Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day on which we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ followers and mark the end of the Easter Season.

It would, however, be a mistake to think of the day in purely historical terms – as a day on which we look back at something that happened a very long time ago. I’ve sometimes suggested to people that I think of Pentecost as giving us an annual “booster shot” of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that were magnified in us when we received Confirmation.

The reality, of course, is that we are always blessed by the Spirit, every day of our lives. So perhaps it is better to say that Pentecost helps us to be more open to receipt of the gifts of the Spirit.

If, like me, you went to Catholic school, those gifts of the Spirit probably roll pretty easily off of your tongue: Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. 

Whether we think of Pentecost as giving us an annual booster shot of the gifts of the Spirit, or making us more open to receive the gifts of the Spirit or maybe just reminding us of the gifts that are always at our disposal, this day is a good reminder that we are blessed with the gifts we need to allow us to live the fullness of our lives as Christ would have us live.

Is there a particular gift you need to be more aware of? That you need to be more open to? Today is a good day to reflect on such questions.


Octave of Pentecost

During Mass at St. Benedict’s Monastery yesterday afternoon, the priest mentioned his sadness that we no longer celebrate the Octave of Pentecost. Although many of the older nuns in the congregation shook their heads appreciatively at his comment, I was puzzled, never having heard of (or at least not remembering it if I did) the Octave of Pentecost.

A little digging last night revealed that in the traditional Roman liturgical calendar, Pentecost was followed by eight days of celebration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The practice of celebrating the Octave ended in 1969. (So I guess I should have remembered it since I must have celebrated it during my Catholic youth.) I didn’t delve deeply enough to discover why it did, although I found a number of sites bemoaning the “reforms” that removed the octave from the liturgical calendar.

Whether or not we “officially” recognize an Octave of Pentecost, we have lost something important if we don’t spend time reflecting on the gifts of the Holy Spirit that have been given to us. They were not, after all, gifts given to us to stick in a closet with the fondue set someone gave us 15 years ago that we never use. Rather, they are ours to help us fulfill our role as disciples of Christ.

We don’t need the Octave placed on the liturgical calendar to spend time reflecting on what the coming of the Spirit means to us. So, as one might of done during the “official” Octave, take some time over these days to reflect on the gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety and Fear of the Lord.

Indwelling of the Spirit

Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the culmination and completion of what began with Christ’s Incarnation. Before leaving his disciples, Christ breathed upon them, giving them the Spirit. That same Spirit dwells in each of us.

The Spirit of God dwells in each one of us. If we could remember the reality of what we celebrate on this day, think of how much easier our lives would be.

We would know that we don’t need to go someplace to find God…

We would know that we can’t be separated from our God…

We would know that we are all brothers and sisters, connected at the deepest levels…

We would know that through the power of God working in us we can do so much more than we can imagine.

We would know that though our bodies will one day pass away, we will live in oneness with our God forever.

That seems to me something worth remembering. Blessings on this celebration of Pentecost!

Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Today the Catholic Church celebrates Pentecost Sunday, the day on which we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, an event generally thought of as the event that marks the birth of the Church. What that descent looked like is not something we can speak about with certainty. Acts describes a sudden “noise like a strong driving wind” followed by what appeared to the disciples as “tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” John says simply that Jesus breathed on the disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

However it happened, we know that the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and, through the power of that Spirit, able to do marvelous things, far more (in the word of Ephesians) that they could ask for or imagine. In the Opening Prayer of the Pentecost Sunday Mass, we pray

God our Father,
let the Spirit you sent on your Church
to begin the teaching of the Gospel
continue to work in the world
through the hearts of all who believe.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

As we pray those words, let us also pray that our hearts be open to receive the gifts of the Spirit so that we too, like the disciples, may do marvelous things in the name of our God.