Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, has described the moment when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles at Pentecost as a “deeply moving experience of being loved by God. You can imagine the love of God as an ocean that overflowed and overwhelmed the apostles.”
We celebrated the solemnity of Pentecost on June 8—the event that St. John the Baptist prophesied would be “a baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).
It is important to realize that the experience of the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles with a rush of wind and tongues of fire 2,000 years ago was a historical event, but it is equally important to know that God desires to continue pouring out his Spirit today.
The Church needs the gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit just as much now as it did then, and it needs the unique expression of each person’s gifts. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul teaches the early Christians and us today that there is a variety of gifts of the Spirit “but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one” (1 Cor 12: 4, 7).
Every time I celebrate confirmation I spend some time beforehand asking the young people presenting themselves for the sacrament about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I take time for this because having a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit and an openness to his gifts are so important for being a Christian who is able to hear and respond to his promptings.
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. I encourage you to commit these gifts to memory and ask for these gifts. You received the seeds of them at your baptism and they were strengthened in you through your confirmation. But they must be cultivated by you seeking and listening for the Holy Spirit in personal prayer and by asking for an outpouring of his grace into your heart and soul.
Having a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit means living a life animated by love. St. Paul taught the early Christians to “earnestly desire the higher gifts,” but then told them about a “still more excellent way”—the one rooted in love. He lists the charisms of tongues, prophecy, faith and the willingness to sacrifice oneself and says, “if I have all of these things but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3).
The charisms of the Holy Spirit are gifts for the Church and they should be desired and used. Above all, though, I urge you to pursue the love of God, which is the strong foundation upon which the Holy Spirit lays the seven gifts.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux discovered this truth during her short life of 24 years. Although she did not want to write about it, her mother superior asked her to explain her spiritual philosophy, and the result was St. Thérèse’s now-famous explanation of her “Little Way.”
Her approach was to trust God like a child and to seek ways to love him through even the smallest acts. St. Thérèse demonstrated her way of life with her final words as she succumbed to tuberculosis. She declared, “My God … I love you!” For St. Thérèse, the love of God transformed death so that she was able to say, “I am not dying, I am entering life.”
My message to you in these weeks after Pentecost is the same as St. Paul’s was to the Corinthians, “Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 14:1). When you seek intimacy with Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit you will open yourself to the gifts of the Spirit and do so with the love of the Holy Trinity as your firm foundation. That love will impel you to share the Gospel with the world.
Jesus gave us the command to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13: 34; John 15: 12). A simple cry of the heart could be, “Jesus, teach me to love as you love” or “Jesus, grant to me the grace to love as you love” or “Jesus, help me to love others as you love others.” These prayers can be made anytime and anywhere in the quiet of our hearts and most especially when we may be aggravated by someone.
When Pope Francis met with members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal on June 1, he told them, “Go forth into the streets and evangelize, proclaim the Gospel. Remember that the Church was born to go forth, that morning of Pentecost.”
God is waiting for you to open yourself up to the gifts he has for you, so that you can receive the mercy, reconciliation and love he has for you and share it with those in need. The Father will never impose his love on you and will only bestow his gifts if you desire them and cooperate with them. I urge you to not be afraid of the Holy Spirit but to open your hearts to him and surrender to his embrace. He only desires your peace, joy and happiness!