This Sunday, I celebrated Confirmation at St. Mary’s Cathedral for people from the three parishes in Cheyenne. Below is the homily.
Do you see Pentecost as a one-time event, as something that happened long ago and out of reach for us? Do you see it as only something that happened to the first disciples, while we get just a small taste of the Spirit at Confirmation?
Pentecost unleashed the Holy Spirit in the Church, like the wind that blows in Cheyenne. You cannot get rid of it. You cannot stop it. Wind is a great image for the Spirit because it is a constant force in creation. In the Old Testament, the word for spirit also means breath or wind. It is often the breath of God. God is always filling his people with the breath of life. Even when we are unaware, the Spirit is moving in our hearts.
St. Paul uses several verbs that signify this constant action of the Holy Spirit. In this passage from the Galatians he says, “Live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). A more literal translation is “Walk by the Spirit.”
‘Walk by the Spirit’ implies that every step of your life should be under the influence of the Spirit. In the Old Testament, Moses told the Hebrews to “walk in God’s ways” or “walk in the commandments” (Deut. 8:6). But Christian morality is to ‘walk by the Spirit.’ That’s why Paul says, “If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). The Christian does more than just obey laws or commandments. Rather, he or she listens to the Spirit. The Ten Commandments are no longer enough. Now we are to be guided by the Spirit, so that we can act just like Jesus.
Paul uses four similar verbs as he urges us to be tuned into the Holy Spirit. He says, “Walk by the Spirit…. Be guided by the Spirit…. Live by the Spirit. Finally, he ends with, “Let us follow the Spirit.” Remember, for Paul, Jesus and the Spirit are the same presence. So to ‘follow the Spirit’ is to be a disciple who follows in Jesus’ footsteps.
Even the word Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit expresses this constant guidance. He calls the Spirit the Paraclete. Often the word is translated as Advocate, which is the Latin word. Paraclete is Greek for someone “called beside” you. The Paraclete is the one whom you call to your side to help you, to guide you, to defend you. Another term for a lawyer is advocate, because a lawyer stands beside someone in court to help them.
The Holy Spirit is our Advocate, the One whom we call to our side to help us. The Spirit will guide every step, if only we ask for that guidance.
- Are you constantly aware of the breath of God whispering in your ear?
- Do you call the Spirit to your side for help?
- Are you following the Spirit? Or merely obeying the commandments?
Recently, I have been reading Pope Francis Apostolic Exhortation, GAUDETE ET ESULTATE, on the call to holiness. He says that the Holy Spirit guides us in every moment to do little deeds of holiness. This is how he describes it.
“This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures. Here is an example: a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbor and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: “No, I will not speak badly of anyone”. This is a step forward in holiness. Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness.
Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness. Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.” (16, Gaudete et Esultate).
That woman is not merely deciding on her own. Rather, she is being guided by the Holy Spirit. She is walking by the Spirit: One step is to refrain from gossip; another step is to be patient with a child; another step is to show kindness to a street person. With each step, she is walking by the Spirit, or living by the Spirit. Her holiness grows in small steps.
The person who is in tune with the Spirit is constantly being transformed. Paul speaks of the Christian as being transformed into the image of the Lord, from one degree of glory into another (2 Cor. 3:18)….. from one degree of goodness to another, from one degree of selfless love to another.
Transformation into Jesus is one of the effects of Confirmation. The Spirit conforms us to Christ, or makes us more like Christ. Maybe the best way to describe the change is by reflecting on the fruit of the Spirit. Think of how the fruit of the Spirit describes the attitude of Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (cf. Gal. 5:22-23). Ask for the fruit of the Spirit today. Ask God to make them shine out in you – Love, Joy, Peace etc.
As we celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation with you, open yourself the great gift of the Holy Spirit. First of all be open and humbly acknowledge such a gift! “The Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).
Realize that the Holy Spirit has been unleashed like the wind. It is always blowing. It is unstoppable. God is always breathing his Spirit into our hearts. Walk in the Spirit. Be guided by the Spirit. Step by step the Holy Spirit will transform you. You will be conformed to Christ Jesus.
A few years ago, a lady told me that her coworker was struck by how peaceful she was. The coworker, who was not baptized, noticed that this other woman was so peaceful despite the stress of her job. So she asked her, “Where do you get your hope and peace?” I have seen people who suffer with cancer stay upbeat and strong because of their prayer. That kind of peace and strength is the fruit of the Spirit. I know people with marriages that are strained who work at forgiveness and not be imprisoned by bitterness. They are not perfect. But they are working at being merciful and patient. That is the fruit of the Spirit.
Step by step the Holy Spirit will transform you. You will be conformed to Christ Jesus. Realize that the Holy Spirit has been unleashed like the wind. It is always blowing. It is unstoppable. God is always breathing his Spirit into our hearts. Walk in the Spirit.