May 23, 2021
Readings: Acts of the Apostles
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Galatians 5:16-25
John 20:19-23 or John 15:26-27; 16:12-15
Somewhere archived in our Catholic memories lies a vague knowledge of the Holy Spirit. For most of us, though, our understanding of the Holy Spirit rises out of the embers of experience — things we said in a moment of wisdom and we have no idea where the words came from, inspirations that compelled us to discover gifts we did not know we had, doing the right thing when the wrong one seemed so tempting, compassion and its friend, grief, a sure alchemy for prophetic change. This is often the “stuff” of the Holy Spirit.
My ancient knowledge of the Holy Spirit arrived on the doorstep of my Confirmation in sixth grade. We memorized our catechism responses about the Holy Spirit and the sacrament itself; for a kid, it was all such a mystery. I remember one thing clearly. The effects of the sacrament were to be notable. Yes, we would be like soldiers for Jesus Christ imbued with a strength that gave us purpose and passion for our faith. We would be given gifts, gifts that would get us through life, like wisdom, understanding, knowledge, etc. I went into the sacrament with high expectations but remembered the next day I did not feel different at all.
Yet, the Holy Spirit was faithful and danced gracefully into my life over time. The passion I longed for as a child lives in me yet. For me, the Holy Spirit does not just “show up,” but this loving Spirit pulses through my veins like sap through a tree. For the early disciples, who were gathered on that first Pentecost when the winds blew, when the fire of a new language urged them to walk fearlessly onto the world’s veranda to preach Christ crucified, risen, and victorious, they were not the only ones to know the power of the Holy Spirit. Their Spirit is ours, too.
For Jesus promised the Advocate would come in his absence. This Spirit would teach us what is true and would point to Christ, the Lord. If we have a relationship with Jesus, it is thanks to the Holy Spirit, whether we are aware of it or not. If we have been faithful to the sacraments, it is because the Holy Spirit has been faithful to us. If we love the rosary and are near to Mary, the Mother of God, it is because the Holy Spirit knows we need her maternal care. If we love the saints, our passionate ancestors who modeled courage and humility throughout history, it is because the Holy Spirit desires we know the Friends of God. And if we stand in awe of a baby born, a splashy sunset, or the blooms of spring, then we have known the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit is the “Lord, the giver of life,” as we proclaim in the Creed.
But who is the Holy Spirit anyway?
The Holy Spirit simply stated is God, present and active everywhere, pervading our lives. The Spirit, above all, desires to reveal an imminent God. Not a distant view of the mountain, but the mountain itself. Not the great river far away, but a river that invites us to wade into it up to our ankles, then to our knees, up to our waist, until the river sweeps us away with its power. On Pentecost, we are asked to float into its mystery and into its hope.
To have the Holy Spirit is to encounter the living God in Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke often of the encounter with Jesus Christ.
“Dear brothers and sisters, this is true for every Christian: faith is first and foremost and a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more. May this happen to each one of us.” (Pope Benedict, Catechesis on St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Oct. 22, 2009).
“Are you afraid?” Benedict asks.
“If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that he might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.” (Lumen Fidei, the encyclical written by two popes.)
The sacrament of Confirmation opened within me an enduring longing for God. It is not over. Nor will it ever be.