Birthday gifts

Usually when we talk about a birthday in regards to the Catholic faith, everyone immediately thinks of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. However, there is another birthday we celebrate at Pentecost: the birthday of our Church.

There was no cake or ice cream at the first Pentecost, and no need for candles for the flames of  fire of the Spirit that we read about. However, there was no shortage of gifts bestowed on the Apostles by the Holy Spirit. After the strong, driving wind and the tongues of fire appeared above the heads of those present in the upper room, evidence of what was received was on full display. Peter spoke to the crowd with fortitude, knowledge, and counsel, which encouraged those listening to be baptized. Strengthened by the gifts, the Apostles began to preach, traveling to places further than they had ever been before; places unknown and unfamiliar to them.

In this age, Pentecost seems like just another Sunday. All the treats and decorations from Easter 50 days ago are all consumed and put away, like the season is over. But from a liturgical standpoint, the last hurrah culminates with this amazing feast. If it had not happened, Christianity may have become a minor religion or a temporary Jewish cult. While we don’t seem to celebrate adequately God’s continued generosity, that doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit has stopped pouring out His gifts on us. Bishop Robert Barron, Father Casey Cole, Dr. Scott Hahn, and Matthew Kelly are just a few of the popular evangelists of our time. Yet the Church didn’t spread to only those evangelized by the apostles personally  Rather all the early Christians through word and deed participated in spreading the faith. 

What do you do with a birthday gift? Politely say ‘thank you’ to the giver and bury it in a closet, or seek to return it for something else you prefer? It can seem like some Catholics try to do that  with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, the best presents are those that we use and use often. The Spirit’s gifts are of no benefit if only hidden away. He gives us charisms to be used: knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and counsel are not static gifts, but rather dynamic actions that must be cultivated and practiced. If we want knowledge, we need to seek it out. We cannot give good counsel until we gain understanding by practicing our beliefs in a concrete manner, not just intellectually.  And we don’t know fortitude unless we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and put into challenging situations, especially ones where we have to defend our faith. It may be uncomfortable, yet the apostles literally went out of their comfort zone to spread the Gospel, not by themselves, but with the grace and strength provided to them by the Holy Spirit. In all that we seek, say, and act, if we fully embrace the gifts of the Spirit, it is not our doing, but Jesus working within us.

We are the Church and it is our birthday that we celebrate — one that links us from the very beginning, through all the previous ages and into the future. Wear something red in honor of  Church this weekend as a reminder of the fire of that first Pentecost and your own Confirmation. Have some cake to celebrate and use the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you! Unlike a regular birthday gift, you can never exhaust or wear out the gifts from the Spirit; He is the giver that keeps on giving! 

Got peace?

Peace be with you. What does peace mean to you: a silent place, a sense of inner tranquility, or perhaps a state devoid of conflict? All of the above? 

In this era of instant everything, noise seems to be all around us, as if we are burying ourselves in it. At the grocery store, one of the customers seemed to be dancing as he was picking out his produce. I realized a few minutes later that he was listening to music from his phone via earbuds, so he really was swaying with the music! From music and audio books, podcasts and conversations, to notifications and reminders, our mobile phones have become one of our main sources of noise in our lives. Not that any of the functions of the phone are a bad thing in and of themselves. However, we often let a noise maker, like technology, dictate our lives; we live in response to it. The question is, would we want to spend any time without our noisy distractions? 

Our brains work overtime trying to filter the noise we take in from the world around us. Our emotions can be a roller coaster ride as we react to not only what we hear, but also to the thoughts and feelings that can be triggered as a result. Each of us has our own unique triggers that cause disturbances within us. In some sense, that’s all part of the human experience. Similar to the noise level around us, if we live in constant reaction to fear, anxieties, and judgements, our lives become one of avoidance and isolation. 

While we say we want to live in harmony, our first instinct is to assess the world around us. We pass judgement with every interaction and observation. This is mine and that is yours: we divide the world up and take ownership. While we may talk about treating everyone  equally, do we really want to have more than others, get treated better or have more power and influence than others?  

In His Last Supper discourse, Jesus tells the Apostles that he leaves them His peace, one which is different from the world. (John 14:27). He uses a greeting of peace when He appears to them after the resurrection. This is a reminder for them, that they can put their trust in Him and all of His teachings. It’s also a reminder for us during the Mass, at the beginning as well as at the sign of peace after we pray the Our Father together. God’s peace is available to us; however, we need to trust in Him. Like the early Christians, we need to live, not for ourselves and our benefit, but rather for the benefit of others. What can we share, how can we help — these spiritual and physical (corporal) works of mercy are actions that bring the peace of Christ into this world. 

Peace is not something we obtain and keep for ourselves. It is the loving response to others; actions performed not for our benefit, but wholly for the betterment of the world in which we live. It is the faith-filled trust that God will be with us always, no matter what may happen. “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid,” Jesus told His Apostles. Yet it was only after the resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit that they were sufficiently emboldened to share and teach the peace they received from Jesus. Let us confidently ask Jesus during this Easter season to show us how to bring His peace into our lives so that we can share it in our little corner of the world. 

Authoritative act in the Spirit

One of the definitions for the word confirm is: ”to remove doubt about by authoritative act or indisputable fact” (Merriam-Webster). I think that is the perfect definition for what the sacrament of Confirmation is all about. 

Pentecost and Confirmation are closely tied and have been that way from the beginning. In the Acts of the Apostles (8:14-18), Peter and John went to Samaria in order to lay hands and pray that the newly baptized would receive the Holy Spirit. Yet today, many people see Confirmation as a sort of graduation from religious education. We can never truly learn everything there is to know about the infinite God because we are finite human beings; however, that does not mean that we shouldn’t keep trying and learn as much as we are able. 

The ordinary minister of Confirmation is a bishop, as they are seen as the successors of the Apostles, who were first to receive Confirmation directly by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Look at how the Holy Spirit affected the Apostles: they traveled far proclaiming the Good News and healing. They did what they saw Jesus do. It is through the prompting of the Holy Spirit they preached the indisputable fact that Jesus is the Christ — the Savior and Redeemer of the world.  

While we do receive the Holy Spirit in baptism, Confirmation is that authoritative act by the bishop that leaves an indelible mark indicating we are Christians. Every Confirmation is just like the visit to Samaria by Peter and John. The bishop, along with the whole Church, prays for the Holy Spirit to descend into the hearts and souls of those being confirmed. We pray that each will know and accept their calling to proclaim and heal in Jesus’ name during their journey of life. 

Pentecost Sunday is an opportunity for us to remember our own Confirmation and to reflect on how the Spirit has prompted us and how well we have listened. Rather than dwelling on any shortcomings, we learn from them and renew our vocation to spread the gospel by the grace the Holy Spirit gives us. There is no doubt that we are Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, as we have been confirmed in the Holy Spirit; we just need to put into practice what we believe.