As a teenager, I thought Christmas was the climax of all feasts we celebrate. Easter? Okay, Easter-egg hunt gave it a special flavor. But Pentecost? It came and went without anything special to make it exciting. I guess that I was not alone with this feeling.
Somehow many, like me, missed the good news about Pentecost. We celebrate the feast every year and mention it in Confirmation class, but many of us evidently didn’t “get it.”
Because if we “got it,” we would be different: Bold instead of timid, energetic instead of anemic, fascinated instead of bored. Compare the apostles before and after Pentecost and you will see the difference the Spirit makes.
Last Monday (May 29, 2017), in his morning homily, Pope Francis asked himself and so made us ask ourselves: “What place does the Holy Spirit have in my life?”
Am I able to hear the voice of the Spirit? Am I able to ask for inspiration before making a decision or doing something? Or is my heart quiet, lacking in emotion and turmoil? … If an ECG were performed on some hearts, the result would be a flat line – totally lacking in emotion.”
Even in the Gospels, the Pope lamented, there are “still” hearts. “We think of the doctors of the law, they believed in God, they knew all the commandments, but their hearts were closed, they were ‘still,’ they were not ‘disturbed.’”
“Let yourselves be “disturbed,” the Pope urged, “that is to ask the Holy Spirit to help them discern and not to have an ‘ideological faith. Yes, Let yourself be disturbed by the Holy Spirit.”
The Gospel is Good News not just because we are going to heaven, but because we have been empowered to become new people, here and now. Vatican II insisted that each of us is called to holiness. Not by will-power, mind you, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
What is holiness all about?
To pray from morning to night? To have a halo around your head? – No!
Holiness consists in faith, hope, and especially divine love. These are “virtues,” literally “powers,” given by the Spirit. To top it off, the Spirit gives us seven further gifts which perfect faith, hope, and love, making it possible for us to live a supernatural, charismatic life.
Some think this is only for the chosen few, “the mystics.” But St. Thomas Aquinas taught to the contrary that the gifts we find in Is 11:1-3 are standard equipment given to all of us in baptism These seven gifts are: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord.
Isn’t this exciting, disturbing?
Why are we not excited and disturbed?
Vatican II also taught that every Christian has a vocation to serve. We need power for this too. And so the Spirit distributes other gifts, called “charisms.” St. Thomas teaches that these charisms are not so much for our own sanctification as for service to others.
There is no exhaustive list of charisms, though St. Paul mentions a few (I Cor 12:7-10, Ro 12:6-8) ranging from speaking in tongues to Christian marriage (1 Cor 7: 7). Charisms are not doled out by the pastors; but are given directly by the Spirit through baptism and confirmation, even sometimes outside of the sacraments (Acts 10:44-48).
Correcting the mistaken notion that the charisms were just for the apostolic church, Vatican II had this to say: “Allotting His gifts “to everyone according as he will” (1 Cor. 12:11), He [the Holy Spirit] distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. . . . These charismatic gifts, whether they be the most outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation, for they are exceedingly suitable and useful for the needs of the Church” (LG12).
Powerful gifts, freely given to all. The Lord imparted to the apostles and their successors a unifying charism of leadership. The role of the ordained is not to do everything themselves. Rather, they are to discern, shepherd, and coordinate the charism of the laity so that they mature and work together for the greater glory of God (LG 30).
So what if you, like me, did not quite “get it” when you were confirmed? I have got good news for you. You actually did get the Spirit and his gifts. But you may say: I don’t feel them. Where are they?
Let me answer you with an example.
Have you ever received a new credit card with a sticker saying “Must call to activate before using?”
The Spirit and his gifts are the same way. You have to call in and activate them.
Do it today and every day, and especially every time you attend Mass. Because, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, every sacramental celebration is a New Pentecost where the Spirit and his gifts are poured out anew (CCC 739, 1106).
That’s why the Christian Life is an adventure. There will always be new surprises of the Spirit – if only we pray more intensively to the Holy Spirit and be more open to the Spirit’s work in us. That’s why Pentecost should be a feast more exciting than Christmas or Easter.