VATICAN CITY, MAY 23, 2010 ( Benedict XVI says local Churches should always remember that the universal Church precedes them, and conform to her in unity and universality.

The Pope said this today during his homily for the Mass he celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica for the feast of Pentecost.

Noting that the Holy Spirit is the "new and powerful self-communication of God," he said the Spirit "triggers a process of reunification of the divided and dispersed parts of the human family."

The effect of God's work is unity, the Holy Father declared, such that "unity is the sign of recognition, the 'business card' of the Church in the course of her universal history."

"From the very beginning, from the day of Pentecost, she speaks all languages. The universal Church precedes the particular Churches, and the latter must always conform to the former according to a criterion of unity and universality. The Church never remains a prisoner within political, racial and cultural confines; she cannot be confused with states nor with federations of states, because her unity is of a different type and aspires to transcend every human frontier," he affirmed.

The Pontiff suggested that a criterion for discernment comes from this: "When a person or a community limits itself to its own way of thinking and acting, it is a sign that it has distanced itself from the Holy Spirit.

"The path of Christians and of the particular Churches must always confront itself with the path of the one and catholic Church, and harmonize with it."

This is not a "homogenization," he clarified, as can be seen by the multiple languages at Pentecost. Instead, the "unity of the Spirit is manifested in the plurality of understanding. The Church is one and multiple by her nature, destined as she is to live among all nations, all peoples, and in the most diverse social contexts," he said.

Purifying fire

Benedict XVI drew another reflection from Pentecost, recalling how the Holy Spirit came as fire.

"How different this fire is from that of wars and bombs," he exclaimed. "How different is the fire of Christ, spread by the Church, compared with those lit by the dictators of every epoch, of last century too, who leave a scorched earth behind them. [...] It is a flame that burns but does not destroy, that, in burning, brings forth the better and truer part of man."

Yet, the Pope affirmed, the Holy Spirit's fire does cause a transformation. "It must consume something in man," he said, affirming that it takes away "the waste that corrupts him and hinders his relations with God and neighbor."

This is frightening, the Holy Father acknowledged, because "we are afraid of being 'burned,' we prefer to stay just as we are."

"This," he said, "is because our life is often formed according to the logic of having, of possessing and not the logic of self-giving. Many people believe in God and admire the person of Jesus Christ, but when they are asked to lose something of themselves, then they retreat, they are afraid of the demands of faith. There is the fear of giving up something nice to which we are attached; the fear that following Christ deprives us of freedom, of certain experiences, of a part of ourselves. On one hand, we want to be with Jesus, follow him closely, and, on the other hand, we are afraid of the consequences that this brings with it."

In this context, the Pontiff recommended that "we always need to hear the Lord Jesus tell us what he often repeated to his friends: 'Be not afraid.'"

"Like Simon Peter and the others we must allow his presence and his grace to transform our heart, which is always subject to human weakness," he said. "We must know how to recognize that losing something, indeed, losing ourselves for the true God, the God of love and of life, is in reality gaining ourselves, finding ourselves more fully. Whoever entrusts himself to Jesus already experiences in this life peace and joy of heart, which the world cannot give, and it cannot even take it away once God has given it to us."

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