My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,Whenever I celebrate the sacrament of confirmation, I meet before Mass with the confirmation candidates to explain some of the many symbols that we use in the Church, such as the sacred chrism with which they will be anointed and by which they will be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. I ask them if they have ever seen a spirit. Of course, they say no, you cannot see a spirit. I then point out that there are many things that you cannot see that are quite real, like the air we breathe. If there were no air in the room, we would be choking or suffocating from asphyxiation (lack of oxygen). I also ask them if they have ever seen wi-fi. No, comes the answer again. So how do you know if there is wi-fi in the room? Well, if you have internet access on your computer, you must have a wi-fi connection. But there might also be bars on your phone or computer that indicate whether wi-fi is present and how strong the connection is. I tell them that those bars are symbols, telling us that something is present that we cannot see.
Since we cannot see the Holy Spirit, God also uses symbols to tell us when His Holy Spirit is present, but that symbol is not always the same. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, the Gospel tells us that the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove (Matthew 3:16). In the description of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that the Holy Spirit appeared to the disciples as tongues of fire, which came to rest on each one of them (Acts 2:3). Jesus is known as the Christ, which comes from the Greek word that means the one anointed by God’s Holy Spirit, and is recognized as the Messiah, the Hebrew word for the Anointed One. Thus, in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation and the ordination of priests and bishops, the presence of the Holy Spirit is symbolized with sacred chrism, the holy oil that is consecrated by the bishop in the Cathedral at the chrism Mass during Holy Week. It is also by the Apostles’ imposition of hands that the Holy Spirit is given (Acts 8:17-19; 13:3; and 19:6).
Most of the time, however, the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives is invisible and not readily apparent to us. Sometimes it is only in retrospect that we can discern the movement of the Holy Spirit. For example, I see the working of the Holy Spirit in the transition of the Chiara Center from a retreat house to become the Evermode Institute for the formation of Catholic school teachers and catechists. Also, the decision of the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey in Southern California to send seven priests to our diocese beginning July 1 of this year involved a lot of human conversations and planning, but I believe this was guided by the Holy Spirit rather than mere coincidence.
Because the working of the Holy Spirit is often not readily apparent, perhaps we take the Holy Spirit for granted even in our prayer. We pray as Jesus taught us to “Our Father” or we direct our prayers to Jesus Himself. Even if we do not directly invoke the Holy Spirit in our prayers, the Church teaches that the “Holy Spirit is at work with the Father and the Son from the beginning to the completion of the plan for our salvation. … Consubstantial with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is inseparable from them, both in the inner life of the Trinity and his gift of love for the world” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 686, 689).
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. The tradition of the Church lists 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.
Our celebration of Pentecost is a good occasion for us to recall the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit and pray that the graces bestowed by our Triune God — Father, Son, and Spirit — will guide us through life on our journey to God’s Heavenly Kingdom.
May God give us this grace. Amen.