As I write this article, it is Pentecost afternoon and I have just returned from the last of 33 scheduled Confirmation ceremonies that I have celebrated this spring. The Holy Spirit is very much on my mind this Pentecost afternoon. I recalled the familiar invocation, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.”
During the 50 days of the Easter Season, we have reflected on the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension, the commission of the apostles to preach the good news and make disciples of all nations, and the work of the Holy Spirit during the beginning days of the Church. The beautiful Solemnity of Pentecost brought to mind the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and His active presence in forming the Church.
We know the commission to spread the good news continues and that we all, by the fact of our baptism, are agents of evangelization. The Holy Spirit has a key role in evangelization both in shaping the hearts and minds of those who evangelize and opening the hearts and minds of those who receive the message of salvation.
In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelization in the Modern World, Pope Paul VI wrote, “Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit. . . . In fact, it is only after the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that the Apostles depart to all the ends of the earth in order to begin the great work of the Church’s evangelization. It must be said that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization: it is He who impels each individual to proclaim the Gospel, and it is He who in the depths of consciences causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood” (Evangelization in the Modern World, 75).
Jesus told His disciples that the Spirit would guide them to the truth (Cf. Jn 16:13). Truth is not primarily a list of propositions that require our assent. Truth is a person. Jesus is the Truth. “You cannot grab the truth as if it were an object, you encounter it. It is not a possession; it is an encounter with a Person” (Pope Francis, General Audience, May 15, 2014). It is the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Risen Jesus, who helps us to recognize Jesus as the Truth. He leads us not only to an encounter with Jesus but “guides us” to enter into a deeper communion with Him, gifting us with knowledge of the things of God. We cannot achieve this on our own strength. We need the interior enlightenment which the Spirit provides.
The Spirit opens up for us the meaning of Christ’s words and deeds and imprints them deep within us. He keeps the memory of what Jesus said and did alive in our hearts. Speaking again about the Holy Spirit, Jesus told His disciples that the Spirit “will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (Jn 14:26). “The joy of evangelizing always arises from grateful remembrance: it is a grace which we constantly need to implore” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 13). The Holy Spirit renews and refreshes our memory to keep before us the love and mercy of God. He gives us a “new heart” that cherishes the word, lives the word and “goes forth” to share the word.
As St. Paul reminds us in the Letter to the Romans, it is the Spirit who teaches us how to pray (Cf. Rm 8:26). How important prayer is! As messengers of the good news we need to speak with the Lord and listen to Him. “We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence” (The Joy of the Gospel, 264).
The Spirit helps us not only to contemplate the word but also to contemplate the needs of those to be evangelized. He gives us a spiritual sensitivity toward those who are inquiring about the Gospel and seeking the deepest longings of their hearts. In addition to supporting our prayer, the Holy Spirit inspires our conversation with our brothers and sisters. He assists us in our dialogue with them, opening up paths of respect and understanding.
It was my great joy this spring to confirm nearly 1,300 youth throughout our diocese. The Sacrament of Confirmation perfects our Baptismal grace; incorporates us more firmly into Christ; strengthens our bond with the Church; associates us more closely with her mission and helps us to bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds.
The grace, the divine assistance, given at Confirmation is not a gift confined to the moment of Confirmation. When we are faithful to the Gospel, this grace continues and urges us to participate actively in the mission of the Church and to witness to our Christian faith.
The newly confirmed and all of us need to be imbued with the life of the Holy Spirit. The primary reason for evangelization is to proclaim the love of God that we have received. It is this love that compels us to point out Christ and make Him known. For this we need and, therefore, pray for the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Let us invoke Him more often, to guide us on the path of Christ’s disciples as we joyfully proclaim the Good News. “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.”
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.