VATICAN CITY, DEC. 9, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is Part 2 of the meditation delivered by the Papal Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, in the presence of the Pope and Roman Curia last Friday. It was the first of this year’s Advent meditations.
The meditation was given in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace. Part 1 appeared Monday.
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Father Raniero Cantalamessa
Advent 2003 in the Papal Household
“Go Forth From Your Country …, ” Part 2
[Holy Father, Venerable Fathers, Brothers and Sisters … ]
But now we should recall that maxim of the ancients in regard to devotion to the saints: “Imitari non pigeat quod celebrare delectat”: we must not fail to imitate what we like to celebrate. Mother Teresa’s case reminds us of something essential for our sanctification: the importance of obeying inspirations. This is not something to be practiced only once in life. God’s first and decisive call is followed by many other discreet invitations that we call good inspirations. All our spiritual progress depends on our docility to these inspirations.
It is easy to understand why fidelity to inspirations is the shortest and surest way to holiness. This is not the work of man; it is not enough to have a very clear program of perfection to be able to carry it out gradually. There is no identical model of perfection for all. God does not make saints in series; he does not like cloning. Each saint is a new invention of the Spirit. God can ask of one saint the opposite of what he asks of another. To take examples close to our time: What do Escrivá de Balaguer and Mother Teresa have in common? Yet, for the Church, both are saints.
Therefore, we do not know from the beginning what, specifically, is the holiness God wills for each one of us: Only God knows it and he reveals it along the way. By doing so he avoids man’s limiting himself to following general rules that are valid for all. He must understand what God is asking of him and only of him. Let us think what would have happened if Joseph of Nazareth had limited himself to following faithfully the then known rules of holiness, or if Mother Teresa had obstinately observed the canonical rules in force in religious institutes.
What God wants from each one in particular is discovered through the events of life, the word of Scripture, the advice of a spiritual director; but the principal and common means is, precisely, the inspirations of grace. These are the interior requests of the Spirit in the depth of the heart through which God not only makes known what he is asking, but at the same time communicates the necessary strength to realize it if the person accepts.
Good inspirations have something in common with biblical inspiration, leaving to one side, of course, the authority and extent which are essentially different. “God said to Abraham …”, “God spoke to Moses”: this speaking of the Lord was not, from the point of view of phenomenology, different from the one that takes place in inspirations of grace. God’s voice, also in Sinai, did not resound in the exterior, but within the heart in the form of clarity, impulses originated by the Holy Spirit. The Ten Commandments were not inscribed in stone by God’s finger, but in Moses’ heart, who then wrote them in stone. “Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21); they were the ones who were speaking, but moved by the Holy Spirit; they repeated with their mouth what they heard in their heart.
All faithfulness to an inspiration is recompensed by ever more frequent and strong inspirations. It is as if the soul was in training to come to an ever-clearer perception of the will of God and a greater facility to fulfill it.
Discernment of spirits
The most delicate problem in regard to inspirations has always been to discern those that come from the Spirit of God from those that come from the spirit of the world, one’s own passions, or the evil spirit.
The topic of discernment of spirits has undergone a notable evolution over the centuries. In the beginning, it was regarded as the charism that served to distinguish between words, prayers and prophecies pronounced in the assembly, which ones did or did not proceed from the Spirit of God. Then, it served especially to discern one’s “own” inspirations and to direct one’s choices. The evolution is not arbitrary; it is, in fact, the same gift although applied to different objects.
There are criteria of discernment that we could call objective. In the doctrinal field, for Paul these are summarized in the recognition of Christ as Lord: “No one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3); for John they are summarized in faith in Christ and in his Incarnation: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you will know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God” (1 John 4:1-3).
In the moral area, a fundamental criterion comes from the consistency of the Spirit of God with himself. The latter cannot ask for something that is contrary to the divine will, as expressed in Scripture, in the teaching of the Church, and in the duties of one’s own state. A divine inspiration will never request acts that the Church considers immoral, no matter how many arguments to the contrary that are capable of being suggested in these cases; for example, that God is love and, therefore, everything that is done for love is of God.
If a religious disobeys his Superiors, even for a laudable objective, it would certainly not be an inspiration of grace, because the first inspiration that God sends is a precise circumstance. It was above all to respond to this need that St. Ignatius of Loyola developed his doctrine on discernment.
He invites us to observe the intentions — the “spirits” — that are behind a choice and the reactions that the latter causes. It is known that what comes from the Holy Spirit brings with it joy, peace, tranquility, gentleness, simplicity, light. Instead, what comes from the evil spirit brings sadness, disturbance, agitation, disquiet, confusion, darkness. The Apostle clarifies it by contrasting the fruits of the flesh — enmities, discord, jealousy, dissension, divisions, envies — with those of the Spirit which are, however, love, joy, peace … (see Galatians 5:19-22).
In practice, it is true, things are more complex. An inspiration can come from God and, despite this, cause great disturbance. But this is not due to the inspiration, which is gentle and peaceful, as is everything that comes from God; it stems, rather, from resistance to the inspiration. A serene river also, when it meets obstacles, causes whirlpools. If the inspiration is accepted, the heart finds itself immediately in profound peace. God recompenses each little victory in this area, making the soul feel his approval, which is the purest joy in the world.
To allow oneself to be guided by the Spirit
The concrete fruit of this meditation must be a renewed decision to entrust ourselves in everything and for everything to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as in a sort of “spiritual direction.”
If it is important for every Christian to accept inspirations, it is vital for those who have tasks of governance in the Church. Only in this way is the Spirit of Christ itself allowed to guide his Church through his human representatives. It is not necessary that all passengers in a ship have their ear attuned to the radio on board to receive directions, warnings of icebergs, or meteorological conditions, but it is indispensable that those who are in charge do. From a courageously accepted “divine inspiration” of Pope John XXIII, the Second Vatican Council was born and many more prophetic events occurred in more recent times.
It is this need of the guidance of the Holy Spirit which has inspired the words of the “Veni Creator: Ductore sic te praevio vitemus omne noxium”: “with you as guide we shall avoid all evil.” In his “Roman Triptych,” the Holy Father takes up this word when, speaking of the moment of choosing the Successor of Peter, he puts in the mouth of those present the prayer: “You who penetrate everything — show us!”
We must all abandon ourselves to the interior Teacher who speaks to us without the noise of words. As good actors, we must listen carefully, on great and small occasions, to the voice of this hidden prompter, to recite our part faithfully in the theater of life.
It is easier than one thinks, because he speaks to us within, he teaches us each thing, he instructs us on everything. “But the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie” (1 John 2:27). It is enough sometimes to glance within, to have a movement of the heart, a moment of recollection and prayer.
With the words of a very well known liturgical prayer we ask God , through the intercession of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the gift of recognizing and following his divine inspirations as she followed them: “Actiones nostras, quesumus Domine, aspirando preveni et adjuvando prosequere, ut cuncta nostra oratio et operatio a te semper incipiat et per te cepta finiatur.” “Inspire our actions, Lord, and accompany them with your help, so that all our activity has its beginning in you, and its fulfillment in you. Through Our Lord Christ.”
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5 “Florilegium Frisingenese,” n. 371 (CCL, 108D).
6 Cf. St. Ignatius of Loyola, “Spiritual Exercises,” Fourth Week (Ed. BAC, Madrid, 1963, pp. 262 ff.).
7 Prayers of Thursday following Ash Wednesday.
[Translation by ZENIT]