What a scene that first Pentecost must have been. The Holy Spirit came upon them in such a powerful way that the huddled group of scared disciples of Jesus were suddenly breaking out of their hiding place and boldly going out into the streets and plazas of Jerusalem to fearless proclaim that Jesus Christ was indeed Lord and Savior and that, though he had been killed by crucifixion, he had risen from the dead, and that there is salvation in no other Name.
Oh for the same kind of release of the Holy Sprit in our day! Oh for the same fearless proclamation today! Oh that today’s world would be transformed by one generation of believers as was that generation of the Apostles!
Historically, however, the Spirit’s action has been more subtle than explosive. Take for instance our own personal Pentecost, when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation. Chances are it was not explosive. Chances are that it was a subtle transformation, like the change that happens in the Holy Eucharist. Before the consecration the host and wine look as they are, just as after the consecration they look no different but by then they are the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior.
Just before the consecration, the priest holds his hands over the bread and wine and prays, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Like the dewfall.” Have you ever seen the dew fall? It happens slowly and invisibly, as does the transformation of the one who is confirmed. In most cases, then, one’s own personal Pentecost is not so much like the first Pentecost, but is much more “like the dewfall.”
It helps, however, to know what gifts the Holy Spirit gives us when we are confirmed. Remember them? The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. You’ll most probably recognize them when I list them for you, but what exactly are these gifts of wisdom and understanding, right judgment and courage, knowledge and reverence and wonder and awe in God’s presence.
Let me unwrap them so that we may better grasp them and incorporate them in our daily lives:
Wonder and awe in God’s presence, also known as the fear of the Lord. This gift of the Spirit does not make us afraid of hell, but makes so in love with God that we are appropriately afraid of ever doing anything that would separate us from God.
Reverence, also known as piety. This gift leads us to see God in all the persons the Lord puts in our lives, and respect them just as we respect and love God. Or, in the words of Scripture: “How can you say you love and God and do not love your brother or sister?”
Courage, also known as Fortitude. This gift strengthens us against natural fear and imparts to our will an impulse to undertake without hesitancy the most arduous tasks, to face dangers, trample underfoot human respect, and to endure without complaint even prolonged tribulation.
Knowledge. This gift enables us to evaluate created things at their true worth in their relation to God. Knowledge unmasks pretenses, reveals emptiness and helps us put firth things first, and prize friendship with God above all else.
Understanding. With this gift, the Holy Spirit helps us grasp the truths of our Catholic faith, and by understanding them, we are enabled to penetrate the inner meaning of revealed truths and through them we are quickened to a newness of life. With Understanding our faith ceases to be sterile and inactive. Instead our mode of life bears eloquent testimony to the faith that is within us.
Right Judgment, also known as Counsel. With this gift the soul is endowed with supernatural prudence, enabling us to judge rightly and promptly what must be done. Right Judgment is supernatural common sense, a priceless treasure, when faced with the innumerable concrete cases that face us in our daily affairs.
Lastly, Wisdom, the most perfect of the gifts of the Spirit. Wisdom is the gift of discernment, enabling us to sort through the subtleties of the various movements within our souls, with an eye to picking up on very subtle deceptions of an evil spirit that would deceive us by pretending to be an angel of light.
These are the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us in Confirmation. Let us ask our Lord open them up and magnify them in our lives, whether suddenly or like the dewfall.