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Pope Francis looked at a globe as he inaugurated a new permanent exhibition space in the Vatican Library Nov. 5. The inaugural exhibit, “Everyone: Humanity on its Way,” references the pope’s call for people to focus not on borders but on what makes them brothers and sisters.
Pope Francis looked at a globe as he inaugurated a new permanent exhibition space in the Vatican Library Nov. 5. The inaugural exhibit, “Everyone: Humanity on its Way,” references the pope’s call for people to focus not on borders but on what makes them brothers and sisters.
Photo Credit: Vatican Media

POPE’S MESSAGE | ‘Walking according to the Spirit’ helps build up the community

In addition to giving us the gift of gentleness, the Holy Spirit invites us to be in solidarity, to bear others’ burdens

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In the passage from the Letter to the Galatians we have just heard, St. Paul exhorts Christians to walk according to the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25), that is a style: to walk according to the Holy Spirit. In effect, to believe in Jesus means to follow Him, to go behind Him along His way, just as the first disciples did. And at the same time, it means avoiding the opposite way, that of egoism, of seeking one’s own interests, which the apostle calls the “desire of the flesh” (v. 16). The Spirit is the guide for this journey along the way of Christ, a stupendous but difficult journey that begins in baptism and lasts our entire lives. We can think of it as a long excursion on the mountain heights: it is breathtaking, the destination is attractive, but it requires a lot of effort and tenaciousness.

This image can be helpful to understand the merit of the apostle’s words “to walk according to the Spirit,” and “allow ourselves to be guided” by Him. They are expressions indicating an action, a movement, a dynamism that prevents us from halting at the first difficulties, but elicit confidence in the “strength that comes from on high” (Shepherd of Hermas, 43, 21). Trodding along this way, the Christian acquires a positive vision of life. This does not mean that the evil present in the world disappears, or that the negative impulses of our egoism and pride diminish. Rather, it means that belief in God is always stronger than our resistance and greater than our sins. And this is important: to believe that God is greater, always. Greater than our resistances, greater than our sins.

As he exhorts the Galatians to follow this path, the apostle places himself on their level. He abandons the verb in the imperative — “walk” (v. 16) — and uses the indicative “we”: “let us walk according to the Spirit” (v. 25). That is to say: let us walk along the same line and let us allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. It is an exhortation, a way of exhorting. St. Paul feels this exhortation is necessary for himself as well. Even though he knows that Christ lives in him (2:20), he is also convinced that he has not yet reached the goal, the top of the mountain (Philippians 3:12). The apostle does not place himself above his community. He does not say: “I am the leader; you are those others; I have come from high up on the mountain and you are on the way.” He does not say this, but places himself in the midst of the journey everyone is on in order to provide a concrete example of how much it is necessary to obey God, corresponding better and better to the Spirit’s guidance. And how beautiful it is when we find pastors who journey with their people, who do not get tired — “No, I am more important, I am a pastor. You…” “I am a priest,” “I am a bishop,” with their noses in the air. No: pastors who journey with the people. This is very beautiful. It does the soul good.

This “walking according to the Spirit” is not only an individual task: it also concerns the community as a whole. In fact, it is exciting, but demanding, to build up the community according to the way indicated by the apostle. The “desires of the flesh,” “the temptations,” we can say, that all of us have — that is, our jealousies, prejudices, hypocrisies and resentments continue to make themselves felt — and having recourse to a rigid set of precepts can be an easy temptation. But doing this means straying from the path of freedom, and instead of climbing to the top, it means returning down below. In the first place, journeying along the way of the Spirit requires giving space to grace and charity. To make space for God’s grace. Not being afraid. After having made his voice heard in a severe way, Paul invites the Galatians to bear each other’s difficulties, and if someone should make a mistake, to use gentleness (5:22). Let us listen to his words: “Brethren, if someone is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (6:1-2). Quite different than gossiping, like when we see something and we talk behind the persons back about it, right? To gossip about our neighbor. No, this is not according to the Spirit. What is according to the Spirit is being gentle with a brother or sister when correcting him or her and keeping watch over ourselves so as not to fall into those sins, that is, humility.

In effect, when we are tempted to judge others badly, as often happens, we must rather reflect on our own weakness. How easy it is to criticize others! But there are people who seem to have a degree in gossip. Each and every day they criticize others. Take a look at yourself! It is good to ask ourselves what drives us to correct a brother or a sister, and if we are not in some way co-responsible for their mistake. In addition to giving us the gift of gentleness, the Holy Spirit invites us to be in solidarity, to bear other’s burdens. How many burdens there are in a person’s life: illness, lack of work, loneliness, pain…! And how many other trials that require the proximity and love of our brothers and sisters! The words of St. Augustine when he commented on this same passage can also help us: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, whenever someone is caught in some fault, […] correct him in this way, gently, gently. And if you raise your voice, love within. If you encourage, if you present yourself as a father, if you reprove, if you are severe, love” (Discourse 163/B 3). Love always. The supreme rule regarding fraternal correction is love: to want the good of our brothers and sisters. It takes a lot of time to also tolerate others’ problems, others’ defects in the silence of prayer, so as to find the right way to help them to correct themselves. And this is not easy. The easiest path is to gossip. Talking behind someone else’s back as if I am perfect. And this should not be done. Gentleness. Patience. Prayer. Proximity.

Let us walk with joy and patience along this path, allowing ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Thank you.

— Pope Francis


VATICAN CITY (CNS) — To believe in Jesus means to follow him and avoid going “the opposite way,” following one’s own interests and inflating one’s own ego, Pope Francis said.

Similarly, when Christians see one of their brothers or sisters has strayed, they must be humble, gentle and compassionate, the pope said Nov. 3 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall.

“The supreme rule regarding fraternal correction is love: to want the good of our brothers and sisters” by praying, being patient and accompanying them to help them correct themselves, he said.

However, he added, “this is not easy. The easier path is tattling, skinning the other alive as if I were perfect.”

The pope continued his series of talks on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians by reflecting on an excerpt from the apostle’s exhortation on the “freedom of service,” that is, how Christians are called to fulfil the law by loving their neighbor and by walking in the Holy Spirit.

“Walking in the spirit” is letting oneself be guided by the Holy Spirit, following the path of Christ, the pope said.

This “stupendous but difficult journey” begins in baptism and lasts an entire lifetime, he said. “We can think of it as a long excursion on the mountain heights: it is breathtaking, the destination is attractive, but it requires a lot of effort and tenaciousness.”

No matter the challenges, difficulties and temptations to sin along the journey, Christians are able to acquire “a positive vision of life” because they know, no matter what, “God is always stronger than our resistance and greater than our sins,” he said.

St. Paul also shows what a good disciple does by putting himself at the same “level” as the Galatians and including himself in God’s command that “we” — not just “they” — must all walk according to the Spirit, the pope said.

The apostle knows “this exhortation is necessary for himself as well,” he said.

“The apostle does not place himself above his community,” Pope Francis said. “He doesn’t say, ‘I am the boss … I have reached the mountaintop and you all are still walking.’ He doesn’t say this, but he places himself in the midst of the journey everyone is on in order to provide a concrete example of how much it is necessary to obey God, corresponding better and better to the Spirit’s guidance.”

Departing from his written remarks, the pope said, “It’s beautiful when we find shepherds who walk with their people, who don’t separate themselves, (thinking,) ‘I am more important, I am a shepherd, I am a priest, I am a bishop,’ with their noses held high. No, shepherds who walk with their people — this is very beautiful.”

“Walking according to the Spirit is not only an individual task — it also concerns the community as a whole,” which is “exciting, but demanding,” he said.

Everyone in the community must “bear each other’s difficulties,” because everyone has the same temptations, “that is, our jealousies, prejudices, hypocrisies and resentments” and the temptation to seek out “a rigid set of precepts” as the solution, he said.

St. Paul said, “If someone should make a mistake, use gentleness,” and “Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted,” the pope said.

“How easy it is to criticize others,” Pope Francis said. “There are some people who seem to have a degree in tattling, criticizing others every day. Hey, look in the mirror” and reflect on one’s own weaknesses and fragility.

Instead of gossiping or tearing the other down, the Spirit points the way of humility and being gentle with one’s brother or sister in correcting them, but it is also “good to ask ourselves what drives us to correct a brother or a sister, and if we are not in some way co-responsible for their mistake,” he added.

Being in solidarity with others is to bear the other’s burdens, and “how many burdens there are in a person’s life: illness, lack of work, loneliness, pain! And how many other trials that require the proximity and love of our brothers and sisters!” he said.

Commenting on this teaching, St. Augustine said others must be corrected “‘with gentleness. And if you raise your voice, love within. If you encourage, if you present yourself as a father, if you reprove, if you are severe, love,’ always love,” Pope Francis said.

Often, the pope said, this also means tolerating people’s problems and defects “in silence and in prayer in order to find the right path for helping them correct themselves.”

“Meekness, patience, prayer, accompaniment” are the keys for walking with “joy and patience along this path, allowing ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit,” he said.

From the Archive Module

POPES MESSAGE Walking according to the Spirit helps build up the community 7044

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