My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
We have just celebrated the Feast of Pentecost, and perhaps a reflection on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is in order. In one of my Confirmation homilies, I make sure to ask those to be confirmed, “What is the greatest gift you have ever received?”
During the homily, I pause and give the Confirmandi time to think about the question. Was it a Christmas gift that you really wanted, or a birthday gift that you kept nagging your parents for? What was the greatest gift that you have ever received in your life so far?
At one Confirmation while I was ministering in the Diocese of Camden, one of the mothers raised her hand and said, “Bishop, you have it wrong, the greatest gift I ever received is my children!” This mother beat me to the point I was trying to make, and how right she was. The point I was trying to give to the confirmand is that the greatest gift that they ever received is a person, and the person is the Holy Spirit!
Yes, we have received the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation, as well as each time we approach the sacraments. This is true because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Risen Christ and remains in the world and makes God present to us. It seems, however, that we forget about the Holy Spirit. We pray to the Father through the Son, and we do mention the Holy Spirit, but do not realize that any prayer we make must be made first with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as the Scriptures tell us.
The Holy Spirit, who is gift, brings us the strength of other gifts, which are the supernatural virtues that are given to us from the Holy Spirit. They are named in the Old Testament from the Prophet Isaiah, who speaks about these gifts. We know these gifts as the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The first is wisdom, or the ability to look at reality from God’s point of view, and to see that God is truly awesome and full of wonder as our young people might say today.
The gift of understanding, or a certain intelligence, helps us reflect on the deeper meaning of our faith. This does not give us special secular knowledge; however, it does help us to better understand our faith.
The gift of counsel or right judgment gives us the help and prudence we need to form our conscience in the light of Church teaching and to choose the options that more closely unite ourselves to the will of God.
The gift of fortitude, or more strength, gives us the will to do the right thing and to overcome the many difficulties that we have in life.
The gift of knowledge enables us to have a more complete grasp of our faith and the way that God reveals Himself to us in the world.
The gift of the fear of the Lord is the most misunderstood. This is because the word fear, in this context, truly means respect. It is respect shown for the reality of God’s presence in our life and about the reality of sin that we must overcome. Fear of the Lord gives us an encouragement to flee temptation. When we show respect for God, a real love for God, we do become perfect as God is perfect.
Finally, the gift of piety, which is not to be mistaken as some type of external function of religion, rather it is the reverence of the Lord and respect for the dignity of other people. This is because we are sisters and brothers, and we are children of the one God.
How important it is that we recognize the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Feast of Pentecost gives us this opportunity. Unfortunately, however, this year we experienced this Liturgy remotely. Still, this is the same Spirit that comes to us in a renewed way each time this feast day is celebrated. We recognize that this feast does coincide with the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which is the celebration of the fruits that were harvested from the spring planting, since winter finishes early in the Holy Land and already one crop can be harvested. With our Jewish brothers and sisters, we too recognize that there is much to be harvested when we sow the seeds of God’s love in the world. This is what Pentecost reminds us of, since the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love.
In the past, we have also heard about the fruits of the Holy Spirit. This is like a tree, when it is fertile, that brings forth fruit in abundance. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are really a result of growth on the tree of the gifts itself, which enable us to live a good, holy and peaceful life. Although innumerable, there are twelve that are normally mentioned in relationship to what the Holy Spirit brings to us. The fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, prudence, goodness, gentleness, self-control, faithfulness, modesty, continence, and chastity all are special fruits of the Spirit that can flourish in our lives when we recognize first of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we have received. (Gal. 5:22-24)
As I said at the beginning, the greatest gift that we ever have received as Christians is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity who truly is that person who has a place in our lives.
The Holy Spirit is that person through whom we pray to the Father and to the Son.
Each time we come to the Feast of Pentecost, we recognize that we are putting out into the deep mystery of the Trinity. It is the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ. We use this time of recognizing the presence of the Spirit in our lives and ask that the gifts and the fruits that can make our lives as Christians so wonderful can be given to us again in abundance.