In the Acts of the Apostles, the reception of the Holy Spirit transforms a band of cowardly and confused followers of Jesus, who were hiding in a room with Mary and praying, into the most radical team of evangelists the world’s ever seen. Immediately, they go out, speak in tongues and thus are able to have a universal dialogue with those gathered in Jerusalem. And after Peter preaches to the crowds, some 3,000 convert and join the Church! As the book carries on, all sorts of miracles are attributed to the apostles: healing, breaking out of jail, and even raising the dead. Perhaps the most awesome story is in Acts 5, where the sick are laid out along the path that Peter walks so that his shadow will pass over them and, it is hoped, heal them. That’s some mighty awesome results of being given the Holy Spirit!
So why don’t we see this today? Well, there are a lot of reasons why.
One part of it is certainly that God uses his gifts in the manner that will most build up the Church. For instance, St. Paul discusses the gift of tongues and makes it clear that any gift is only useful if it builds up the Church. So perhaps God doesn’t see it necessary for all of these kind of signs to happen in our day. I have to admit that is a possibility.
But there’s another possibility. Obviously, when we receive the Holy Spirit today, in Baptism and in Confirmation, we’re receiving the very same Holy Spirit that once was given to the apostles. It’s not like our version is watered down or somehow lessened.
But a huge difference is that the apostles were prepared by a deeply formative period of discipleship for three years. For three whole years, these men left everything behind, and followed Jesus. They listened carefully to His words, trying to capture the real meaning of them. They asked questions, often times silly ones, in an attempt to get to know the Lord. They saw him work miracles and often were fed by His miraculous signs, both spiritually and physically.
How does that compare to our modern world’s approach to the sacrament? Or indeed, how does that compare to our typical attempt at the Christian life? Often, of course, we don’t manage to achieve or indeed even attempt anything like what the disciples did. When I worked in a parish, I used to tell young candidates in interviews often that the Spirit and the grace we receive at Confirmation will only work in us, and change us, to the extent that we’re both open to it, and cooperate with it. And, in the twentieth century, we’ve seen some radical disciples of Christ who have completely opened themselves up to those gifts and cooperated with that grace. They’ve gone on to change the world and modeled what a radical commitment to Christ can look like. And it always looks like this: joy.
Who am I thinking of? Any number of saints, blessed, venerable, and others on the path to canonization. Look at Dorothy Day, for instance, who fundamentally transformed her life, and in the process set up a social movement dedicated to the poor that still exists. Or how about Therese of Lisieux, who died at the age of 24, and never left the walls of the convent she entered at 15, but still, decades later, is an inspiration to men and women of the little way all around the world. Next consider Venerable Fulton Sheen, who was the first televangelist and who dedicated his life not only to speaking and writing, but also to prayer and especially to adoration. His example is reaching a new generation today through the internet and the fruit of that will certainly be abundant. Finally, of course, we can point to our newest saints, St. Francisco and St. Jacinta, who followed the message of the Virgin Mary and, even though they were promised they would wind up in heaven, spent their remaining few years sacrificing and praying for others, in a spirit of solidarity with those “in most need of they mercy.”
So, have you received the Holy Spirit and wondered what it has done for you? I invite you to think about the way the saints have cooperated with that grace and ask yourself if you’ve done the same. More than likely the answer will be “no.” But there’s always tomorrow, and it’s never too late to set out into the deep, as St. John Paul II used to say so often: Duc in altam! And if you have really cooperated and opened yourself up to this gift, what has it done for your life? I know for myself, I’ve not been nearly as open as I ought to, but doing so brought me from Tallahassee, FL studying trumpet to the seminary, and from there to the vocation to matrimony, and from there to a beautiful wife and three daughters and, strangely, back to Tallahassee to pursue a PhD. I’d call that a big sign that the Holy Spirit did change my life, and continues to do so. Pray that we all might be open to the Spirit and His gifts as Pentecost approaches.
God love you!