How the Holy Spirit Works in Our Lives

Because God is not ordinarily visible to our senses, there is always a danger in thinking that He is a mere abstraction and really doesn’t have much to do with our daily lives. So as we celebrate this Pentecost Sunday, celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles and the whole Church at her beginning, we recall that the Lord helped make the power of the Holy Spirit visible as he fanned the flames of faith, appearing to the disciples as a mighty rushing window and tongues of fire leaping down from Heaven. We might say that the Lord in His goodness was “priming the pump” a little to help them understand just how real He was despite the fact that He was invisible.

Christians in future generations rarely have such dramatically visible signs given to them, but still, for those who are open to Him, we receive much more subtle signs of His power and love, often in the form of the living saints whose whole being reflects the presence of the Holy Spirit. While Scriptures make it clear that the Spirit gives different gifts to each Christian, depending on his particular needs and temperament, every Christian is given gifts by the Holy Spirit in his baptism and confirmation. So while it’s hard to pigeonhole the Holy Spirit or categorize what He does in our lives, the Church has identified seven gifts that He gives each Christian to help him witness to Jesus and dedicate his life to Him. You might well have had to memorize these gifts when you made your confirmation: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and holy fear. Problem is, most of us were confirmed so young that we didn’t have any life experience to hook these on to, to help them make sense.

There’s a great prayer, that explains those in adult terms. I’ll step through a couple of those snippets from the prayers.

Counsel is described as choosing the surest way of pleasing God and gaining Heaven. In other words, the Holy Spirit reveals to us the best way of knowing not what our plans are for our own life, but what God’s plans are for our life. He is our Creator, and literally knows us better than we know ourselves, including what will bring us happiness in this life and lead to happiness in eternal life. So part of our prayer to the Holy Spirit should be listening to what direction He wants us to take. I’ll give a concrete example. Last week, seven men were ordained to serve the Archdiocese as holy priests of Jesus Christ. Each man has his own story (see the May 10th blog entry), but so many of my brother priests share an experience similar to my own discernment. We had our plans all lined up and all figured out– depending on the man everything from engagement to be married to entering medical school or going into the military –convinced that those plans would make us happy. Until, that is, prayer (often in front of the Blessed Sacrament) started a chain reaction, a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right with those plans. All this led eventually to the revelation that, what would really make us happy was to enter seminary so we could celebrate the holy Mass and confessions for the people of God. That is an example of counsel in action.

Holy Fear is described as leading to a loving reverence towards God and dread displeasing Him in any way. This is key. Many Catholics have something of a spiritually immature faith, thinking that the sole purpose of religion is to make sure we follow just enough seemingly burdensome rules (like going to Mass or not eating meat on Lenten Fridays) so that we can do what we want and get to Heaven by default. But the Holy Spirit reveals that our love of God must run much deeper than that. It is more like the love a husband has for his wife in a good marriage. He wants to please his wife, looks for ways to please his wife, finds it a joy to dedicate himself toward doing so. In a really good marriage, he doesn’t refrain from doing things (like going out too often with the guys, spending too much money on his hobbies and so on) because he is afraid he’ll get in trouble with his wife, but because he doesn’t want to disappoint her. Similarly, the Holy Spirit helps us to love God in a deeper way, avoiding sin not just because we know we would be punished for it at our judgment, but because we love God so much that we don’t desire to do things that would displease Him.

Knowledge is not just factual figures (encyclopedic knowledge). It refers more to spiritual knowledge, so is described as “knowing God and knowing myself and growing in the knowledge of the saints.” If we study the lives of the saints (and pray through their intercession) we realize how much they surrendered completely to God. They were not afraid to “go deep” in their lives of prayer, to examine their faults, strengths, and weaknesses, so they could truly know God and what made them spiritually tick.

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