Following the Ascension of Christ into heaven we embark on our quest for God in a new dimension, in a new era. Perhaps it is the other way around. Perhaps we should understand it as God’s coming to us rather than our approach to God. After all, it is God’s initiative that is the foundation of our relationship with God. For the truth is that it is God who offers and we who respond.
How, then, does God approach us after Christ’s Ascension? Where and in what way does God come to us? Where and in what way do we find Him?
Christ comes to us in the Sacraments, but in those Sacraments He comes to us in His Spirit-filled humanity that has been resurrected and glorified by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. It is from His being at the right hand of the Father that He sends us the Holy Spirit.
We need to spend a moment now reflecting on what is meant by the word spirit. What does it mean for us as Christians? There are many connotations but essentially “spirit” refers to that non-material reality contained in our bodies in which we find the things of the mind and the things of the heart. Because of our souls, our spirits, we can know and we can love, things that cannot be weighed, or measured, or studied in a laboratory. Knowledge cannot be weighed and measured in a laboratory and neither can love. Both are non-material, spiritual realities that nevertheless come to us in our bodies. It is there that the Holy Spirit reaches us.
The critical thing for us is that we are willing to give attention to what is spiritual within us. The sad fact is, however, that we are too distracted; too thrown off the track, to give much attention to what is spiritual within us and to give attention to the promptings, the inspirations, and the movements of the Holy Spirit. How can the Holy Spirit prompt us if we are constantly text messaging, on our cell phones, or dashing about from task to task, all those things in our lives today that consume our attention and drown out what’s deep within us?
We have grown accustomed to being entertained. We have grown accustomed to be passive spectators, passively watching television, passively watching what comes to us on our smart phones, passively receiving so much without taking the necessary time to quietly process within us all that so noisily comes to us. We are over-stimulated by the noise and busy-ness of the world in which we live. We even read snippets of newspapers and books on our handheld devices, everything already processed and packaged for us thus eliminating the need for us to process and meditate on all of the stuff that bombards us.
Traditionally, the Catholic Church sees seven major gifts of the Holy Spirit beginning with Wisdom. With that gift we become aware of God at work in our lives as well as in the events surrounding us. The wonders of nature speak of God’s purposes. He is the father and author of all that lives, something that wisdom allows us to appreciate and brings us to respect. In wisdom we respect life, particularly human life. It is with Wisdom that we should make our choices and act.
Understanding. We are all aware of the confusing and conflicting opinions that bombard us in newspapers and on television. Know-it-alls give their opinions about God, the Church, and religion when they themselves have only superficial grasps of what they talk about. The Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding comes to us when we reflect our faith and the teachings of our Church. Reflection, we must remember, is something that is done in silence, freed from the noise of this world’s other voices.
The gift of Counsel is the gift enabling us to make good judgments. With the gift of counsel/right judgment, we know the difference between right and wrong, and we find the freedom to choose to do what is right, not what is merely current. A person with right judgment avoids sin and lives out the values taught by Jesus.
Another word for Fortitude is courage. With the power of fortitude or courage, we overcome our fear of what others might think and are willing to take risks as followers of Jesus. A person with courage is willing to stand up for what is right in the sight of God, even if it means accepting the rejection of people around us, suffering their scorn and verbal abuse, or even physical harm. The gift of courage allows people to have firmness of mind that is required both in doing good and in enduring evil.
Knowledge is one of the Holy Spirit’s most vital gifts. It requires reading and reflection on our part. Knowledge that is worth anything only comes with effort, with work: With the gift of knowledge we understand the meaning of things in God’s eyes The gift of knowledge is more than an accumulation of facts, information, and data.
With the gift of Reverence (sometimes called Piety) we have a deep sense of respect for God and His Church. A person with reverence recognizes our total reliance on God because we only have a limited grasp of His ways. A reverent person comes before God with humility, trust, and love. Piety is the gift whereby, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, we worship God as our Father and Jesus as our Savior.
Fear of the Lord really means that we have wonder and awe in our hearts. With the gift of fear of the Lord we are aware of the glory and the awesome majesty of God. A person with wonder and awe knows that God gives us the perfection of all we desire. This gift of the Holy Spirit gives us a fear of separating ourselves. It is not so much a fear of punishment as it is a fear of offending against God’s love. The Book of Proverbs tells us that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of losing God’s love for us. We can fall away from God and lose our love for God. When that happens our life can become meaningless and without purpose.
The Holy Spirit comes to us in many other ways. He comes to us with the tenderness of a true friend. He heals, strengthens our resolve, consoles us and enables us to see things in God’s light. Our Ancient Enemy, the devil, bests us with doubt, disillusionment, discouragement, depression, despair, defeat, and death. The Holy Spirit, our Advocate, tells us that we are loved, that God is with us, and that God the Son loves us so much that He died for us. Our Advocate tells us that we are loved by God and that despite Satan’s lies we are God’s beloved children. The Holy Spirit gives us good news in the face of all of the bad news and bad feelings we may have within our hearts. Truly the Holy Spirit is our Advocate and our Friend.
Pentecost, then, isn’t simply an interesting event that occurred two thousand years ago. It is, rather, a continuing event that comes to us down through the centuries in our Church, a Church filled with humans such as ourselves, capable of shameless deeds as well as deeds of glory. If our Church was merely a human invention, something created and sustained by weak and vacillating men and women, then it would have disappeared long ago. But as it is, filled with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ on earth, bids us today to seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we can been the persons God dreams we can be.