As I have been administering the Sacrament of Confirmation this spring, I have been talking to young people about the importance of “plugging into God” to receive the POWER they need in life. Of course, the POWER is none other than the Holy Spirit — the very presence of God promised to us for all the days of our lives (cf. Acts 1:8).
In my discourse, I have used the example of a KitchenAid mixer given as a Christmas gift and then promptly put away for another day. As one might quip, “What good is it doing on a shelf or perhaps sitting on the kitchen countertop?” If it is going to bear fruit (i.e., cookies, cakes, and pies), it needs to be used and, indeed, plugged in! For me, such usage is analogous to receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation — as St. Paul would say to Timothy, “Stir into flame the gift of God you have received” (2 Tm 1:6).
In his letter to the Church of Galatia, St. Paul writes that the fruits stemming from the gift of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23). Just as someone with a sweet tooth might be searching out the “fruits” of a baker’s venture in the kitchen, so today believers are being asked where a person might find God … where can one find Jesus?
Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew, says that believers will be known by the fruits of their lives (cf. 7:16, 7:20, 12:33) and in turn be a lamp to light another’s path (cf. Ps 119:105 & Mt 5:14). Consequently, in today’s world scene, you and I are being asked to respond to the request, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21b). Such a request gives a two-fold mission both as individuals and as Church: how to make Jesus visible in our own daily lives. It sums up as well what evangelization — that is, the sharing of the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ — is all about: how do you and I help others encounter Jesus through our own way of life?
Last week, Pope Francis in a letter titled “Antiquum Ministerium” (Ancient Ministry) formalized the lay ministry of catechist for the universal Church. In it, he called to mind the words of St. Pope Paul VI in “Evangelii Nuntiandi” (Evangelization in the Modern World): “[E]vangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners to God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection” (#14).
What especially struck me in the pope’s writing was the image of referring to catechists “as the saints next door.” For a moment, let each of us pause and consider what this idea means for you and me. We are all called to be saints — people who let God’s light shine through them and show forth the face of God.
I am sure I may be disturbing the peace of mind of some readers of this column. “Bishop Lucia, there is no way I can be ‘the saint next door.’” And you’re right, if you and I think we can do this on our own. But with the Holy Spirit — “the power of God overshadowing us” — all things are possible (cf. Lk 1:35; Mt 1:20). That is what I have been reminding our young people as they set out on the road of life: God is not only with you, but he meets you also wherever you are at!
Pope Francis reminds us of this special gift when he writes in the motu proprio:
“Today, too, the Spirit is calling men and women to set out and encounter all those who are waiting to discover the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Christian faith. It is the task of pastors to support them in this process and to enrich the life of the Christian community through the recognition of lay ministries capable of contributing to the transformation of society through the ‘penetration of Christian values into the social, political and economic sectors’” (Evangelii Gaudium, 102).
The feast of Pentecost always excites me because it is a feast of POTENTIAL — God’s potential for you and me. Nonetheless, it causes us to pause also and consider if you and I have really plugged our lives into God. One of my concerns not only for my own life, but for the life of fellow believers, is authenticity.
Something that disturbs me greatly are persons who claim to be devout believers and yet seek to avoid and even condemn those who they feel don’t live up to their standards. Unfortunately, even as a bishop, I have experienced people who refuse to acknowledge me as a person or show me any sort of human kindness. The appearance I am given is that I am not worth their trouble or that I am part of the great “unwashed.”
For me, this is a rare occurrence; but what about for those who it is not — the homeless person on the street, or the disenfranchised, or a person who made some mistakes in life and may have broken a commandment or two or even three or four? Was Jesus’ attitude to such persons just to walk on by with his head buried in his prayer shawl and treat such persons of his day as if they didn’t exist?
If we search the Gospel, we see Jesus reaching out to those on the sidelines of life — the blind, the lame, the deaf, the adulterers, the lepers, etc. For me, that is the call of Pentecost, where in Acts 2 we hear the Gospel being heard by many different peoples, cultures, and languages. Let us not forget that this is still the Church’s God-given mission over 2,000 years later: to announce the saving message and good news to be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
So we pray for the power to do so in these words:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
V. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
R. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.