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The Spirit Is The Source of Communion

The desire for full unity among Christians derives from the grace of the Holy Spirit who is the first common gift to divided Christians

The Acts of the Apostles show us the first Christian community united by a strong bond of fraternal communion: "All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need." (Acts 2:44-45) There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit is at the root of this demonstration of love. His outpouring at Pentecost lays the foundations of the new Jerusalem, the city built on love, quite the opposite of the ancient Babel.

According to the text of Genesis 11, the builders of Babel had decided to build a city with a great tower whose top would reach the heavens. The sacred author sees in this project a foolish pride which flows into division, discord and lack of communication.

On the day of Pentecost, on the other hand, Jesus' disciples do not want to climb arrogantly to the heavens but are humbly open to the gift that comes down from above. While in Babel the same language is spoken by all but they end up not understanding each other, on the day of Pentecost different languages are spoken, yet they are very clearly understood. This is a miracle of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit makes us "one with Christ Jesus"
The Holy Spirit's proper and specific action already within the Trinity is communion. "It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the Triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons, and that through the Holy Spirit God exists in the mode of gift. It is the Holy Spirit who is the personal expression of this self-giving, of this being-love." (Dominum et Vivificantem, 10). The third Person - we read in St. Augustine - is "the supreme love that unites both the Persons."

The Spirit is also the love and the personal gift which contains every created gift: life, grace and glory. The mystery of this communion shines forth in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit himself makes us "one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28) and thus integrates us within the same unity which binds the Son to the Father.

When persons who do not belong to the people of Israel enter the Christian community for the first time, a dramatic moment is experienced. The Church's unity is put to the test. However at this moment the Spirit is to descend on the house of the first pagan to be converted. Cornelius, the centurion. (cf Acts 10-11) We can say that this is the direct manner of building communion: the Spirit intervenes with the full power of his grace and creates a new, utterly unforeseeable situation.

But the Spirit frequently acts using human mediation. This is what happened - again, according to the narrative of the Acts - when a discussion arose within the community of Jerusalem about the daily distribution among the widows. (cf Acts 6:1 ff) Unity is then re-established thanks to the intervention of the Apostles (Acts 6:3; cf 6:5).

Several Jewish-Christian converts insisted that the latter be circumcised and observe the law of Moses. Regarding this, St. Luke writes "the Apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter," (Acts 15:6) and after "there had been much debate," they reached an agreement, formulated in the solemn words: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us ..." (Acts 15:28) Here it can clearly be seen how the Spirit acts through the mediation of the Church's "ministers".

Between the Spirit's two great paths: the direct one, more unpredictable and charismatic, and the mediated one, more permanent and institutional, there can be no real conflict. Both come from the same Spirit and it is necessary to abide by the discernment of authority, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. (cf 1 Cor 14:37)

The Spirit urges us to rebuild unity through conversion
Christ gave his life so that all his disciples might be one. (cf Jn 17) The celebration of the Jubilee of the third millennium must represent a new phase in overcoming the divisions of the second millennium and, since unity is a gift of the Paraclete, it comforts us to recall that precisely on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit significant steps have been made towards unity among the various Churches, especially among the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches.

Lastly, the forthcoming Jubilee must also see fraternal love grow within the Catholic Church. St. Bernard's words are still timely: "We all need one another: from others I receive the spiritual good which I do not have and do not possess... And all our differences which express the riches of God's gifts. Now there is a division of graces: then there will be a distinction of glories. Unity, both here and there, consists in one and the same love."

Pope John Paul II