6-9-2019 Pentecost Sunday
Jun 10, 2019
Pentecost / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
We celebrate today the great feast of Pentecost—the 1) coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, 2) the "birthday" of the church, and 3) the conclusion of the Paschal Mystery that we have been celebrating since Holy Week. To understand fully the meaning of Pentecost, we have to look back one week to the Ascension.
The Ascension mystery tells us that the Risen Lord is now at the right hand of the Father. Of course, that sounds like Jesus is far away from us. But we know differently! For us Catholics, heaven and earth are not poles apart—they are two dimensions of reality that overlap and intermingle with each other. And Jesus is the best example of this—fully God and fully human, in the same person.
In the Ascension mystery, earth moves to heaven in the humanity of Jesus ascending to the Father. The Pentecost mystery is the reverse: heaven moving to earth in the divinity of the Holy Spirit coming to us! The two mysteries illustrate the victory of Christ, who sends us the Holy Spirit, the gift of divine love.
As important as the Holy Spirit is, we really don’t talk about this "third person of the Trinity" very often—I don’t preach very often on the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the last time you really thought about the Holy Spirit was when you received the sacrament of Confirmation. And for most of us, that was a long time ago.
This Pentecost I would like to say a few words about Confirmation—and, in turn, the Holy Spirit. In the past, it could pretty much be assumed that all Catholics were confirmed—most of us around the 8th grade. Today, we cannot make that assumption— many of our young people, and also adults, are not confirmed. This is sad, because a person is not fully initiated into the Catholic Church unless he or she is confirmed.
So what is Confirmation? A sacrament—a sacrament that strengthens something. The word confirmation comes from the Latin firmare, to strengthen. The sacrament of Confirmation strengthens us in 3 ways: 1) in our relationship with Jesus, 2) in our capacity to defend the faith, and 3) our capacity to spread the faith.
I have said many times that Christianity, Catholicism, is not just learning dogmas, it’s about a relationship, a relationship with the person of Jesus—whom we love!
And if we love him, we will want to defend him and his Church. The old definition of Confirmation was "soldiers of Jesus Christ." Christianity today is persecuted . . .
And if we love our faith, we will want to spread it. Confirmation makes all of us missionaries—to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
To strengthen our relationship with Jesus, to defend the faith, and to spread the faith.
What else do we need for this? Gifts. The 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. And what are the gifts? Wisdom, understanding, knowledge; fortitude and counsel; piety and fear of the Lord. I learned all this in grade school—in the old catechism, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Wonderful gifts to defend and to spread the faith. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge. It presumes that we will study our faith past the age of 15! For most Catholics, that’s when their religious education stops. Not good!
The gift of Fortitude. Strength to live our faith in difficult times. Piety and fear of the Lord? Sounds pious, but it means that God is the absolute center of my life. Nothing else. And counsel? Knowing right from wrong—and choosing the right path in life.
The gifts of the spirit—and the 12 fruits we’ll save for another time. The gift of Pentecost we celebrate today. Not the end . . . but the beginning.