The liturgical time of Easter and Pentecost is remarkable not not only for its atmosphere of joy and celebration but also for requiring that we recognize the presence of the fundamental protagonist in the life of the Church and the life of every Christian: the Holy Spirit. But, let’s ask ourselves: what do we really know about the Holy Spirit? Indeed… what is the Spirit’s role in our spiritual life, and, is He not a key Vincentian dynamic?
1 – Christian life is “shaped by the Spirit”. From the beginning, every Christian’s existence is subject to the action of the Spirit. He is the underlying support of God’s plan of salvation for us, the One who enlightens us for understanding that plan, and the One who helps us to bring about that plan. Let me propose two important references precisely from the liturgical season that we are now experiencing.
- The Holy Spirit is clearly the Risen Christ’s gift to us, the gift that Jesus promised in His farewell discourses of the Last Supper, and poured out on the Apostles during “Easter evening” and then given permanently on the day of Pentecost.
- Therefore, in a privileged way, the time of Easter and Pentecost is about celebrating the Spirit: it is the Spirit who makes Christ present again among his own, who initiates the first steps of evangelization, who directs the missionary apostolate, and who, still later, opens up new missionary horizons to the heralds of the Gospel (as we see in Paul’s missionary experience).
2 – The Holy Spirit has an indispensable role.
• in the life of Christ (Incarnation, Baptism, public life, Passion, Resurrection, Ascension) with different moments but lived out under the action of the Spirit;
• in the life of the Church which is born of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is guided by him in his action of inner growth and in apostolic activity (see the Acts of the Apostles) and constitutes it as a spiritual community and not just as a union of human persons or an institution;
• in the Gospel proclamation: it is the Spirit who gives the strength and courage to announce a shocking message that calls for radical conversion and full adherence to Christ, beginning precisely with those called to proclaim the Gospel;
• in liturgical celebrations that without his presence would be merely a collection of rituals and magical formulas, incomprehensible and devoid of life;
• in the Word’s effectiveness: the Spirit makes the Word comprehensible and fruitful, and makes it current for men and women of every time;
• for day-to-day living: to realize the fundamental vocation “to be holy” means always to allow oneself to be led by Him, to be shaped by His effective action that fights the spirit of evil and makes one adhere to Christ. This is especially true for realizing all particular callings.
Individually, the Holy Spirit is given to us in order in order that we become true and authentic witnesses of Christ, as announced in his words and his mandate to the apostles in the Lord’s discourses after the Last Supper and before the Ascension (see Acts 1:8).
3 – The gifts of the Holy Spirit – As the gift of both the Father and the Son the Spirit acts in us through the richness of His gifts, which are many:
• the theological virtues: faith, hope, charity that put us in direct contact with God;
• the seven gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of God;
• the gifts listed in Gal 5:22: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that Paul puts in opposition to the fruits of the flesh which are: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft , hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like (verses 19-21);
• the charisms that Paul speaks of in I Cor 12:4-11 and 14:1 ff., He emphasizes that these multiple gifts must be understood and lived out as coming uniquely from the same Spirit, and that they all are for the common good; indeed, of all these charisms, charity is the greatest! (1 Cor 12.31);
• the ministries and the various activities that contribute to the proper functioning of the Christian community.
4 – The Spirit’s way of acting: through Christ, through the Church, through each of us. It is an action that involves the whole being as the activity. In concrete terms, the Spirit pushes all:
• to proclaim the Gospel: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me ….” (Lk 4,18-22);
• to prayer, both as an attitude, desire and end, and as a suggestion of contents; it is what Paul expresses well in Rom 8;
• to fight against the enemy – as told by the Gospels for Jesus in his going to the desert; for the Church and the Christian in everyday life;
• to conform to Christ and, through him, to seek and do the will of the Father;
• to make right life choices: it is the whole aspect of spiritual discernment that is needed;
• to renewal, to fidelity to the faith and to one’s own vocation: the Spirit, who is creative, always makes “new things”, because He makes us “new” and makes it possible to live together with fidelity to tradition as well as creativity towards the future. This is also the foundation of Christian hope;
• but the greatest action of the Spirit consists in the fact that it makes us “Christ”, and helps us to realize our fundamental vocation to holiness.
5 – Mary and the action of the Spirit in her life. Everything happens in Mary by the work of the Spirit. This is what the angel Gabriel reveals in the Annunciation and what we see evident in the singing of the Magnificat of the Virgin and then in what reappears in the event of Pentecost, where Mary, already ‘full of the Spirit’, is able to pwerfully intercede for the coming of the Spirit on the whole Christian community. We see the Spirit through Mary’s presence in the life of the Church, who recognizes her as mother, member and model, as clearly stated in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, ensuring her linkage with the action of the Spirit.
6 – The Holy Spirit in the life of the Vincentian. Every Christian, so, of course every Vincentian, already possesses this heavenly gift, received in Baptism and Confirmation and continuing to be received in the other sacraments. Then there is a reference to the specific vocation that he has received and which has to do precisely with the power of the Spirit: He is love and this love has been poured into the heart of the believer (see Rom 5:5) and, particularly important, in the commitment to charity and service. Actually, it was St. Louise, rather than St. Vincent, who emphasized the role of the Spirit in the life of those engaged in service. But, interpreting a little the our Saint’s thinking, we can say that without the Spirit we cannot do the works of God, neither to initiate them nor to develop them. Hence the importance of prayer and invoking the Spirit especially at the beginning of each commitment to charitable action. Here we pray for the strength and courage necessary to face the commitment’s demands with utmost conviction and in the most sustained way (we do see a reference to the “invitation to prayer” before and after each visit to the poor).
There is also an aspect of the action of the Spirit that is valid for everyone: it is He who helps us spiritually discern, which is the ability to read the events of personal life and history with the eyes of God, to know how to evaluate them in order to make the right choices. Today, we all have a great need for this, to untangle ourselves from so many options that arise in the various life situations. Discernment applies to fundamental choices (vocation to the priesthood, marriage, consecrated life) as well as for the daily choices of a moral, ecclesial and social character. The Spirit has much to do with the Vincentian vocation and with the possibility to perservere in it. It is important to recognize that the foundational base for charitable commitment is a call from above, a vocation! This is what St. Vincent expressed when he recommended consecrated men and women to live in harmony with the vocation received. Referring to Acts 6:1-7 may be useful here: when choosing the seven deacons one criterion refers precisely to the Holy Spirit. The text in fact speaks of seven men, of good reputation, full of Spirit and wisdom. And later, speaking of Stephen, he is defined as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. In other words, one cannot be available for service without the effecacious action of the Spirit of God. We can only imagine the consequences of this for our own life of service.
7 – “Do not extinguish the Spirit” (I Thes 5: 19). There is always the risk and the possibility of not paying due attention to the Spirit’s strong and silent presence, which moves us toward the good. Indeed, there are many ways to “extinguish” or silence, in ourselves and in others, this important divine voice and this strength for spiritual renewal. Since all these ways make us resist divine action, they can only be called sin. We must therefore be careful and vigilant, as well as develop our ability to “discern” the true Spirit from false or deceptive fantasies. St. Vincent often spoke of the angel of evil who disguises himself as an “angel of light” in order to deceive and misdirect God’s children. We already know how to avoid this danger: through prayer, the sacraments , listening to the Word of God, seeking the help of a spiritual director, reflecting on and examining one’s life, commiting to serve others in concrete ways. Following the Spirit, allowing Him to lead us, this provides us with a serious direction and helps us to achieve healthy and fully balanced lives. The Spirit always helps to put one’s existence “in order”. So, let us learn to invoke the Spirit not only as a part of our major ecclesial and community occasions, but also in our own personal situations.
Fr. Mario Di Carlo, CM
Province of Italy
Trans: Fr Dan Paul Borlik, CM
Western Province, USA