As one of the images of the Holy Spirit is fire, and being forever stuck in the 80s, I certainly could not pass up the opportunity to incorporate REO Speedwagon into this week’s bulletin column.
That being said while the song “Keep the Fire Burnin’” is about a relationship, at another level the Holy Spirit, whom we celebrate this weekend, is the means by which the fire of faith and of our relationship with God grows stronger. So what exactly does the Spirit do? Quite a bit!
In the universal Church, we see the Spirit at work in how we understand doctrine in a new light, or go through important changes such as the Second Vatican Council. The Spirit ensures the Church is alive and well, and guides our pope and bishops in their work as shepherds.
But the Spirit guides us as well on a personal level. How?
First and foremost, the Spirit gives us virtues. These include faith, hope and love (the theological virtues received at baptism) and justice, temperance, charity and fortitude (the “human” virtues received universally). The Holy Spirit helps us understand the faith; with hope we hope for heaven but then live out that hope by living in this world as Christians wanting to make God’s love known; Love is where we pass on the love God shows us to one another.
Then, there are the tools that are the gifts and fruits of the spirit.
With respect to the 7 gifts of the Spirit, the first 3, wisdom, knowledge and understanding help us to know what the faith contains, and this is ongoing. Just as if you went in for surgery to a doctor, you’d hope the doctor didn’t stop learning 40 years ago, the same is true with our faith. We are continually learning about the faith, and with the Spirit’s help, we can keep our continuing education going.
Fortitude is what helps us defend the faith. Fortitude helps us to do difficult things. It could be telling someone something they don’t want to hear, or using tough love as a parent or spouse, or doing something challenging for the faith such as the work of a missionary. With fortitude, we are able to put the faith into action and, like the apostles, leave the locked room and go into the world to proclaim our faith.
Piety and fear of the Lord can be misunderstood. We don’t go around being terrified of God like the Cowardly Lion before Oz. Rather, a better way to understand this is love and respect. When we love someone, we fear letting them down by making a bad decision; we honor them by making them a priority in our lives. With piety and fear of the Lord, a person can say you are the center of my life to God, and everything else revolves around that.
Finally, counsel is that which helps us to decide right from wrong. It’s the gift of a conscience, which we form by learning about the faith, talking to people, and growing in the faith. Daily, we make decisions that shape us for the better or the worse. The more we do things like skip Mass, or make excuses for doing things we know are wrong, the more we fall into those ways of behavior. But the more we do right things and work on overcoming sins, the closer we come to being like the Trinity, which is love perfected. Our conscience is not there to make us feel shame, but rather to help us become better which is why it has to be continually formed.
On top of these gifts, there are the fruits of the spirit.
Charity (or Love) includes love for God and of our neighbors. It’s not just a passing feeling or infatuation. It is an unconditional kind of love that expects nothing in return. It puts the needs of others before our own and it manifests in concrete actions toward God and other people. The Cross is the perfect example of this.
Joy. We all want to be happy but the happiness found in earthly things is fleeting. Joy here isn’t a passing state. Rather, it is a lasting kind of happiness that can only be realized when we put God at the center of our lives and if we believe that we will live our eternal life with Him.
Peace. Peace is tranquility that can be experienced when we put our complete trust in God. When we rely on God, we believe that he will provide for our needs and this relieves us from any anxious thoughts about the future.
Patience. Patience allows us to have compassion over people in spite of their flaws and weaknesses. This fruit comes from an understanding of our own imperfect state and how God has given us His unconditional love and mercy so we should do the same for others.
Kindness is more than being kind to others. It is having a heart that is willing to do acts of compassion and give to others above and beyond what we owe to them.
Longanimity/Long-Suffering. This is being patient even when being provoked. While patience involves tolerance, longanimity means enduring quietly and remaining steadfast in the midst of attacks of others.
Mildness. To be mild in behavior means having a heart of forgiveness and grace. It means not being easily provoked and choosing a response of meekness and peace rather than one that leads to revenge.
Faith. Faith is at the core of our Christianity. To have faith means living according to the will of God and believing that He is the master of our life. The Holy Spirit helps us to grow in our understanding of what we believe and why.
Modesty. Being modest means being humble. It is believing that any of our successes, blessings and talents are gifts from God. It also means being content with what we have and not harbor any selfish ambitions.
Continence. Continence means having temperance and self-control. We can enjoy the pleasures of life, but this helps us not to indulge to excess or do things that are destructive.
Chastity. The Holy Spirit helps us to respect the sanctity of the marital act and of the body by not objectifying it, remembering we are always body and soul.
As you can see, there’s a lot there. I’d invite you to find time to think about these in greater detail. I added my own explanations and used several online articles in the above descriptions. But you can find some great stuff at Catholic websites such as Catholic Answers and ewtn.com.
Of course too the Holy Spirit is these things and so much more. Through the Spirit, we are guided in our decisions, our vocations; we are given strength to get through trying times; we become holier by invoking the Spirit too at Mass to confect the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and free us from our sins in confession. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The bottom line? The Holy Spirit is the fuel for the Church and for our souls to keep the fire burning that is the love of God, and to set the world afire with that love. So lets not just turn to the Holy Spirit once a year, but look to the Spirit daily to help us grow in our faith.