While Easter Sunday and Christmas have primacy of place as the greatest solemnities in the Christian liturgical calendar, Pentecost follows as a close third. Fifty days after Our Lord’s Resurrection and 10 days following His Ascension, Pentecost marks the descent of the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus, on the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles, and is often called “the birthday of the Church.”
After Jesus’ Resurrection, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles were gathered in the upper room when “…there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:3-4). It was on Pentecost that the Apostles received the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Of the three persons of the Most Blessed Trinity, it is perhaps the Holy Spirit who is hardest to grasp. Most of us understand God the Father to be The Creator, the One who holds the entire universe in His hand, the Author of life. Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, is also “easy to define” as the eternally begotten Son of the Father, wholly divine, who became incarnate and is Savior and Redeemer. Then, there is the Paraclete – the Holy Spirit – who is the least comprehended and, dare I say, oftentimes forgotten person of the Most Blessed Trinity. For many, myself included, the Holy Spirit, as His name suggests, is more elusive and ethereal, harder to “pin down” than either the Father or the Son.
As a child, my first concept of the Holy Spirit was in the gentle representation of a dove, specifically with His placement on the center front of the canopy over the sanctuary in the church building itself. It was a few years later, in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, that the Holy Spirit came into somewhat clearer focus.
It is the Holy Spirit who breathes life into the Church, and it is through the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit that we deepen the intimacy of our relationship with Jesus. It is through the Sacrament of Confirmation that Baptismal graces are made perfect and through which we become more fully-bound to the Church. Through Confirmation, the Holy Spirit bestows upon us the sanctifying gifts (as enumerated by the prophet Isaiah and attributed to Christ) of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. By these treasures, we are filled with the promptings of the Spirit and begin to conform our lives more and more to Jesus’, aiding us in persevering throughout the course of our earthly journey.
However, it is a mistake to think that after this generous outpouring of gifts, the Holy Spirit departs and leaves us to fend for ourselves. Not so. In order to fully live out our Baptismal promises, the Holy Spirit stays with us and continually renews and strengthens our efforts in developing and living the kind of spiritual life that is necessary in order to combat the effects of the difficult times in which we live.
With the help of these gifts, the Apostles were able to make known the message of Jesus Christ even to the farthest corners of the world; and so it is for us, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit help us in leading a truly Christian life:
- “The gift of wisdom, by detaching us from the world, makes us relish and love only the things of heaven;
- The gift of understanding helps us to grasp the truths of Catholic faith;
- The gift of counsel springs from supernatural prudence and enables us to see and choose correctly what will help most to the glory of God and our own salvation;
- By the gift of fortitude, we receive courage to overcome the obstacles and difficulties that arise in the practice of our religious duties;
- The gift of knowledge points out to us the path to follow and the dangers to avoid in order to reach heaven;
- The gift of piety, in inspiring us with a tender and filial confidence in God, makes us joyfully embrace all that pertains to His service;
- Lastly, the gift of fear fills us with a sovereign respect for God and makes us dread, above all things, to offend Him” (New Advent Online Catholic Encyclopedia)
These most powerful gifts are bestowed freely by the Holy Spirit. He is present around us and more importantly, within us and that is part of the Holy Ghost’s mystery. Working within us, in a hidden manner, His presence is more subtle than that of the Father and the Son – not that the Holy Spirit can’t or doesn’t make His presence known in more obvious fashion! The Holy Spirit’s guidance is there simply for the asking, and when asked, He is known for His very prompt response. In living lives cultivated by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, we reap great benefits or fruits, as Saint Paul says in his letter to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity” (Galatians 5:22-23).
In sum, the Holy Spirit is always with us because Jesus told us so, and that is good enough for me. I believe, without coming anywhere close to fully understanding what it exactly means. Perhaps one way of understanding the role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives is that He defends us from the evils of this world and helps each of us reach our truest, fullest potential – if only we heed His urgings.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of thy love. Send forth thy Spirit, and they shall be created. And thou shall renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray.
O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations.
Through Christ Our Lord.