Engaging the Gospel – Pentecost

Gospel – John 7:37-39 (Vigil), (Year C) John 20:19-23 or John 14:15-16, 23b-26

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit fulfills Old Testament prophecy, and continues in the life of the Church, as the Catechism explains:

In the Old Testament the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for His saving mission…[Jesus’] whole life and His whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit Whom the Father gives Him “without measure.”

This fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah’s, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people…a promise which [Christ] fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost.

–Catechism paragraphs 1286-87

From that time on, the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism…The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.

–Paul VI, quoted in Catechism 1288

Through the anointing of the sacrament of Confirmation, we receive the indelible “mark, the seal of the Holy Spirit. A seal is a symbol of a person, a sign of personal authority, or ownership of an object” (1295).

“This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in His service for ever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial” (1296).

The “effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost” (1303).

Question for reflection: How have I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in my life?

 

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Engaging the Gospel – Pentecost

Pentecost: Gospel – John 7:37-39 (Vigil), John 20:19-23 or John 15:26-27, 16:12-15

More than just an historical event, Pentecost is also a reality in our own lives: through the sacrament of Confirmation, we too receive “the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost” (Catechism 1302).

In the Holy Spirit, “God shares Himself as love” and as gift, Benedict XVI observed. “The Holy Spirit is God eternally giving Himself; like a never-ending spring He pours forth nothing less than Himself.”

He lavishes His gifts upon us:

the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence…the spirit of wonder and awe. These gifts of the Spirit — each of which, as Saint Francis de Sales reminds us, is a way to participate in the one love of God — are neither prizes nor rewards. They are freely given. And they require only one response on the part of the receiver: I accept!

…Let us invoke the Holy Spirit: He is the artisan of God’s works. Let his gifts shape you! Just as the Church travels the same journey with all humanity, so too you are called to exercise the Spirit’s gifts amidst the ups and downs of your daily life…Let it be sustained by prayer and nurtured by the sacraments, and thus be a source of inspiration and help to those around you.

…In accepting the power of the Holy Spirit you too can transform your families, communities and nations. Set free the gifts!

Vigil during World Youth Day, July 19, 2008.

Question for reflection: How am I using the spiritual gifts entrusted to me by the Holy Spirit?

Confirmation

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1285-1321:

  • As its name implies, Confirmation strengthens and completes the grace first received in Baptism, and empowers us in a special way through the Holy Spirit.
  • The rite of anointing with perfumed oil, or chrism, signifies the anointing by the Holy Spirit; hence the Eastern Churches refer to this sacrament as “Chrismation” or “myron” (another term for chrism).
  • Anointing plays a significant role in the Old Testament, consecrating kings, priests, and occasionally prophets; Messiah literally means “anointed” in Hebrew, and the equivalent in Greek is “Christ.”
  • The prophets foretold that the Spirit, Who anointed the Messiah, would ultimately be poured out upon all the people of God.
  • Jesus fulfills this promise, first at Easter and in a striking way at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples and empowers them for mission.
  • The Holy Spirit comes upon us in a similar way in the sacrament of Confirmation, which therefore perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the life of the Church.
  • As recounted in the New Testament, the apostles bestowed the Spirit through the laying on of hands; for this reason, the original ministers of Confirmation are the bishops, the successors of the apostles.
  • The bishop (or his designated priest) anoints the confirmand and pronounces, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” a seal that marks us irrevocably for Christ; because this imprints an indelible character, like Baptism, we receive it only once.
  • Through Confirmation, we are united even more firmly to Christ and His Church, equipped to carry out our responsibilities as members of the faithful, and commissioned to go forth and witness to Christ.
  • Confirmation is so closely related to Baptism that it was historically administered at the same time; the Eastern Churches have preserved this ancient custom, and still confirm infants, underscoring that the sacrament is about God’s gift of grace.

Live Your Faith

Confirmation is not a religious graduation, or a coming-of-age ritual. While it is excellent to prepare for this sacrament, so that we may be better disposed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, we must not lose sight of the fact that God is freely bestowing His grace – we are not earning it.

And He fills us with His grace not merely for our own benefit, but for the building up of His Body, the Church. Have we used the gifts that God gave us in our Confirmation, or have we let them lie dormant?

The Sacraments

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1113-34, 121012, 1667-79:

  • Christ instituted the seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.
  • Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist are sacraments of initiation because they lay the foundations of Christian life; Reconciliation and Anointing are sacraments of healing; Holy Orders and Matrimony are ordered to loving service of others.
  • Sacramentum is the Latin rendering of what the Eastern Fathers called “mysteries” in Greek; the Latin had the connotation of an oath, as a sacred pledge.
  • The sacraments are by the Church, in the sense that Christ works through her; at the same time, they are for the Church, because the sacraments make the Church, by generating, nourishing, and revitalizing Christian life in the faithful.
  • Because we are human beings composed of both body and soul, it helps us to have physical, tangible ways of grasping spiritual realities; Christ gives us this help through the sacraments, which He instituted as outward signs to confer grace.
  • Prefigured in the Old Testament, and by the words and actions that Jesus performed during His earthly ministry, the sacraments are truly powers that come forth from the Body of Christ.
  • Christ Himself acts through the sacraments to apply to us personally the fruits of his Paschal Mystery – His Passion, Death and Resurrection; He is present in such a way that when anyone baptizes, He baptizes, and so forth for all the sacraments.
  • Because Christ is at work, the sacraments are efficacious by the very fact of being performed (ex opere operato); i.e., grace is conferred, regardless of whether the minister is worthy, or holy, or not.
  • Yet our dispositions as recipients can affect how open we are to that sacramental grace, and how much we might benefit from it.
  • The seven sacraments are distinguished from other practices called sacramentals, such as blessings; instituted by the Church, sacramentals do not confer grace, but dispose us to receive and cooperate with grace.

Live Your Faith

If the Risen Lord were scheduled to make a public appearance, to offer a healing embrace to anyone who sought Him, there would be extraordinary excitement and overflowing crowds.

Yet this is the same offer that Christ makes to us, continually, through the sacraments. Christ is there to touch and heal us. How faithfully do we go to meet Him?

Let us not neglect these great gifts of grace, but instead receive them with due preparation and reverence.

The Mission of the Lay Faithful

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 897-913:

  • The lay faithful are distinguished from the clergy, or those consecrated in religious life, by their mission to advance the Gospel in the midst of the world.
  • Each and every human activity is subject to God’s dominion; as laity, we are involved in all of the various aspects of contemporary life, and so are called to influence society and culture in a Christian direction.
  • Lay participation is vital to shaping political and economic life in accordance with the Gospel; by working for just laws, we do not “impose” ourselves on others, but rather promote the common good of all, including non-believers.
  • It is not only our right, but our duty, to communicate our faith in the public square; it is not simply a task that we volunteer for, but a responsibility that flows from the fullness of Christian life.
  • The Lord equips us for our mission through the sacraments; by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation, we participate in Christ’s priestly, prophetic, and kingly office.
  • Our participation in the priestly office means that we are empowered to offer our spiritual sacrifices – prayers and works – and to offer ourselves to the Father during the celebration of the Eucharist; through these acts of worship, we consecrate the world to God.
  • This is different in its very essence from the ministerial priesthood, which is conformed to Christ in a special way through Holy Orders and empowered to celebrate the sacraments.
  • We participate in the prophetic office by our witness of faith in daily life; often we do so through the power of example, but when the opportunity arises, we should also speak up for the truth of Christ.
  • The kingly office is characterized by self-mastery: we are to rule over ourselves by overcoming sin and striving for holiness; in this way we are strengthened to carry out our mission to be “leaven in the world.”
  • While our sharing in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office primarily involves our life in the world, it also has an application in the life of the Church, so that the lay faithful may exercise stewardship in appropriate ways.

Live Your Faith

Because of the dignity and importance of our mission as lay faithful, our faith cannot be reduced to merely personal belief, a piety that is hidden and private.

To fulfill the charge that Christ gives us, our faith must necessarily take the form of public witness, in whatever way that is possible in our own life circumstances.

If we understand this responsibility, we cannot be “personally opposed” to intrinsic evil (e.g., abortion), but supportive of it as public policy.