church.

Even in this case, as always, we should rediscover the whole, the synthesis, that is truly "catholic". It is the ideal of a healthy harmony between listening to what the Spirit says to me, as an individual, and what he says to the Church as a whole and through the Church to individuals.

5. Discernment in personal life

We now come to the guidance of the Spirit in the spiritual path of each believer. This goes by the name of discernment of spirits. The first and fundamental discernment of spirits is that which allows us to distinguish between "the Spirit of God" and the "spirit of the world". (Cfr. 1 Corinthians 2:12) St. Paul provides an objective discernment criteria, the same that Jesus had given: that of the fruits. The "works of the flesh" reveal that a certain desire comes from the old sinful man; the "fruits of the Spirit" reveal that it comes from the Spirit (cfr. Galatians 5:19-22). "The desires of self-indulgence are always in opposition to the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are in opposition to self-indulgence" (Galatians 5:17).

Sometimes this objective criterion is not enough because the choice is not between good and evil, but between a good and another good and it is about seeing which one is what God wants, in a given situation. It was primarily to respond to this demand that St. Ignatius of Loyola developed his doctrine on discernment. He invites us to look at one thing above all: our own interior dispositions, the intentions (the "spirits") that are behind a decision.

St. Ignatius suggested practical means to apply these criteria.[11] One is this: when we are faced with two possible choices, it is useful to first consider one of them, as if we must follow it, and to stay in that state for a day or more; then we should evaluate how our heart reacts to that choice: is there peace, harmony with the rest of our own decisions; is there something inside of you that encourages you in that direction, or on the contrary has it left a haze of restlessness… Then repeat the process with the second hypothesis. All this should be done in an atmosphere of prayer, abandonment to God's will, and openness to the Holy Spirit.

The most favorable condition for making a good discernment is the habitual interior disposition to do God's will in every situation. Jesus said "My judgment is just, because I do not see my will, but the will of he who sent me" (John 5:30).

The danger, among some modern people who intend to practice discernment, is to emphasize the psychological aspects to such an extent that we forget the primary agent of all discernment which is the Holy Spirit. There is a deep theological reason for this. The Holy Spirit is himself the substantial will of God and when he enters a soul "he manifests himself as the very will of God for those in whom he is found".[12]

The concrete fruit of this meditation could be a renewed decision to trust ourselves in everything and for everything to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as a sort of "spiritual direction". It is written that "whenever the cloud rose from the Dwelling, the Israelites would resume their march. If the cloud did not rise, they would not resume their march" (Exodus 40:36-37). Even we should not undertake anything if it is not the Holy Spirit, that according to tradition is prefigured by the cloud, who moves us and without having consulted him first in every action.

We have the most luminous example in the very life of Jesus. He never undertook anything without the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit he walked in the desert; with the power of the Holy Spirit he returned and began his preaching; "In the Holy Spirit" he chose his apostles (cfr. Acts 1:2); in the Spirit he prayed and offered himself to the Father (cfr. Hebrews 9:14).

St. Thomas speaks about this interior guidance of the Spirit as a sort of "instinct the just have": "Just as in corporal life the body is not moved if not by the spirit that gives it life, so also in the spiritual world all of our movements should come from the Holy Spirit".[13] This is how the "law of the Spirit" works; this is what the Apostle calls "letting oneself be guided by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:18).

We should abandon ourselves to the Holy Spirit as the chords of the harp abandon themselves to the fingers of the musician that moves them. Like talented actors, we should tend our ear toward the voice of the prompter that is hidden, so we can faithfully recite our part in the scene of life. It is easier than we think, because our prompter speaks to us from the inside, he teaches us all things, he instructs us in everything. It is enough to just give an interior glance, a movement of our heart, a prayer. We read this eulogy about a holy bishop of the second century, Melito of Sardes, that I wish could be said of each of us after our death: "In his life he did everything the Holy Spirit moved him to do".[14]


[Translation by Thomas Daly]

[1] Cfr. St. Gregory Nazianzen, Orations, XXXI, 26 (PG 36, 161 s.).
[2] St. Gregory Nazienzen, On Faith (PG 45, 1241C): cfr. Ps.-Atanasio, Dialogue against the Macedonians, 1, 12 (PG 28, 1308C).
[3] St. Ambrose, In Defence of David, 15, 73 (CSEL 32,2, p. 348). St. Maximus the Confessor, Various chapters, I, 72 (PG 90, 1208D).
[4] Gaudium et spes, 11.
[5] St. Maximus the Confessor, Various chapters, I, 72 (PG 90, 1208D).
[6] Cfr. St. Augustine, On the first Letter of John, 3,13; 4,1 (PL 35, 2004 s.).
[7] S. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesi, XVI, 19.
[8] Cf. F. Collins, The Language of God
[9] St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, 24, 1-2.
[10] Crf. J.-L. Witte, Esprit-Saint et Eglises séparées, in Dict.Spir. 4, 1318-1325.
[11] Cf. S. Ignazio di Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, IV Week (ed. BAC, Madrid 1963, pp. 262 ss).
[12] Cfr. Guglielmo di St. Thierry, Lo specchio della fede, 61 (SCh 301, p. 128).
[13] St. Thomas, On the Letter to the Galatians, ch.V, lesson.5, n.318; lesson. 7, n. 340.
[14] Eusebio di Cesarea, Ecclesiastical History, V, 24, 5.