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The Holy Spirit allows us to become the light of Christ in a dark world

Happy feast of Pentecost! As we celebrate the birthday of the Catholic Church today with the Coming of the Spirit upon the Apostles, the following reflection from my spiritual father and mentor, the late Msgr Thomas Wells, is illuminating and inspiring.

May you know the peace of the risen Christ,

Fr Greg

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May 18, 1997

Sometimes I find that, if I want to work without interruptions, it is best to do it very early in the morning. And, if I am trying to compose something, I will often find myself staring out of the window waiting for inspiration to strike. In the dark mornings of winter, I have found myself preoccupied on several occasions by the office building across the street, about one-third of which I can see from my desk. I find myself fascinated as, one by one, lights come on in the darkness, until finally, every window reflects the decision of whoever turned on the switch that day.

Faith tells us that in Baptism and Confirmation we are filled with the Holy Spirit, the very life of God Himself. Like the building across the street, that Spirit allows us to become lights of Christ in the darkness of the world. Perhaps my greatest satisfaction as a priest is that of knowing so many people who do so reflect the light of Christ. Just last weekend, for example, two couples, themselves best friends, both of whose weddings I had ten or so years ago, invited me to dinner. I guess I should have told them, but it really did not dawn on me until I was driving home, how inspired I was by the effects of their commitments to marriage, faith, and family, and by the obvious joy that enlivens them. Financially, especially, neither of these couples has an easy time, and in different ways, each has had to struggle in their surrender to the call of faith. But their decisions to live the life of the Spirit is reflected in their love of life! (And, incidentally, how little they would recognize themselves in this “holy talk.”) But, as I say, any priest can name countless numbers of such people who are obvious signs that the Holy Spirit can make us proofs of the gift of faith.

Two thoughts come to me as we celebrate this day of the Holy Spirit: Pentecost. The first is to ask the Spirit to use us so that, because of the way we live our faith, we might be the light of Christ for at least one other person. Secondly, I more and more come to understand why the Lord saved a people, not just a bunch of individuals. We need each other, if only to find encouragement in a world that so often does not believe in the apparent absurdity of the Gospel message. My prayer this Pentecost is that the Spirit will give to each of us, as He has so generously given to me, people whose lived faith in Jesus will inspire us to deeper faith in our own lives.

Have you been Confirmed?

“Confirmation …brings a deepening of baptismal grace. It strengthens our relationship to God the Father as adopted children, draws us nearer to Jesus, and increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit within us. Confirmation intensifies our bond with the Church to help us spread and defend the faith”.  – Fr. Oscar Lukefahr, “We Believe”, p. 96.

Have you been confirmed? If so, are you living it out? Are you spreading and defending the faith with the help of the Holy Spirit?

The quote above is from the book we use for RCIA and adult formation. The sacrament of Confirmation is all about what we do. It is about doing God’s Will. It is about going out on mission for Christ and the Church. It is about living virtue with the help of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (e.g., courage, wisdom, fear of the Lord). It is about bearing the fruits of the Spirit (e.g., love, joy, peace).

If you have not been confirmed, we will have a six-week summer series that you can attend in order to receive the sacrament. The series will run from May 31 – July 5, and be held at the rectory on Wednesday nights from 7-8 p.m. Please register by May 29 by calling me at the rectory (202-561-4178) or emailing me at frgreg@assumptiondc.org.

Confirmation is referenced in the readings for today. In the first reading (Acts 8), the Apostles “laid hands on (people who only had been baptized) and they received the Holy Spirit”. This is the sacred action in the sacrament of Confirmation. The current Apostles – the bishops – lay hands on people who are being confirmed, and then they bless them with oil saying, “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”. That bestows the sacrament on them. This is what Acts 8 is referring to when it says that the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen upon them”. They had the Spirit within them through Baptism, but had not had the Spirit come over them fully. It’s like with the Apostles: the Spirit came upon them as “tongues of fire” at Pentecost which was their Confirmation. And, what did that do for them? It sent them out. They had been baptized and received the Eucharist, but it wasn’t until they were confirmed that they went out and spread the Good News.

The Lord Jesus refers to Confirmation also in the Gospel (John 14). “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth”. When He says immediately after this that “you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you”, he seems to be indicating the same thing as the first reading – that this is for people who already have the Spirit in them from Baptism. And, it was not long after the Lord said this in John14 that the Spirit was sent upon the Apostles at Pentecost. So, again, He is promising to send the Spirit upon those who had been baptized in a new and fuller way. We now call this the sacrament of Confirmation.

If you still need the sacrament, please know that it is a good thing if you do the series and get confirmed. Our parish family will celebrate your Confirmation! It will take humility and courage because it will not be an easy thing to admit as an older adult that you have not been confirmed. But, through today’s readings and hopefully this column, the Lord is speaking to you about being confirmed. It is never too late to be confirmed! We are never retired from spreading the Gospel! And, of course, there will be additional graces and gifts that the Lord will give you in the process that we can’t imagine right now. If you take this bold step, I promise you that He will bless you abundantly. God is never outdone in generosity!

One final reminder: a pastor at a nearby parish made the same offer to his parishioners with a brief series for Confirmation, and 20-30 older adults signed up and were confirmed. Do not be afraid!

May you know the peace of the risen Christ,

Fr Greg

Ahhh, Holy Spirit

6th Sunday of Easter

Ghana

Spirit as Consoler
Peace, joy
Within us

Spirit as Advocate
Speaks for us
Evangelization, prayer, praise of Father and Son
Down upon us

Baptism/ Confirmation
Loved
Spirit leads us to F and S / Eucharist

What is your sacramental status?

Have you been confirmed? Made your first Holy Communion? Do you or someone you know need to be baptized?

A pastor at a nearby Catholic parish asked his people these questions in the past year. He was asking more to double-check that everyone in his parish had received all three of the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist). He didn’t expect many of his parishioners who have been filling the pews of his parish for decades to let him know that they still needed to be confirmed. Some even needed to be baptized! He was surprised – pleasantly, I guess – that twenty or thirty people came to the classes at the parish in order to be confirmed, etc. He seemed quite happy to be able to have the conversation with these courageous folks not just about the sacraments, but about faith and life in general. He was a proud spiritual papa!

So, of course, I will ask you all the same questions. (Well, I already did in the first few lines here). If you need to be confirmed or baptized or make your first Holy Communion, then please attend our RCIA classes starting in January. The “classes” are more like discussion groups that I will lead after 10 am Mass on Sundays from January through April. We’ll use a book that will be a very good resource for you and will help facilitate our discussions on Catholic teachings and practices. As you might have noticed, I don’t like to waste anyone’s time, so our talks will be informative and substantial, but not boring. There won’t be any tests; we just need your commitment to attend the meetings.

Even if you don’t need to receive any of these sacraments, it would be good to attend the discussions and learn more about your Catholic faith. RCIA is normally for adults who are preparing to become Catholic. But even non-Catholics have said that every Catholic should attend RCIA classes!

To see what one of these classes would look like, here are some of the notes from the discussion on Baptism (in today’s Gospel, St. John the Baptist offers his “class” on Baptism to the Pharisees and Sadducees):

Can someone get to Heaven without being baptized?

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” – Mark 16:16

Does baptism in the Spirit only occur through water?

1) By desire – the good thief on the cross, e.g.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”

“in truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” – Lk 23:42-43

2) By blood – sharing in Jesus’ baptism by blood

“The cup that I shall drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with

which I shall be baptized, you shall be baptized” – Mk 10:39

What do we receive at Baptism?

● Life in Christ

● Indwelling of the Holy Trinity

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”

● Grace

Real (vs Protestants who say Baptism is merely symbolic)

● Faith

“For all of you are children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus, since every one of you that has been baptized has been clothed in Christ” – Gal 3:26-27

● Forgiveness of sins

“by Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin”

● Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Wisdom, knowledge, understanding, reverence, fear of the Lord, right judgement, courage

● Incorporation into the Church, the Body of Christ

“For by one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body” – 1 Cor 12:13

● An indelible spiritual mark

“Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated.”

(Catechism, # 1272)

May you know the peace of Christ,

Fr Greg

Are you living out your Confirmation?

Are you living out your mission? Are you living out your Confirmation?

 When I was in seminary, I met a young woman who was studying at a Lutheran Bible college. We talked about Christ, faith, and Scripture on many occasions. One time, we were discussing the sacraments. She asked me a question that I have thought about very much since: “why did the Apostles need to be confirmed? They received the Spirit of Christ at Baptism, and you’re telling me that they received the whole Christ in the Eucharist. So, why did they need to be confirmed in the Spirit?” (Acts 2:1-11). Great question!

Truth be told, she stumped me. We were concentrating on what the sacraments do for us, with a particular emphasis on the Eucharist (we spoke for almost twenty hours on the Real Presence!). But, Confirmation is one of two sacraments that are less about what they do for us and more about what they do for others through us. A quote from St. Augustine about Holy Orders (the other sacrament) clarifies this: “it was for my sake that I was baptized; it was for your sake that I was ordained”.

This has become my focus in understanding the point of Confirmation. For us, yes, the sacrament seals the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, knowledge, etc.) that we received at Baptism. But, for what reason? To go out to others. Confirmation is all about mission. At the “first Confirmation” (Acts 2:1-11, today’s first reading) which is the Catholic feast of Pentecost, the Apostles were sent out on mission by the Holy Spirit. They proclaimed the Gospel to Jews from around the world on that feast, “about three thousand persons were added that day” (Acts 2:41), and the Catholic Church began. Pentecost is the birthday of the Catholic Church (est. 33 A.D.). Happy Birthday, Church!

What occurred on Pentecost should help us in discerning our own mission. Look at the Apostles prior to that event: they were cowering in the Upper Room, keeping Jesus to themselves and afraid to share Him with others. Then, the Spirit came upon them as “tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:3), and they went out to proclaim the Gospel to thousands of people. So, it’s not about us! Evangelizing is not about our own abilities or courage. It’s all about the Spirit. The Spirit dominates the Acts of the Apostles, leading the Apostles and the early Church on

So, it’s not about us! Evangelizing is not about our own abilities or courage. It’s all about the Spirit. The Spirit dominates the Acts of the Apostles, leading the Apostles and the early Church on mission. The Holy Spirit continues to lead the Catholic Church through its leaders and members. For all of us confirmed Catholics, our Confirmation was our Pentecost. The Spirit confirmed (or sealed) the gifts of Baptism and sent us out on

For all of us confirmed Catholics, our Confirmation was our Pentecost. The Spirit confirmed (or sealed) the gifts of Baptism and sent us out on mission. How have we lived out our mission? How have we lived out our Confirmation? Have we gone out and proclaimed the Gospel? Or, have we kept Jesus to ourselves and been afraid to share Him with others? If we want to be faithful to our mission as Disciples of Christ, then we need to be close to the Holy Spirit and His gifts.

We are a church on a mission, and each one of us plays an important role. As we close out the Easter season and celebrate our birthday as Catholics, let us be renewed in our mission. With the help of the Holy Spirit, let us courageously and wisely proclaim the risen Christ!

May you know the peace of the risen Christ,

Fr Greg