This is a time of year rich in liturgical feasts. Pentecost Sunday brought the Easter season to a close, and I hope that many of you were able to pray the annual Novena to the Holy Spirit published by the diocese and in use for the last several years. A season of confirmations is also winding down, and we give thanks for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on those who received this sacrament.
According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the Sacrament of Confirmation confers “an increase and deepening of baptismal grace … and the special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ.” (No. 1303) Those of a certain generation (including me) will remember the symbolic “slap” the bishop gave us at our confirmation to remind us that if the world slapped Jesus it will also slap us. It is a badge of honor to be slapped as Christ was, if it is the result of our being His authentic witnesses by what we say and do, and by what we refuse to say and do.
In my confirmation homily this year I asked our young people to consider carefully what the Gospel, the creed and the sacraments mean to them, and whether they are prepared to live an authentic Catholic faith — not some vague, watered down, pick and choose faith, an opinion-poll kind of faith that is neither hot nor cold, but a faith in continuity with all the great saints and martyrs who have gone before us.
Left to themselves, our young people would face an overwhelming challenge. They are being bombarded, as are we all, by messages that are profoundly contrary to the spirit and letter of the law of Christ, and contrary even to the natural law written in the human heart.
But they are not left to themselves. The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised from the Father to those who believe, is the Divine Person who justifies and sanctifies us, dwelling in our souls as in a temple. He makes it possible for us to pray because He Himself is praying within us and for us. The Holy Spirit enlightens and strengthens an upright and correctly formed conscience so that we can live as children of light, choosing what is good and true and right. He transforms us into the saints we were created to be through a life of holiness and virtue.
Thanks to the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, the Church has withstood just about everything over the last two millennia, and yet, she is still here and always will be until the end of time. The wheat and the weeds grow together and appear to be inseparable, as Our Lord said, but the day will come when they will be separated once and for always.
One can think of the parable of the farmer who watches the seed sprout and grow — he knows not how — and worries about the weeds, only to be blessed in the end with a harvest that is not of his creation. Or the parable of the sower, who tries her best to land tiny, precious seeds on good ground, only to find that they land everywhere. Who can know why the fate of each is what it is?
And then there are the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger, who once said that in fulfilling our mission “to spread and defend the faith as true witnesses of Christ” we must “submit to the mystery of the mustard seed and not expect to produce immediately a great tree. We live either too much in the security of the already existing great tree or with impatience to have a bigger, more vigorous tree. However, we must accept the mystery that the Church is at one and the same time a great tree and the tiniest seed.” He concludes by saying that “in salvation history it is always simultaneously Good Friday and Easter Sunday.”
It is not always easy for us to grasp the simple truth that the world and we ourselves are a work of God, a work of the Holy Spirit. As the pope says repeatedly, we moderns think that depending on God, deferring to God, renouncing and emptying ourselves for God is somehow demeaning of us as persons, when in fact the opposite is true. It is by allowing ourselves to be the instruments of God that we attain the fullness of being and the crowning of life’s purpose and destiny.
If this is so, if God’s inscrutable providence ordains and accomplishes his purposes through the power of the Holy Spirit, then our role as cooperators is to widen our hearts through prayer, as St. Augustine says, to accept what God is prepared to give. Living our Catholic Faith means attuning ourselves to the movement and “whispering” of the Holy Spirit at the very apex of our souls. It means faithfully tilling the soil and sowing the seed, not only in the world and in the lives of others, but in our own lives too.
The new Missal translation of the Final Blessing for Confirmation Mass captures well our prayer for those have been confirmed this year and for all of us: “Confirm, O God, what you have brought about in us, and preserve in the hearts of your faithful the gifts of the Holy Spirit: may they never be ashamed to confess Christ crucified before the world, and by devoted charity may they ever fulfill His commands. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.”