World Youth Day Catechesis

The Holy Spirit, The Soul of the Church

(Catechesis of Bishop Joseph Vũ Văn Thiên, bishop ot Hải Phòng Diocese, to Vietnamese at WYD 2008 Sydney, July 17, 2008)

Dear young friends,

It is wonderful to share in the rich and vibrant atmosphere of the WYD 2008. These days, the Vietnamese Youths are gathering in Sydney from all continents together with the Youths from over the world. From different cultures and traditions, you all have the same language: Vietnamese; the same heart: Vietnamese; the same desire: to build up the Church and improve life.

It is the Vietnamese language and the love for Vietnam that draw us to Sydney today. The Vietnamese culture like a mother opens up her embracing arms to welcome the children of Lac Hong. It is also the Holy Spirit that draws us together, who is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity and the one who unites us all into one from all of our differences. The Holy Spirit is the joy, the hope and the love, who teaches us the truth and strengthens us to do our part in building up the Church and society.

As you know, the theme of the 23rd World Youth Day this year is “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1: 8), with which, the Holy Father invites us to rediscover the graces and power of the Holy Spirit received at our Baptism and Confirmation.

The Holy Spirit is always at work in the universe, in history and in human lives, of individuals as well as communities. The working of the Holy Spirit is mentioned already in early pages of the Sacred Scriptures, “The Spirit of God swept over the water” (Genesis 1: 2). In the history of salvation, the Holy Spirit is always at work in the prophets and leaders of the people to enlighten them. The Holy Spirit also operates in human communities of different cultures so that they may attain to perfect justice according to their conscience.

1. The Lord Jesus founded the Church

While carrying out the mission of proclaiming the Good News of salvation, the Lord Jesus gathered together those believing in Him. They are at first a small group of simple fishermen of Galilee, chosen from among the disciples to be trained and sent out. From these twelve fishermen, the community of believers increased. They are men and women, old and young. Everyone was eager to follow the Lord to listen to His teaching, sometimes into the desert, sometimes up to mountaintop, in spite of hardships.

The Risen Lord, in the evening of the first day of the week, gave the Holy Spirit to the disciples. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they could comprehend the message of the resurrection. They were vested with the power “from on high” to courageously proclaim the Lord Jesus and witness to Him. On the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to present the Church to the world. He united into one all languages. He united all peoples into the People of God that is the Church.

Since it is an earthly reality, the People of God, the Church, needs to have a structure, a hierarchy. The Lord Jesus Himself gave St. Peter the leading power over the other apostles. Peter is the first Pope appointed by the Lord Jesus Himself. With Peter, the apostles shared the responsibility of leading the Church. Their successors today are the bishops all over the world. Each of them is entrusted with a diocese, a local Church, to care for with the help of the priests. That is the hierarchy of the Church.

The Church is not only a hierarchical but also a spiritual organization because the ultimate leader of the Church is the Lord Jesus. The Pope is His vicar on earth, or the visible leader of the Church. The Church believes that the Lord Jesus is always present in the Church and in its leader. Therefore, the Church always stands firm and grows.

2. The working of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in the lives of individuals

The Holy Spirit is the life-giving source of the Church, which has gone through over 2000 years of many ups and downs, still has not ceased to grow, thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit. For that very reason, the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. The concept “soul” expresses the indispensable union of the Holy Trinity and the Church founded by the Lord Jesus. A Church not guided by the Holy Spirit is like a body without soul, thus without life. By the Holy Spirit, the Church is always young, always strong and up-to-date, viable in all cultures. He works in the Church and unites all in charity. “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12: 13). St. Paul compares the Church to a human body, which has many parts, but is commanded by one single spirit for one single purpose, and thus remains healthy (Cf. 1 Cor 12). The parts of the body need each other to exist. No part can survive by itself. The Holy Spirit unites all the parts making them alive. The gifts are many, but from only one Spirit. To some is given the gift of wisdom to teach; to others is given the gift of knowledge to inform; yet to others is given the gift of healing to console the bodies and souls of others; and to others is given the ability of mighty deeds to witness to the power of God…all are the gifts of the Holy Spirit in order to build up the Church.

3. The Communion of the Church

Dear friends, what is the Church? We are the Church. From differences of cultures, mentalities and preferences, we all are united into the one Church of the Lord Jesus. Those differences do not cause conflicts in the Church, but enrich the Church. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council defines the Church as the People of God. It is a pilgrim people, that is, on the way to their eternal goal which is God. The People of God include many peoples in an enormous procession, in which, there are the leaders of the Church; there are those who engage in the missions of spreading the Faith or in the work of charity; there are the rich, the poor, the learned, the unlearned, people of all colors and languages. Even the by-standers looking on the procession in some way belong to the Church.

The communion of the Church is also expressed through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, since it is the uniting point of all peoples, the bond of charity, the source and the summit of the Christian life. The Church is not a lone island, not isolated, not closed-up, but is always open to the outside world and solicitous about the needs of human lives. The social teaching of the Church attests to that solicitude. Through that teaching, the Church fulfills its prophetic office: teaching the truth, defending human rights and dignity, condemning injustice and violence.

4. The Youth and the Church today

As members of the Church, we, young people, are invited to share in the responsibility of building up the Church of the Jesus Christ.

Due to prejudice, some faithful is willing to believe in the Gospel, but reject the Church. They see the Church as rigid institution restraining and impeding their progress. They think the Church restricts their personal freedom, for example by its moral teachings. Affected by that mentality, many young people do not attend Mass, receive the Sacraments, or participate in the community of believers. For them, it is enough to profess the faith in God.

The Church founded by the Lord Jesus is not only a hierarchical structure, but also a Sacrament of salvation (Cf. Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World “Gaudium et Spes” n. 45). Speaking of the Sacrament is speaking of the visible aspect. The Church founded by Jesus will continue with time to offer salvation to mankind, through proclaiming the Gospel, through defending the poor and the oppressed, through teaching those values of the Gospel that help us live more justly and lovingly (Cf. Pope John Paul II’s “Redemptoris Missio” n. 20). For that reason, we need to understand the mission of the Church in order to share in the responsibility of building up the Church.

Dear young friends,

One of the goals of the World Youth Day is to help renew our belief that the Church is the Body of Christ and each of us is a member of that Body. We can’t love Jesus and remain indifferent to His Church. The Church is a body animated by the Holy Spirit. Many young people often ask, “What has the Church done for me?” yet seldom or never ask, “What have I done for the Mother Church?” Just as in life, we usually only ask, “What have my neighbors done for me?” but forget that we also need to ask ourselves, “What have I done for my parents, my friends, my parish and my society?” Try to become “neighbors” to those around us, which is the teaching of the parable “the Good Samaritan” in the Gospel (Lk 10: 29-37).

We pray that the World Youth Day will be a new Pentecost, at which we will receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Afterwards, we will depart from Sydney taking back to our normal daily lives the blessed memories of the encounters of these days. Above all, we take with us the power of the Holy Spirit with all eagerness to do our part to make the Church more vibrant in concrete activities in the parishes, in spiritual associations, in apostolic movements. From this World Youth Day, we are commissioned by the Holy Spirit to take part in expressing a young and lively face of the Church. For the Church exists through you. You are witnesses to the Lord Jesus and His Church. The holiness, glory and honor of the Church partly depend on your good will of building a life of more love and more hope.

May the Holy Spirit bless and assist you in every moment of your lives. May He always accompany you to be your Protector and Guide to all truths. Thank you.

(Translated into English by Rev. Dong Minh Quang, VietCatholic)