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Pentecost Sunday

To confirm something is to provide reassurance that it is true. It is to strengthen its credibility and reliability. It is to dispel uncertainty or doubt. As a result, it is to make people more confident. If I confirm that the flight will arrive at 12 Noon, it means that I can make arrangements for myself and family to be there. I can order the taxi, I can plan the dinner, I can calculate how long it will take for everyone to get home.

The Apostles were closed in the Upper Room despite having seen that Jesus was risen. His death had made them uncertain. Their cowardice also made them uncertain. They were slow to understand Jesus; they were foolish in their worldly expectations of him; they were heedless and forgetful of his words and of the will of God; they were morally and spiritually weak and ignorant. Above all, they abandoned him as if they had never known him. While they were filled with joy on seeing him risen, it seemed to make no difference to their basic fear of being killed by the Jews.

Jesus was well aware of the contradiction. They believed in his resurrection, but they were still afraid of death and of Jesus leaving them, as he said he would have to do. Such is the human condition. An interior change in them was beyond their own power and so Jesus sends to them the power of God, the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the outpouring of the Spirit into the deepest depths of the hearts and minds of the Apostles. The doubts that lingered after their baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus are blown away by the confirmation of Pentecost. Baptism and Confirmation assimilate us respectively to Christ and to the Spirit. Jesus does not just unite us to his Risen Body in Baptism and the Eucharist, but He unites is to his own Spirit in Confirmation.

And if we look at what happened to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, we can see that they were filled with the seven gifts of the Spirit.

Their foolish reluctance to accept the full message of Jesus and to cling to earthly notions of his mission is blown away by the gift of wisdom, the first gift. Wisdom instils in the heart the experience of being attracted to what is divine. Wisdom perfects charity. The Apostles’ preaching on Pentecost shows how intently they are caught up in that experience and in proclaiming it with loving urgency to their hearers.

Despite listening to Jesus for three years at such close quarters, the Apostles showed tremendous ignorance of his plan, even just before his Ascension. Their ignorance is blown away by the gift of understanding, the second gift, which gives light to their minds so that, at last, they begin to grasp the plan which the Father revealed in Christ and the truths of faith. They no longer see it all as absurd but perceive that their reason can accept it. Understanding perfects faith. It is again their preaching, both on Pentecost and throughout the Acts of the Apostles, which proves this dramatic change in their minds.

When Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem lest he suffer, Jesus rebuked him for thinking as man does, not as God. Peter had been unable to discern the will of God. But now, that inability is blown away by the gift of counsel, the third gift. With this gift, the Holy Spirit guides our minds to impart a supernatural intuition to see the will of God in the situations of life. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, we see Peter repeatedly use this gift in making important decisions about the life of the Church.

The cowardice of the Apostles is well documented in the New Testament. This, too, is blown away by the Holy Spirit with the gift of fortitude, the fourth gift. Fortitude is both courage and endurance. It is the willingness to stand up for what is right in the sight of God in the face of opposition and persecution. It is the firmness of mind needed to keep doing good and to endure evil. There is no question that the Apostles exercised this gift since they all died as martyrs for Christ.

In that Upper Room, the fear of death was palpable, even when the Risen One entered. The Apostles simply could not see death from the other side, from God’s side. They were stuck on the human side. But the Holy Spirit blows that away with the gift of knowledge, the fifth gift. The knowledge in question is not our knowledge of the things of God, but God’s own knowledge of everything. It is to see things as God sees them. Again, we see that the Apostles were filled with this gift since rather than fear death they now looked upon it as an opportunity to witness to Jesus and to be gone and be with Him.

Another way of looking at the fear of the Apostles is to say that they did not have total reliance on Jesus; they still did not trust him totally. They trusted too much in looking after themselves. Here it is the gift of piety or reverence, the sixth gift, which blows their self-reliance away. Piety recognises what is owed to God: his is the power over death, in his hands is the future of my life and of the world, to him our thanks and praise are due. This piety or reverence is an act of justice because we render to God what he is owed from us. It also benefits us, of course, because we are able to live in greater freedom and peace if we let Him look after us. There is no question that the Apostles experienced this freedom and peace. They lived constantly before Jesus and experienced his help in the most astonishing ways (miraculous releases from prison, visions and apparitions, the power of healing, etc.).

The seventh gift of the Holy Spirit given at confirmation as at Pentecost is what’s called the fear of the Lord, or a sense of awe and wonder in his presence. The Spirit gives us an awareness of the glory and majesty of God. It is a sense that God is truly the resting place of all our being. It is to be overwhelmed by his beauty, majesty and grandeur. You can get a hint of it staring out into space, or deep into the ocean or before a splendid sunrise or sunset. But what the Spirit gives is something much greater. It is as if you gaze on God from within God’s own gaze upon himself. It prepares us for the Beatific Vision. To have this gift, even only a little, makes us afraid, not of God, but of losing God. Fear of the Lord perfects hope.

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit take for granted the gifts of faith, hope and charity which we have received at Baptism. They perfect them and make us more like Christ, more united to the Church and more equipped to fulfil our mission to bring Christ to the world.

You may feel you do not have these gifts. If you have not been confirmed yet, that is probably the case. If you have been confirmed, all I can say is that you do have them, because God never revokes his gifts. But a gift only means something if we accept it and work with it. If you feel that is not happening for you, then you have a job to do. Pray not for the gifts, since they are already yours, but for the further gift of will and action to revive them in your life. Let not the wind of the Spirit blow away, but let it blow you away.