This reflection is for Pentecost Sunday Mass During the Day, Cycle B, 5/20/2018.
Okay, so I have a confession to make, I love Rachel Platten’s song, “Fight Song.” I think the song gives such great testimony to the power and influence that a singe individual can make in transforming the world. In the opening lines she says, “Like a small boat on the ocean, Sending big waves into motion. Like how a single word Can make a heart open, I might only have one match But I can make an explosion.”
Her song teaches us the truth that every thing that every person does can have an immeasurable impact and can transform lives, and even the world. And this is what Jesus did, and this is what he calls us to do today. Jesus told his disciples, “I have come to set the world ablaze! And how I wish it were already burning” (LK 12:49).
Fire is an amazing force, and an appropriate image for the Holy Spirit. Fire brings warmth, peace, comfort, and security when there is fear, uncertainty, danger, and darkness. How valuable a camp fire for one who is alone in the wilderness! Fire is also trans-formative. It changes everything that it touches! Burning wood becomes ash, burnt prairie teams with new growth and, if not for fire, the giant sequoia would never release its seeds for new life. And this is why Jesus sent His Spirit to the earth: to be our comfort, our guide, our security, our hope, and our force for transforming our life, our family, and our world. Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations and to proclaim The Kingdom with boldness, and it’s the Holy Spirit received at baptism and strengthened at Confirmation that enables us to do just that!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace, and by it we are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit which makes us true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and able to defend the faith through our word and actions.” (C.C.C. 1285) In baptism we receive the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but in Confirmation they truly come alive in us! Confirmation is like steroids for the gifts of the Holy Spirit within us! What are the gifts that the Spirit gives?
You might remember that they are those gifts prophesied by Isaiah, found in the Book of Isaiah 11:2-3. They are Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom, Counsel, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord, and Piety. It might be helpful to remember them this way: The Spirit gives us knowledge, which is good, but doesn’t exactly help us to solve our everyday problems. Knowledge is good, but what we really need is to understand. Understanding allows us to not just know it, but really “get it!” Once we get it, it’s time to apply it to the normal circumstances of life. The real-life application of knowledge and understanding is wisdom. That’s usually the toughest part though. Actually LIVING what we know to be true and applying it in the concrete circumstances of life! That’s where the fourth gift comes in, namely, fortitude/strength. Fortitude steels our spine that we might do what we ought, even in difficult situations. Now that you know the way and go the way, it’s time to be a great leader and show the way. That’s the fifth gift of the Spirit, Council. Council means that you are now helping others to know what to do and to do it. Of course, when people recognize how thoughtful you are, how wise you are, and how strong you are, this can easily lead to arrogance and pride! It can all go to our head and we begin to act as though all of this greatness is from us! That’s where the sixth gift comes in: fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is not being afraid of God, but is rather a healthy respect for the greatness of God. Fear of the Lord recognizes that everything I am, everything I have, and everything I do is entirely owed to God. HE is the one to whom the glory goes–not me! Fear of the Lord recognizes that I am merely the vessel of God’s gifts and in no way deserve any of the credit. And that is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow, I’m afraid. In a world of self-aggrandizement, humbly giving glory to others is quite difficult. The pious person does not have this issue. The seventh gift of the Holy Spirit, piety, finds absolute joy and fulfillment in the fear of the Lord. The pious person points always to the Lord and wouldn’t have it any other way.
With these gifts, the disciple of Jesus Christ can transform the world! We are courageous soldiers of Jesus who humbly yet boldly say what is true, give direction in life, take leadership roles, and give all the glory to God. It’s no wonder that Jesus asks so much of us, He gave us the means to achieve everything He had done, and more! In John 14:12 Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” He knew we could do it because He promised that we would receive this amazing gift of the Spirit, first at Pentecost, and then with the laying on of hands by those at Pentecost! And the power of the Spirit has been transferred from the Apostles by the laying on of hands in every generation until today!
Jesus told His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6) Simon, the magician, was so impressed by the power of the Holy Spirit transferred through the laying-on of hands, that he tried to buy it! Acts 8:18 reads, “When Simon saw that the Spirit was conferred by the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me this power too, so that anyone upon whom I lay my hands may receive the holy Spirit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money.'” The act of attempting to buy or sell the power of God is aptly called, “simony,” named after Simon the Magician.
You see, from the very beginning the Spirit has been a gift to the world. That’s it. It is free, but NOT cheap. Jesus’ death and resurrection has paid the price for this gift to us. It is not something that can be bought, but a person must be open to receiving the gift and must be willing to cooperate with God’s gift for it to truly take root and transform his/her life. It’s not magic, after all. It is the gift of God that binds us to Jesus and the Church, and enables us to fight the good fight and live out Jesus’ commandment to love.
The Church teaches that the laying on of hands in Confirmation doesn’t do anything new in us, as we already have the Spirit and It’s gifts, but it does strengthen those gifts in us–for one purpose and one purpose only. The Catechism teaches, “Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace: it roots us more deeply as children of God; it unites us more firmly to Christ; it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us; it more perfectly bonds us with the Church; it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross. (C.C.C. 1303)
If we are His, we must boldly proclaim Him to the world. We must spread the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ that the whole world might know Him, love Him, and serve Him–and it’s the Spirit’s presence and working in us that transforms us into these bold courageous witnesses to Jesus. What will our lives look like if we are His, and what will the world look like when every knee bends at the sound of His name?
St. Paul first gives a glimpse of what living apart from the Spirit looks like (living in the flesh), and secondly, what living in step with the Spirit looks like when they are filled with, and responding to the presence of the Spirit within them. He teaches that if they have the Spirit, and the Gifts of the Spirit, then they should be producing the Fruit of the Spirit. He says, “Brothers and sisters, live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. (5:15-25)
Jesus wants to transform the world, and it’s His Spirit that will do it–but not alone. Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church, whereby Jesus sent His Spirit into the hearts of the faithful, giving them gifts that they might produce fruit for a hungry world. Jesus is the only saver of souls, and no one can say, “Lord, lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 COR 12:3). It is our job as His disciples to share the name of Jesus in word and deed. We are called to day-by-day bring light and love, goodness and truth, wholeness, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion to thirsty souls. That’s a pretty difficult thing to do, of course, especially as the world becomes increasingly violent, but the true disciple will continue to love in spite of suffering and pain.
Jesus promised His disciples that in these last days, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place. All these are the beginning of the labor pains. Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come. (MT 24:7-14)
No big surprise, then, all this should be expected. Let’s do our job: receive the Spirit and Its gifts, call on the Spirit, produce good fruit, boldly proclaim Christ, and persevere until The End. I mean, “Like a small boat on the ocean, Sending big waves into motion. Like how a single word Can make a heart open, I might only have one match But I can make an explosion.” (And set the world ablaze for Jesus!) Amen?
Easter Blessings, Stephen