The Spirit of Catholic Discipleship
One lady was talking to a priest about changes since the Second Vatican Council. The priest asked her what stood out most in her observation. She replied, “It seems to me that the Holy Spirit is doing a lot more than the Holy Ghost used to do!”
Yet for many Catholics, the Holy Spirit is “ghostly” in the sense of being very “mysterious.” We can imagine God to some extent and, to a much greater degree, Jesus: we have centuries of art that give us images of a skinny-faced, large-eyed man with long hair and an alluring face. But the Holy Spirit still eludes our imaginations.
This will be true as long as we try to think out our faith in terms of things: the images of a dove or fire are about as close to things that our ideas of the Holy Spirit allow. But if we think in terms of energy, of force, of action, then it might be much easier for us to come to ideas about the Spirit. We can see the car, but we can feel the car in motion. We can touch a football, but we can experience an expert quarterback throwing a football for a forty-yard catch. We can try to look at the sun, but we can easily identify the multiple effects of the sun’s rays on our earth—from dawns to growing fields to summer’s hot days.
Maybe, then, we need to look at the action of the Spirit in our lives to begin to see who the Holy Spirit is.
Many remember the story of Pentecost in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, how timid apostles hiding in fear were filled with the Spirit in such a way that they undertook the mission of Jesus; we next see them traveling widely, forming churches, and preaching the Word of God, even to the point of dying for their faith. They went from being people intimidated by fear, to being proud preachers of Jesus’ life and salvation. What was the difference? The Holy Spirit!
We’re Intimidated Too
All too often we feel like the disciples before Pentecost. We have heard about how we should share our faith, but nothing concrete comes into our heads when we try to imagine what this might mean. “I’m not going to stand on street corners and preach,” we instinctively think, as if this was the only way to share our faith.
The truth is that every baptized person has received the Holy Spirit, and the sacrament of Confirmation seals the Spirit’s activities in our lives as disciples. We keep thinking that we have to do something to prove the Holy Spirit is present, whereas the Holy Spirit constantly shows power in and through our Catholic lives. Without the Holy Spirit, we would not be able to do anything—believe, pray, serve—let alone share our faith.
Pope Francis said this in “The Joy of the Gospel”:
261. How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervour, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction! Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts. A spirit-filled evangelization is one guided by the Holy Spirit, for he is the soul of the Church called to proclaim the Gospel. Before offering some spiritual motivations and suggestions, I once more invoke the Holy Spirit. I implore him to come and renew the Church, to stir and impel her to go forth boldly to evangelize all peoples.
In other words, our basic spirituality as Catholics and followers of Jesus is to accept the Holy Spirit working in our lives, guiding and shaping them through the gifts the Spirit bestows. Pope Francis indicates some of the effects of the Spirit’s gifts—“fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction”—and each of us, at one point or another, has experienced these effects. Our Catholic task is not to force ourselves into behaviors to satisfy some notion we might have of what the Spirit’s actions should look like. Rather, attending to the Spirit’s multiple and subtle signs in our lives, we let the Spirit move us forward as water might make a branch flow in its tow.
Rather than being intimidated by the task in front of us—living and sharing our faith more fully—we can be consoled by the Spirit’s presence which generates the power to open our hearts and move them in new directions as we experience our lives from the viewpoint of faith. The Holy Spirit is the “ agent of evangelization,” Pope Paul VI said in “On Evangelization in the Modern World.” Likewise, the Holy Spirit is the agent in our individual lives.
Although the gifts of the Spirit are many and countless, Christians have thought of the virtues as key gifts of the Spirit, particularly the “theological virtues” of faith, hope, and love. First of all, we have to think of these virtues as powers that the Spirit bestows on those who open their hearts in faith. Virtues are what we do, but, most clearly, virtues are what we do because of the power of God’s Spirit in our lives. Secondly, these virtues are called “theological” because they aim toward God (i.e., we believe in God, hope for God, and love God), but also because they have God as their origin and source. We have faith, hope, and love because of the Spirit’s dwelling in us, transforming our minds, imagination, and desires to respond to the Gospel.
If we take just a moment, we can recognize these gifts active in our lives, from the way we have come to see and love God, to the prayer we have in times of joy and stress, to the consolation and support we give to others in their need. Our lives are saturated with the gifts God pours into them through the Holy Spirit. Indeed, one spiritual action we might make a regular part of our lives would be to regularly spend five minutes recognizing how the Spirit has touched, guided, and supported us in our actual lives.
Gifted with these divine powers, we can easily see how the Spirit disposes and equips us to live and share our faith.
Faith, in the first place, brings us to a personal relationship with God, such that we experience God’s love and assurance in Jesus, and sense God’s presence in the Holy Spirit. This experience of God, and divine love, is the font that not only sustains our lives, but also shines on those around us—our families, for sure, but surely beyond our families as well. It is faith and the prayerful devotion that faith brings about, which our neighbors and friends can see as a seamless part of our lives. It is in faith that we can talk to others about what faith has done in our lives. And it is to faith that we can tactfully invite others, when the time is right, as they search for purpose in their own lives.
Hope, secondly, brings about a confidence because we see a picture of where God is leading us. God’s invites us to the Kingdom which is the accomplishment of the fullness of life and love. Every cell in our bodies affirms the surging drive for life and for deeper, more authentic, experiences of love. Hope gives us the ability share with others from the viewpoint of their greatest dreams. What do they wish for themselves? For those they love? For the human race? How do these dreams motivate them to live and act for others? How much fuller would their dreams be if the vision of the Kingdom informed them? Hope sharpens our own experience of the Kingdom of God—and the possibilities of the Kingdom in the actual lives we live. Serving and building the Kingdom gives us an attitude toward others that can pull them along more fully into the vision of God.
Lastly, love is that power by which we come to live for God and for others. It shows itself in compassion, as we extend ourselves into the lives of others and open ourselves to their limitations and pains. It shows itself in the generosity we extend to others because the abundance of love spills beyond us into the lives of others. Love helps us rejoice with the joys of others, seeking to build them up and enrich their lives. Love shows us that the lives of others are most fully enriched when they have experienced God’s love and accepted that experience as the foundation of their lives. Love gives of itself because it has received, without limit, from God. Love entices us to levels of charity and care that we thought once impossible.
Faith, hope, and love are the powers God gives us through the Holy Spirit to lead us not only more fully into God’s life, but also into the lives of others, offering them the riches we have ourselves received.
Often local news stories present people who seem unexpectedly heroic. How did they run into a fire? Or pull someone from a car? Or have the composure to phone the police when threatened? We relish these stores and find them as incentives for our own life. But the greatest act of heroism was the death of Jesus Christ; and the greatest fruit of his resurrection was the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this gift, we not only have God’s incentive for our action. We also have God’s very power poured into our lives, bringing courage, generosity, and sharing to the forefront of our lives.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What experiences in my own life do I identify with the power of the Holy Spirit? How do I most readily think of the Spirit working in my life?
2. Think of your daily life in terms of faith, hope, and love. Can you give some examples of how you see these active in your life?
3. Identify a moment when the Spirit gave you the strength or courage to do something that you felt would be difficult or impossible. What does this incident tell you about the Spirit in your life?