Today we celebrate the birthday of the Church on the feast of Pentecost. After Jesus’ ascension, the apostles, along with Mary and a few others, went to the upper room to pray and wait for the spirit that Jesus had promised to send. After the ninth day, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, enabling them to speak different languages and evangelize so they could accomplish the mission of making disciples of all people, as Jesus had commanded them. The body of Christ on earth was born and, ever since, has been animated by the Holy Spirit. Today, each of us is also a member of the body of Christ and we continue to be animated by that same Holy Spirit.
Take a moment to think about the apostles gathered in the upper room. They were all different. They all had different professions, upbringings, gifts, opinions, deficiencies, and depth of faith (recall Thomas needing to see to believe). They were a diverse group of men. When the Holy Spirit descended upon them, it did not make them all the same in order for them to carry out their goal, rather it united them in carrying out that goal. They all received the same gifts – piety, understanding, fortitude, fear of the Lord, wisdom, counsel, and knowledge – but they were meant to used by each individual apostle in a way unique to him. In other words, each one, with all of his own unique attributes, worked with the Holy Spirit to carry out God’s salvific work. The Holy Spirit did not take away any of their individuality, but instead, it became the thread that held them all together as the unitive force of Christianity.
After the Apostles, with each passing century, the body of Christ continued to grow. Christians throughout history have all been the individual members of the body, each in their uniqueness. Think about your favorite saints. Recall the time period in which they lived and the challenges of the world they had to face. No two stories are the same, but the Spirit that unites them and the gifts He brings to them, remain unchanging. What we can see in the stories of the great saints is how each of them responded to the Holy Spirit in his or her own special way, allowing Him to move them to action in the Church’s mission of saving souls. St. Thérèse of Lisieux exhibited extreme piety in her pursuit to love Jesus in every small way she could. Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas were men of great wisdom and knowledge of the world, who left behind great works for us to read in order that we, too, may grow in our own knowledge of God. St. Gianna Beretta Molla was a great example of fortitude, as she endured great illness to preserve the life of her unborn child, always giving glory to God through her suffering. These examples illustrate the diversity of the members of the body of Christ, while also showing their unity in the Holy Spirit that animated them in their holy work.
Now, all of us are here today as members of the body of Christ with our own individual uniqueness, yet still united through the same Holy Spirit. We each received the gifts of the Holy Spirit when we received the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation and we are called to respond to those gifts by allowing them to animate our intentions and actions. These gifts are the types of gifts that are meant to be shared by giving the gift of ourselves to others. You have something inside of you that, with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, can help those around you get to heaven, but only you have it. Consider each of the seven gifts you received at your confirmation and think of the specific ways you have responded to and seen those gifts at work in your life, specifically with regard to how they have helped you in the work of evangelizing others. Like the apostles, have you responded to the Holy Spirit’s descent upon you by taking it out into the world, or have you remained locked in the upper room, afraid to come out? Have you found yourself fortified by the Holy Spirit, like the saints, to face whatever challenges come toward you in doing the work God is calling you to do in this world?
Finally, if the Holy Spirit unites us as a very diverse group of people, then we are all brothers and sisters in the unity of the Holy Spirit. All Christians, whether living or dead, are forever bound together through the spirit that animates us. You are united to the apostles, and your favorite saint, just as much as you are to your family members, living or deceased, and will remain so throughout eternity, which is such a great gift to us who are created for community and love. However, the harder part about this gift is that we are also united by the Spirit to even those with whom we disagree or dislike. Sometimes Satan tries to use our diversity to divide us, but the Holy Spirit’s unitive action is certainly stronger, if we allow it. Therefore, when we look at those people with whom we struggle the most, we should not just look at their humanity, but at the Holy Spirit that dwells within them, making that person your brother or sister in Christ. Encourage your heart to be open to the Holy Spirit’s work inside of you and your dealings with that person. Always call upon the Holy Spirit for help and guidance because there is nothing more He would love to do than help you help others get to heaven.