Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost and it is, therefore, a good time to reflect a little on how the Holy Spirit works, both in the Church, as well as in our own lives.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” -John 14:26
God knew that after the resurrection and ascension of His Son, Jesus, we were going to need some extra help. While Jesus physically walked the earth, all anyone had to do was listen to Him directly to know what He willed for them. However, when left to our own devices for too long, we humans tend to muck things up. We received the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in order to continually guide and advise us on the Father’s will for the Church as a whole and for individuals as well.
As I was preparing to write this reflection, I was lamenting the fact that my son, and all of his classmates, had to miss receiving their Sacraments of First Holy Eucharist and Confirmation due to the Covid-19 restrictions in April. Our family, along with many others, were terribly sad as the day came and went. In acknowledgement of that day, I thought it might be worthwhile to talk a little bit about how the Holy Spirit is at work in us when we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
At some point in our history, a little confusion developed about what Confirmation really means. Most of us were likely taught that our Confirmation was the moment in which we were making the adult decision to be Catholic. This is not actually what the Sacrament is. Sacraments are the means by which God communicates His grace and a share in His divine life with us through the physical world. Confirmation, then, is an outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit into our souls for our spiritual benefit. That gift is given to us regardless of our age or maturity by the very nature of it being a Sacrament. This means that Confirmation is a completion of the gift given to us at our Baptism. The Catechism clarifies this by saying: “Although Confirmation is sometimes called the ‘sacrament of Christian maturity,’ we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need ‘ratification’ to become effective” (CCCC #1308).
While most of us may recall receiving our confirmation at around the age of 16 or so, our diocese here in Phoenix celebrates the Sacraments according to what’s called “restored order,” or more like how they were celebrated in the early Church. Early Christians would receive the three Sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation – when they converted to Christianity, regardless of their age. One of the reasons for this was that they would be empowered with supernatural grace and supernatural gifts that would help them to withstand the great trials and persecutions that awaited them as new Christians. So, with this in mind, we have a new perspective on how, through their Confirmation, we can arm our children at a younger age with what they need to endure their own trials in life.
As with most of the sacraments, we prepare our children for their Confirmation. The Catechism states: “Preparation for Confirmation should aim at leading the Christian toward a more intimate union with Christ and a more lively familiarity with the Holy Spirit – his actions, his gifts, and his biddings – in order to be more capable of assuming the apostolic responsibilities of Christian life” (CCCC #1309). Our children become very familiar with the gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord – as well as how to recognize when the Holy Spirit is prompting them to use these gifts. While this is necessary and equally wonderful for our children, how much time do we spend reflecting on what all of this means to the rest of us?
The feast of Pentecost is an annual reminder and celebration of how the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and enflamed our Church with His holy love and protection. However, once a person has picked his or her special saint and has been sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Confirmation tends to be a Sacrament rarely thought about afterward, much less celebrated annually. If you recall the story of the first Pentecost, you’ll remember that the Holy Spirit descended upon the house where the Apostles were hiding and filled them all with His Presence (Acts. 2:1-4). What happened after that, though? With their new ability to speak in other languages, they were compelled to go out and preach to all the people, to evangelize. In other words, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, they were compelled to action on behalf of God. Similarly, when the Holy Spirit bestowed His gifts on us in Confirmation, they weren’t meant to be something stored away for a rainy day. These are gifts that should compel us to action every single day, because every single day, the Holy Spirit is within us.
We talked about meditation a few weeks ago. A good way to put meditation into practice would be to meditate on each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Remember the three components of good meditative prayer: consideration, application, and resolution. So, using fortitude as an example, sit with the word “fortitude” and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal some deeper meaning or insight to what it means to be endowed with the gift of supernatural fortitude. Ask Him how divine fortitude is different from human fortitude. Listen to Him and allow Him to teach you something new. Then, meditate on how that applies to you personally in your own life and your own circumstances. Where have you drawn help from the gift of fortitude? Where have you stumbled and not relied on that gift as much? Finally, make a decision about a concrete step you can make to increase your reliance on the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude. You can do this for each gift and find many ways to enrich your spiritual life, grow closer to God, and acknowledge the gifts you received from the Holy Spirit at your Confirmation in new and wonderful ways. Of course, it can be very overwhelming to do too much at once, but you could certainly spend a month at a time with each gift, seeing where the Holy Spirit leads you.
Like the Apostles, once the Holy Spirit enters your soul, you are compelled to act and not remain stagnant. Let us all be aware of the Holy Spirit within us and allow Him to move us where He wants us so that as Christians, we might set the world ablaze with His love.
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