Introductory Remarks & Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Deacon Dana McCarthy, one of the deacons blessed to be assigned here to St. Vincent de Paul Parish.
As I believe you all know by now, Fr. McAlear, our mission priest, was taken seriously ill and cannot be here for this Lenten Mission. And so I ask you to keep him in your prayers, that through the healing power of the Holy Spirit he may have a speedy recovery and return to full service in the Lord’s vineyard. Amen.
This past weekend, our pastor, Fr. Peter, in a very weak moment, asked me to “fill in” this evening…so to speak. Being asked to fill in for someone else is always a challenge, especially at the last minute, and especially when that someone else is a special someone like Fr. McAlear…
One of the first questions people ask is: What’s this substitute preacher going to talk about? Will he speak on the same topic or will he choose another? In this instance, I thought it best not to change topics; and so this evening I will speak on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. After all, that’s why many of you are here. I can only hope that by not changing topics, you won’t be short-changed…at least too much.
That, of course, leads to the second question: Will this substitute preacher be as good? And to that question I can safely answer, “No!” I am no expert on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I’m just a deacon in service to our God and His people, and like each of you I’m struggling on this remarkable journey of being, constantly asking God for forgiveness and hoping for His mercy.
And so you’re stuck with me. And you can send all criticism and complaints directly to the pastor, since he’s the one who asked me. Fortunately, tomorrow morning you’ll be blessed to have Deacon Claude Curtin as your preacher, a man who has probably forgotten more about Christian spirituality than I ever knew.
I’ve divided this evening’s session into three talks, with each followed by a time of silent prayer in the presence of our Lord. And so in a moment we will expose the Blessed Sacrament so Jesus will be with us in His Real Presence throughout the evening. Then, at the end of our time together, we’ll conclude with Benediction.
But right now, since two or more are gathered here, we know that Jesus is present, and wherever Jesus is, so too is the Holy Spirit. And so, let’s pray:
Holy Spirit, be with us tonight. Let your breath of love, of wisdom, of understanding flow over us and into our hearts and minds as we contemplate your precious gifts. Deepen our faith and strengthen our love for you and for each other.
Spirit of God, evict from this holy place any spirit of evil, any spirit of hatred, all those spirits of malice, pettiness and selfishness, those spirits that try so hard to lead us away from You, the Holy Spirit, away from Jesus Christ, away from the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Talk 1: The Holy Spirit as Gift
Now before we address the many gifts of the Holy Spirit, let’s consider first the “gift” of the Holy Spirit – and by that I mean the Holy Spirit Himself as a gift.
Fifteen years ago, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, referring to the movement of the Holy Spirit within the Church after the Second Vatican Council, said:
“At the heart of a world imbued with a rationalistic skepticism, a new experience of the Holy Spirit suddenly burst forth. And, since then, that experience has assumed a breadth of a worldwide Renewal movement. What the New Testament tells us about the charisms - which were seen as visible signs of the coming of the Spirit - is not just ancient history, over and done with, for it is once again becoming extremely topical.”He went on to say…
“Suddenly there was something nobody had planned on. The Holy Spirit had spoken up for himself again. In young people especially, the faith was surging up in its entirety, with no ifs and buts, with no excuses or way out, experienced as a favor and as a precious life-giving gift.”…a life-giving gift…that’s what we’ll be talking and praying about tonight – God’s life-giving gift and the many gifts of the Holy Spirit. And what’s so remarkable is how lavish, how bountiful the Spirit is as He rains these gifts upon His Church.
My wife, Diane, and I have nine grandchildren, aged 12 and under. And believe me, they are truly interesting little people. With the approach of Christmas, or whenever one of them has a birthday coming up, most of these little ones tell us exactly what he or she wants as a gift. Now, they know about how much we’re willing to spend and so they’re remarkably astute in that they ask only for that which we can give. Often enough they even send me a link to the product on amazon.com.
This actually works out quite well for both grandchild and grandparents. The grandchild is certain of getting at least one gift that he actually wants. And because we got them the cool gift they wanted, we end up looking pretty good on Christmas morning or at the birthday party.
To tell you the truth, in making this little deal with our grandchildren, Diane and I are actually being quite God-like. Now before you accuse me of blasphemy, let me explain…
There’s a wonderful passage in Chapter 11 of Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus is teaching the disciples about prayer. He’s just finished teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, and many of us simply stop right there. After all, it’s the prayer that Jesus taught us. And so we learn it by heart. We teach it to our children. We pray those words together at every Mass. It begins each decade of the Rosary. It even offers us a foundation to much of our theology.
Yes, these are important words coming from Jesus Himself. But it’s equally important to realize that Jesus wasn’t finished. He continued by revealing more about prayer, more about the Trinity. Listen to the words of Our Lord, the passage that follows the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s Gospel:
And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.These are pretty wonderful words. Do you see what I mean? It’s a bit like us and our grandchildren. You see, in a sense, God wants to spoil us. God tells us to ask for what we want. And if we ask in faith, and with a heart that is right with God, a heart that conforms to God’s will, He will listen and we will receive. That’s what I meant when I said Diane and I were acting very God-like in our gift-giving. Of course, God’s gifts are far better than anything I can find on Amazon.
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” [Lk 11:5-13]
Now let’s look a bit more closely at parts of this passage.
“Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you...” [Lk 11:9]Comforting words, aren’t they? But I think too many of us take those words and extract only what we want to hear. We place so much importance on the things of our lives, on the uniquely human activities and distractions that occupy so much of our time. And then, distracted by these “things,” we often misinterpret what Jesus is telling us about prayer. We seem to think that no matter how difficult our problems, how heavy our burdens, how confused our lives. . . like the unrelenting friend in the gospel parable, if we only pray real hard, and persist in that prayer, God will finally say, “Okay, okay,” and give us whatever we ask.
But that’s really not what Jesus is saying, is it? Because He doesn’t stop there, and continues with another brief parable, this time referring to that special human relationship between parent and child…or even between grandparent and grandchild.
“What father among you will give his son a snake if he asks for a fish, or hand him a scorpion if he asks for an egg?” [Lk 11:11-12]And because we love our children, we all say, “I’d never do that!” And because God loves us even more, we’re sure He’ll certainly give us whatever we want. The trouble is, far too often, instead of asking for the fish or the egg, we ask instead for the snake and the scorpion. And then, dissatisfied with God’s response, we do act like children. We get angry with God. We throw our little tantrums and turn away from Him. After all, we asked, but we didn’t receive.
I actually had a woman approach me once after Mass, telling me she was very upset with God. When I asked her why, she said, “Well, I’ve prayed about this every day for several years now, and I’ve never won the lottery.”
Naturally, I thought she was joking, and so I laughed…aloud…very aloud. Well, that was a mistake. Before I could say anything else, she stormed off in a huff. I actually caught up with her a few weeks later and we talked about Jesus’ warning in Luke’s Gospel: “Take care to guard against all greed…” [Lk 12:15]
You see, at the very core of our prayer, we must always remember that Jesus tells us to pray to the Father, “Thy will be done” [Mt 6:10] For if the will of the child doesn’t conform to the will of the Father, the child, disregarding all personal desire, must repeat with Jesus in the Garden, “...not my will, but yours” [Lk 22:42].
Brothers and sisters, Jesus wants us to pray for everything good, for this is what our Father wants for us.
“If you, with all your sins, know how to give your children good things, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” [Lk 11:13]Did you catch that? The gift of the Holy Spirit? Not the Holy Spirit’s gifts, but the gift of the Holy Spirit Himself. How often in prayer do you ask for the Holy Spirit?
Only God’s grace, given to us freely by the Holy Spirit, through the saving power of the Son, can save us from our sinfulness and raise us to new life in Him. And so, in prayer, as in all things, Jesus is our model. Although He is God, the second Person of the Trinity, He exercises His power only in dependence on the Father, through the working of the Holy Spirit.
Recall that striking miracle, the resurrection of the dead Lazarus, and how Jesus prayed aloud:
“Father, I thank you for having heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd, that they may believe that you sent me” [Jn 11:41-42].It’s this all-powerful intercession that we rely on when we pray in Jesus’ name, when we conform our own prayer to His.
This, then, is the first key element of our prayer, that we conform everything to Jesus. Conform – to be in form with – to be together with. Another meaning – to commingle, to blend our lives with Jesus.
You see, what Jesus is really telling us is that our prayer must be an act of simple trust, the kind of trust you see in the face of a child who knows his parent will never harm him. And like that child, we often don’t know what’s good or bad for us. But God, the good parent, tells us, “Trust me. You’ll thank me for it later.”
A spiritual director once told me, “God has only three answers to prayers of petition: Yes, not now, and I have something even better planned for you.” You and I can teach God nothing, but we can ask everything of Him, entrusting to Him the judgment of our real needs. Indeed, it’s our duty to ask, to pray: for we are His children, we should want to receive everything from His hand.
But we should ask, seek and knock so that we may discover God’s will for us, and then ask for the courage and strength to do it. Certainly, we can always ask God for specific things, but more important is to enter into His presence in silence and solitude of heart – to let Him enter into our hearts.
Indeed, Jesus demands this of us. Again we turn to John’s Gospel where Jesus instructs the Apostles:
“Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” [Jn 15:4-5].And a moment later He adds:
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you” [Jn 15:7].Recall, too, what Paul told the Christians of Corinth:
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” [1 Cor 6:19]That’s right. You and I really own nothing, not even our own bodies. We belong to our Creator. But not just that…as a temple of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit dwells in you, and wherever the Spirit is, so too is the Father and the Son. We cannot separate them, for they are one God, united in this Trinity of Love.
It’s important then to realize that God longs to dwell in the depths of your soul, at the very center of your being, a being created in His image. We can best reach Him when we grow in prayer, and grow in internal silence.
The purpose of Christian prayer is to enter here and now into a deeper and ever more real relationship with God. This is true Christian prayer: a movement of the spirit to where I am near Him, into His very presence. And so we shouldn’t think of prayer as some form of mental communication, like something out of a sci-fi movie. Rather, prayer is a joining of hearts, a sharing of love between Father and child.
Interior silence and the ability to love God in a kind of nakedness of spirit, a complete openness where we hide nothing from God – these, too, are gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Father sends forth His Spirit with these gifts, gifts promised to us by the revelation of His Son that “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” [Mt 6:8].
This promise of the Lord Jesus is really the basis for a Christian’s trust and hope. It’s a promise we should always call to mind before we pray. If we have conformed ourselves with Jesus Christ, and if we trust in the Father, then we can count on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Lord’s promise.
Because of it we are certain of the Father’s love for us.
Because of it we can leave behind all anxiety, all uncertainty, all distrust.
Because of it we don’t need to worry about our future; we don’t need to try to calculate the state of our relationship with God.
Because of it we can gradually come to want what God wants – to do that commingling, that blending –and to acknowledge in our hearts that good, and nothing but good, comes only from God, only from Our Father.
And friends, the Father is Our Father – not just mine, not just yours, but ours. By the very fact that we are put into relationship with God, as sons and daughters of the Father, we find ourselves in relationship with one another. How could it be otherwise?
Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest imprisoned and executed by the Nazis during World War II, was made poignantly aware of this. Condemned, kept in solitary confinement, he wrote:
“We never see each other – the whispered words of fellow sufferers and friends are denied us…We have come to the end of all things where man is utterly on his own. And the old truism, it is not good for man to be alone, applies especially to this situation and this dark hour.You see, brothers and sisters, true Christian prayer is always concerned with something other than ourselves. By its very nature, it is concerned with our God and the welfare of others.
“I would so love to shout across to another cliff where a friend sits equally isolated. But the words do not carry…
“But then – we utter OUR Father – and all at once the chasm is spanned.
“Suddenly we see the truth that in God, through God, we have always possessed the shortest route to reach our neighbor…to be at one with all who pray and believe and love.”
This evening we’ll spend some little time in silent prayer in the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament – just to thank Him, if only for the gift of life, for the gift of our very existence. But don’t let your prayer linger on yourself. Indeed, when you begin to pray, Evict yourself from your heart and turn it over to the Holy Spirit. For to pray well is always to pray in the Holy Spirit. It’s to turn first to the Spirit, to our friend, our comforter, to ask for His guidance, to ask for His gift of love.
Then we can turn to Jesus in prayer as we would talk to a friend, to a brother, whose help we need. Then we can turn to the Father in prayer as we would to a daddy, to Abba, who loves us.
Jesus tells us to ask everything of the Father, Abba Father, as He calls Him. It means Papa or Daddy. And because we Christians pray to Our Father, we are, by our very words, praying together. In this sense, then, no Christian can pray without all Christians praying.
The Fatherhood of God is among the deepest mysteries of our faith, at the very heart of His revelation. With this revelation, Jesus once again turns our world upside down. He combines awe with intimacy and gives God a name holier than all other names because it reveals the deepest secret of God’s being. It reveals His Fatherhood.
It is as Father that God is holy. It is as Father that He begets, loves, and adopts other children in His one Child, His Son whom He sent to be one of us. Abba – Daddy – is the sweetest word to God’s ear.
Do you see why it especially pleases God, when we approach Him with intimate trust as Our Father? Because by doing so our first movement of the Spirit is to Him and to others, rather than ourselves.
And so our prayer expresses gratitude for having been adopted in Christ, and a desire that all people share in the grace of that adoption:
“Do for others, Lord, what You have done for us by revealing your name to them.”
Can any other prayer please God more?
And remember, it is the Holy Spirit who is the Revealer. It is He who spreads God’s Word throughout the earth, just as God wills.
Let’s take a few moments now this evening to ask God for one thing only. Let’s ask him for nothing more than that perfect gift, the gift of His Holy Spirit. Don’t inundate the Father and Son with words. Just close your eyes and open your heart to the divine presence.
Welcome the Spirit of God. He wants to be with you and within you. Let Him enter into the very depth of your being. For only then can you share Him with others.
Ask for this and nothing more.
Talk 2: The Holy Spirit and His Gifts
Who exactly is this Holy Spirit who showers us with so many gifts?
Actually, Scripture tells us much about the Holy Spirit. Matthew describes how Jesus sent the early Church into the world with the command to bring all into the Church in the name of the Trinity:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" [Mt 28-19].Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth that they should have a personal relationship, a friendship with the Holy Spirit:
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all" [2 Cor 13:14].And Paul instructs the Ephesians that the Spirit permeates the Church, the Body of Christ:
"There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all" [Eph 4:4-6].Paul again teaches the Corinthians of the transformation brought about by the life-giving Spirit, that life in the Spirit frees us from the slavery of sin:
“…but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” [2 Cor 3:14-18].And then, in Chapter 12 of his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, Paul introduces the Spirit’s gifts:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one” [1 Cor 12:4-6].In addition to providing us with this introduction to the gifts of the Spirit, Paul’s also makes sure we all know that there is but one God, one Lord, one Spirit. Yes, God is Trinity and God is One.
Sometimes, in the weakness of our human understanding, I think we slide into a kind of sloppy mental heresy when it comes to the Trinity. We see the three as separate divine persons, which they certainly are, but then we neglect to unite them as they truly are. Our neglect stems from the very mystery of the Trinity itself, a mystery of perfect unity that is far beyond anything we can ever imagine. We see each in our minds, as we see each other, forgetting that they are one.
Recall that wonderful dialog that John relates, that dialog between Philip and Jesus at the Last Supper. Philip says to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied."
And Jesus, seemingly exasperated, replies,
"Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves [Jn 14:8-11].It’s really a wonderful passage because it gives us a glimpse into the unity of the Trinity. You and I can’t say such things about ourselves. I can’t really say, “You are in me and I am in you,” because, well, we’re not. I am me and you are you.
But it’s not the same with the Holy Trinity; they are truly three Persons in One…something far beyond our understanding.
Many years ago, during my years as a consultant, I was hired by a large corporation to provide some training for their international sales force. The training focused on how to deal effectively with the cultural differences they would encounter in various parts of the world. An element of the training, of course, addressed the impact of the various world religions on their respective cultures.
One of the men attending the seminar was a Muslim from Saudi Arabia. And when I began to talk about religious differences, he immediately asked how he, a Muslim, should deal with Christians, who believed in so many gods. “Do you have only three gods, or do you have more than that?” he asked.
I ended up spending the coffee break and the entire lunch hour explaining the basics of Christian theology to him, but even then he didn’t fully believe me. He said he had read some of the New Testament and he was confused because, as he said, “You Christians also have so many Holy Spirits.”
In a way, I can understand his confusion. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, even Christians are sometimes confused because of the symbols through which He is represented to us. The very word itself, “Spirit,” comes from the Hebrew word ruah which means breath or wind, something we encounter in the first verses of Genesis:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” [Gen 1:1-2].In another translation the Spirit is described “a mighty wind sweeping over the waters.”
Yes, it’s the Spirit that pushes aside the darkness. It’s the Sprit that brings life to the world. And life again is the theme in Isaiah and Ezekiel, and later in John’s Gospel, when the Spirit is described as life-giving, as “living water” flowing from the believer’s heart.
We meet the Spirit as a dove, a symbol of peace and purity, when it descends at the baptism of Jesus, evoking the memory of God’s covenant with Noah, and foreshadowing the New Covenant, a baptism of water and the Spirit.
At Pentecost the Spirit is not only a furious wind blowing through the upper room, but He appears as tongues of purifying fire. As Jesus had already told the disciples: “I came to cast fire upon the earth…” [Lk 12:49].
Throughout Exodus the Spirit manifests Himself as a cloud of glory: on Sinai, in the desert, in the tent of meeting. We see this cloud of the Spirit in the New Testament too when it “overshadows” Mary as she conceives the Son of God; and the cloud is there, too, at the Transfiguration and Ascension. And there are other symbols and signs of the Spirit: oil of anointing and the laying on of hands.
With all these images – breath, wind, water, dove, fire, cloud, oil, hands, gift – we can easily come to think of the Holy Spirit as some mysterious force. And in doing so we can forget that the Holy Spirit is a Person, a divine Person, a Person with whom you and I can have a personal relationship.
Jesus tries to ensure we understand this when he speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete. Now that’s a wonderful Greek word meaning a helper who is at our side, one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, who intercedes for us…a friend.
Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is no less than your true friend, the friend who cares more for you than any other. He is the friend who sees and dwells within your heart. No one can ever be closer. He is that divine Person who lives within us; He is God’s love poured out for us.
And what of His Gifts?
For those of you who are old enough, a few might remember the Baltimore Catechism’s response:
“The gifts of the Holy Ghost are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord.”These gifts are enumerated in Holy Scripture; but, remarkably, we find them in the Old Testament. They’re given to us through the Prophet Isaiah, who in a wonderful Messianic text, prophesies that,
“…a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom” [Is 11:1].This prophecy, of course, tells of the coming of Jesus the Christ, from the House of David. But Isaiah continues…
“The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD” [Is 11:2].From this prophecy, then, we see that these gifts in their fullness belong to Jesus Christ, the Son of David. And yet they are available to all of us. Indeed, if you turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you’ll see that the Church teaches:
“They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations” [CCC 1831].Did you catch that? “They make the faithful docile…” Interesting word, docile. Are you and I docile when we receive divine inspirations? Do we quietly accept all that God reveals to us? Do we obey the Lord without resistance, without regret, without complaint?
I think perhaps this is something worth praying for. Right now, though, it’s enough to know that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit generate within us this openness to God’s Word, this acceptance, this docility.
These seven gifts are often called the sanctifying gifts because they help perfect the virtues. They are, however, quite different from the charismatic gifts. But all these gifts are visibly present in the Church today. Indeed, they’re present here among us tonight, in this tent of meeting, where God is truly present revealing Himself to us through His Word and His Eucharistic presence.
This revelation of the Spirit’s gifts is also, I believe, caught up in Jesus’ seemingly unreasonable command to “be perfect as your heavenly Father Is perfect” [Mt 5:48]. We can never, of course, achieve the divine perfection of God, the perfection of omniscience and omnipotence, the perfection of divine love. But with the Spirit’s help, we can approach the perfection that Jesus taught in the Beatitudes, for these are indeed attainable with the Spirit’s help,
It’s through the gifts of the Spirit that we can move toward the perfection Jesus calls us to attain. Through these gifts we can come to share in the perfection that exists in the Holy Trinity. Through them we can begin to experience the love that exists in the relationship of Father, Son and Spirit. Through them we can grow in love of neighbor, seeing Jesus in the other.
Pope Paul VI praised, as he called it, this raining down of gifts from the Spirit on the Church in our time. In his words…
“When the Holy Spirit comes, he grants gifts. We already know of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, but He also gives other gifts…called charisms. What is the meaning of “charism”? It means “gift.” It means a grace. They are particular graces given to one person or another, in order to do good. One receives the charism of wisdom and teaches, and another receives the gift of miracles and performs deeds which, through wonder and admiration, call others to the faith…”What wonderful words from the Vicar of Christ. And if we turn again to Chapter 12 of 1st Corinthians, we find these charisms enumerated by St. Paul. Paul begins by telling us of the Spirit’s greatest gift when he states, “And no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” [1 Cor 12:3].
Do you see what Paul’s telling us? That faith itself is a gift of the Spirit. You and I don’t self-generate our faith in Jesus Christ. It is a gift. And as the Church teaches, faith is a gratuitous gift, free and unwarranted.
What greater gift is there? It’s through faith that salvation comes to us. And what greater declaration of faith is there than to say, “Jesus Christ is Lord”? Without the Spirit, our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior would be impossible. Without the Spirit, salvation through faith would be beyond us, unattainable. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on by telling us of other gifts:
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. [explain] To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” [1 Cor 12:7-11].Wow! What marvelous, spectacular gifts. And they are given, not as we will, but as the Spirit wills.
I’ll never forget my first prayer meeting. It was in 1972 in Monterey, California where the Navy had sent me to graduate school. We met in the home of another naval officer and his wife, and I think there were probably about twenty people gathered there. My wife, Diane, former Baptist, former Methodist, former Pentecostal, now Catholic, thought it would be really neat if we went to a Catholic Charismatic prayer meeting.
Now for this cradle Catholic experiencing the manifestation of many of these gifts that evening was very strange indeed. But I came back the next week, and the next, and the next. And I began to read St. Paul from a slightly different perspective.
Before this, I had seen the Holy Spirit as the Person of the Trinity who guided the Church…and so He is. But I saw Him more as the one who kept the pope and the bishops all going in the right direction. Oh, yes, I know…the Spirit is present in all the sacraments, especially in baptism and confirmation, but again I saw all of this as a sort of well-defined construct…as the Spirit extending some kind of mysterious influence over the Church in general.
But Paul, in this same Chapter 12, goes on to say:
“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many” [1 Cor 13-14].It was then I realized these gifts are intended for all of us – not just for the Church in general, but for each individual member. It’s through these gifts that you and I can become the witnesses to our faith that we are called to be. It’s through these gifts that we can defend our faith, that we can defend our Church, with word and deed. It’s through these gifts that the Holy Spirit prods us and guides us in our lives as disciples and witnesses for Jesus Christ.
Remember what the Catechism said about them? They “complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them.” They complete and perfect virtues, but they‘re not virtues; they’re gifts. Unlike the acquiring of a virtue, which demands some pretty heavy activity on our part, these gifts come to us strictly through the movement of the Holy Spirit.
I once heard a preacher describe virtues as the oars of a boat. To keep the boat moving in the right direction, they require the application of a lot of muscle on our part. He then said the gifts of the Holy Spirit are more like sails. We need only raise the sails in grateful acceptance of the wind and the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest, and move us where He wills. As a Navy man, I always liked that analogy.
It’s important, too, to realize that these gifts, these authentic charisms, are always at the service of the Body of Christ, the Church. If they don’t serve the Body of Christ, they’re not authentic gifts. They’re not given to you by the Spirit simply to serve you; they’re given to serve God by serving His people.
And as gifts of the Holy Spirit, they are supernatural gifts, supernatural graces beyond our power of human striving or human nature. Now some gifts may build on the natural talents of those who receive them, such as the gift of wisdom given to someone who has a talent for teaching. And some are quite extraordinary, like healing and prophecy and the gift of tongues.
Paul also attaches some warnings. In Chapter 13 of 1st Corinthians, he lets us know that the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity have lasting value, that they unite us with God, and are, therefore, essential for salvation. [1 Cor 13]
But the Church teaches that these charisms, these marvelous gifts of the Spirit, are not essential for salvation. Indeed, what Paul found at Corinth also showed that even in the early Church, these charisms could be susceptible to misuse and exaggeration. And echoing Paul in their letters, both Peter and John warn us of this [1 Pet 5:8-9; 1 Jn 4:1]. We mustn’t forget that, and always keep Jesus’ warning in mind:
"Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" [Mt. 7:21-23].Praying in the Spirit and exercising the gifts of the Spirit are wonderful things…but if we are not doing the Father’s will in our lives, it all means nothing. And John gets quite specific about discernment of spirits in 1 Jn 4:
“Beloved, Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God” [1 Jn 4:1-2].Yes, I have certainly encountered some ungodly spirits in my life, as I am sure many of you have.
John doesn’t leave us hanging, but continues by offering a test by which we can discern whether the fruits of a spirit are good or bad. Anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, John instructs us, does not have the Spirit of God [1 John 4:3].
The Spirit of God would never lead one away from the truth about Christ. And since the Church is founded by Jesus Christ and is an extension of the mystery of the Incarnation, the Spirit of God would never lead one away from the Church or Her teachings. In the same way, the Holy Spirit would never lead one away from the practice of the faith. He would never lead one into immorality, or away from the sacraments or true devotion. Jesus Christ has left us with the means of salvation and His Spirit would never deprive us of them.
And so the Holy Spirit’s activity in the world will always lead toward truth and unity, no matter how remote they might appear. If it leads away from the truth, or if it does not promote unity among Christians, it’s a false spirit.
And remember, too, the Spirit moves wherever He wills. Saints, sinners, even unbelievers on occasion have manifested these gifts of the Spirit. Indeed, the sinful state of a recipient does not in itself indicate a false charism.
It’s always going to be up to us to discern what is good and what isn’t. We’ll go a long way toward accomplishing this is we ask prayerfully: “Is this a credible instance of Holy Spirit’s action? Is it a Spirit incapable of any lie or sin, a Spirit which can only lead people to a deeper faith and unity?” This should do much to protect us from St. Peter’s devil, the roaring lion who prowls about the world seeking souls to devour.
Let’s take a few moments now to pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament – in the presence of Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity.
And let’s turn our prayer to one of praise and thanksgiving, praising God for His goodness and thanking Him for the many gifts to His Body, the Church. And we can ask Him, too, for the Spirit’s continued showering of these gifts, not just for you and me personally, but for the Church and the salvation of the world.
Talk 3: Sharing the Spirit of Love
Luke the Evangelist loved to describe the work of the Spirit, the gifts and the power He brings to God’s creation. In just the first two chapters of his Gospel Luke never seemed to tire describing the Spirit’s great work of the Incarnation.
Luke begins by telling us how the archangel Gabriel revealed that John the Baptist “will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” [Lk 1:15]. But Gabriel wasn’t finished. During his subsequent visit to Mary at Nazareth, He told her exactly how the Good News of the Incarnation would be accomplished:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” [Lk 1:35].From this we see how Mary received one of her many titles: Spouse of the Holy Spirit. And Elizabeth, too, doesn’t escape the working of the Holy Spirit, for when Mary arrives at her doorstep, Luke tells us:
“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit…” [Lk 1:41]Later, when Jesus is presented in the Temple, Luke describes Simeon, the holy man to whom God reveals His Son:
“…this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him…and it has been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” [Lk 2:25].All that in just the first two chapters. Yes, the Spirit was active indeed as God entered the world as one of us, and He has remained just as active ever since. The Holy Spirit does not rest. The work of the Spirit continued as the Church came into being on the day of Pentecost. Listen to these words:
"Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 2:38].Do you know who said this?
The Pope. That’s tight, the first Pope. St. Peter said these words during that first marvelous homily of his on the day of Pentecost.
Not long before, this big, brave guy had trembled at the words of a servant girl. It was on that night of broken promises, that night of denial, that night of tears. Simon Peter, the callused, sun-burnt fisherman. The man of action, the rough and tumble blue-collar worker of 1st Century Galilee. A man of emotion, full of bluster and passion and swagger – as a Jew would say, full of chutzpah – a man who often spoke and acted without thinking.
He was a seemingly simple, straightforward man. And yet, beneath the surface, a complex man filled with contradictions. A man who readily responded to Jesus' call, but often resisted the message and mission that went with it. A man who spent three years with Jesus listening to a message he didn't really comprehend. A man whose faith underwent wild swings from deeply fervent to barely lukewarm. A man who could pledge undying loyalty to Jesus one day, then deny Him the next. A man who failed the test as often as he passed it.
And yet this is the man, Simon Peter, this complex mix of human strength and weakness, whom Jesus chose to lead His Church. For it’s Peter who dares to answer the Lord's question at Caesarea, "And you, who do you say that I am?" [Mt 15:15] It’s Peter who accepts and openly proclaims the revelation he has received from the Father, a revelation inspired by the Holy Spirit: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God" [Mt 16:16]. And so it’s Peter to whom Jesus then turns and declares: "You are 'Rock,' and on this rock I will build my church" [Mt 16:18].
Commissioned by Jesus, he is first among the Apostles, the first Vicar of Christ, the first Pope, the one chosen to represent the entire church:
"I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" [Mt. 16:19].The authority and responsibility promised to Peter by these words was probably lost on him at the time. For only later does he begin to understand what will be asked of him.
Recall how, shortly after the Resurrection, Peter and several of the Apostles share a breakfast of loaves and fishes prepared by the Risen Jesus. They’re on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, sitting around a charcoal fire that Jesus had made, a fire similar to the one at which Peter had warmed himself in the high priest's courtyard the night Jesus was arrested.
After they had eaten, Jesus asks Peter to confess his love, not once, but three times, as if to give him a triple chance to atone for his triple denial, to let him recapture what he lost when, overcome by fear, he turned his back on the Lord. For, by now, Peter knows he is weak. So he puts everything into Christ's hands: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
And after each declaration of love, Peter is told, "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep." With these words, Jesus' earlier promise is fulfilled. Peter is singled out. He alone is given primacy. He becomes the shepherd of the entire flock, the universal church. And because "the jaws of death shall not prevail against" [Mt 16:18] the Church, Peter's authority has been passed on to his successors down through history to our present day, even until the end of time.
But those weeks between the death of Jesus and Pentecost were a busy, scary time for Peter and his friends. After hiding in upper rooms, after leaving that dangerous city where the salvation of the world had been crucified, after going to the safety of home in Galilee, after all this, Peter returned to Jerusalem where he and the small band of believers, only 120 strong, prayed together for nine days, pleading with God to send them His Spirit.
And, oh, did God answer. He sent His Spirit in a way He’d never done before. “Like a strong driving wind” [Acts 2:2] God’s Spirit filled the house where the disciples had gathered. Tongues of fire descended and “parted and came to rest on each one of them” [Acts 2:3]. Just the beginning of many miraculous happenings that day.
Moments later they rushed into the streets of Jerusalem, into the same streets through which Jesus carried His Cross as He made His way to a place made sacred by His presence, to the place of execution, to Golgotha. And in those streets this tiny band of disciples was led by Peter, the Rock.
Peter preached to men and women from all over the world, for it is a holy day among the Jews, a day when pilgrims have descended on the city. He preached to those who mocked him for his enthusiasm. He preached to those who accused him of drunkenness. He preached and each heard him in his own language. Yes, Peter the coward, the denier, became Peter the courageous.
But he wasn’t alone, for all the disciples, the core of that nascent Church, received the gifts of the Spirit. Do you see the remarkable, divine power of the Holy Spirit? It made new men and women of them. It turned them into brave hearts who would face every kind of human test.
You see, when the Holy Spirit enters into our hearts, He lifts our souls above all the earthly cares, the anxieties, above all the pettiness that so often leads only to sin. He changes us as only God can change us.
Look what He did to Peter. Peter walks right into the crowd. He lifts his voice and speaks with an assurance and courage that can come only from the Spirit. Indeed, Jesus had prophesied this when He told His disciples: “For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say” [Lk 12:12]. And on this first Pentecost He certainly gave this power to Peter.
What about the other Apostles? Was there jealousy or envy? Not at all. Because they knew the Spirit distributes His gifts as He wills. The Apostles let Peter speak on behalf of them all, for He was God’s chosen instrument, He was the Rock, and He spread the fire of the Spirit among all who heard him.
And those who heard him that day formed the kernel of the universal Church. This was not some local church, the church of Jerusalem that formed that day. No, those who heard Peter were pilgrims from all over the world. As Luke describes it:
“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem… We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God” [Acts 2:5,9-11].The Spirit moved quickly too. 3,000 were baptized that day, 3,000 baptized in water and the Spirit. And they then returned to their homes throughout the world. These new Christians, filled with the Spirit, would take with them the seed of a universal Church, a Catholic Church from its very beginnings.
And as Luke tells us, these new Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers” [Acts 2:42], and this is exactly what the Church has continued to do for 2,000 years.
At this point, let me once again repeat the Lord’s warning:
"Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" [Mt. 7:21-23].And what is the will of the Father? It is to love.
Note, therefore, that Peter’s first act after Pentecost was an act of love, an exercise of the Spirit’s gift of healing at the very gate to the Temple, Yes, this, too, was the Spirit’s doing. Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is love, perfect love and He always leads us to take God’s love to others.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, the great 19th Century Jesuit poet, frequently corresponded with the poet laureate of England, his friend Robert Bridges. In one of these letters, Bridges, an agnostic, asked Hopkins how he could possibly learn to believe, expecting, I suppose, some deep theological answer. But when Hopkins replied, his letter consisted of only two words: “Give alms.”
What a wonderful answer! Even though it was probably lost on Mr. Bridges. You see, in his own search for truth, a search that ultimately led him to the Catholic Church, Hopkins had learned something that most people never grasp. He was trying to tell his friend that God is experienced most fully in the practice of charity to others. Hopkins was trying to tell Bridges that God is to be experienced in love, in love for the divine image in other human beings.
We must be careful not to get so inside ourselves, not to get so wrapped up in our own needs that we fail to see God in others. For it’s in only in loving others that we recognize and experience the source and being of all love. Only in loving others can we see in every other person the divine image. Only in loving others can we come face to face with Jesus, and experience the power of the Spirit first hand.
How did Jesus put it?
“…whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.”But Jesus didn’t stop there, did He? For Jesus tells us not only to give alms, but He takes it a step father – a step that many would think is ridiculous. He exhorts us to go against the grain, to do what doesn’t come naturally – He tells us to give alms in secret.
Now can you imagine such a thing? Being charitable but not telling anyone about it? I mean, what good is that? Not taking any credit for the good we do? No bows, no bouquets, no recognition, no thanks. Why, it’s almost inhuman. Well…actually…it is inhuman, because it’s divine. It’s what the Father wants, and He will repay us.
And so, as we begin journey of repentance, this season in which we anticipate our Easter joy, let’s remember that in giving up we are also called to give. It’s one thing to pray in the Spirit, but it quite another to do the work of the Spirit, the great gift-giver. And real giving is a giving of ourselves, a giving of time, a giving of talent, a giving of our presence to others in need…
…to those who are ill and suffering
…to those who hunger and thirst, not only for food and drink but for the Word of God
…to those who are dying and afraid and need the touch and reassurance of another
The opportunities are all around us, brothers and sisters. The question is: will we respond? Will we be the ambassadors for Christ that Paul says we are? Well, if not us, then who?
As God told His people through the prophet Isaiah:
“This…is what I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.
“Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!”In other words, as the Prophet Joel calls: “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” [Jl 2:12]
This is our call for Lent. To rend our hearts…to allow the Spirit to tear open the secret places of our hearts so he can be present to us and enable us to share in the great mystery of the Trinity, the very nature of Father, Son and Spirit.
To rend our hearts…to become intimate with the interior places of our hearts, to begin to understand ourselves and our intentions...and our sinfulness. For whom do we live…for ourselves or for God?
To rend our hearts…to open ourselves up to others and their needs because God’s infinite love demands it.
To rend our hearts…to perform great works of righteousness that carry us forward toward the perfection God desires for us.
These acts of religious love must be the fruit of the intimate sharing in the life of the Trinity, an intimacy that comes only through prayer. Perhaps then we can absorb something of God’s gracious concern and continual desire to forgive.
Every day is an opportunity, an opportunity to share in and alleviate the sufferings of others, and an opportunity to be forgiven for so much…
…to learn to forgive others as we hope to be forgiven
…to be cured of our secret pride and hatreds
…to open our hearts to God’s healing presence.
…and to allow the Spirit to enter into our lives and rain His gifts upon us.