It's that time again, when young men and women prepare to have their baptisms confirmed, when the Holy Spirit is asked to descend upon them as He did the Apostles at the first Pentecost.
This year I was asked to give a talk to some of our confirmation students about how the Holy Spirit has acted in my life. What follows is what I prepared for them. When I speak, I do not follow my text exactly, I give room for the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and so this is different from the talks I gave, just as each of the talks were different from each other. Hopefully this will still speak to you in some way.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are these:
- Reverence (Piety)
- Fear of the Lord
We are asked time and again if we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, usually by a Protestant who is attempting to evangelize. It is an important question! But have you ever been asked if you have a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit?
Consider yourself asked. Do you have a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit? If not, why not?
It's easy sometimes to imagine the Trinity like a bad Charlie Sheen sitcom: instead of 2 1/2 men, it's 2 men and a bird. We have a very clear notion of God the Father from the Old Testament, and of God the Son, our Savior, from the Gospels. But God the Holy Spirit appears as a tongue of flame, a dove, a wind, a voice. Powerful, to be sure, but... Sometimes a little hard to get to know.
I want to tell you a little bit about how I've gotten to know Him, to see His gifts in my life, but before I do that I want to tell you a little about who He is, and what His gifts are. I want to challenge you, as I speak, to see Him as a person, intentional, loving, gift-giving.
Our Cliff's Notes for the Holy Spirit come straight from the Creed. We say this every Sunday: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, Who has spoken through the prophets.
The Lord, adored and glorified. He is God, co-equal, co-eternal. His own person, not some jumped up angel. Proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Trinity is all about relationship, the Son eternally begotten of the Father, the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. Much more can be said here, another time.
The Giver of Life, Who has spoken through the prophets. Spirit has the same root word as respiration, and the Latin - Spiritus - has a strong connection with breathing. Just as breath gives life to the body, so does the Holy Spirit give us spiritual life, inspiring us - breathing within us.
And His gifts? As Thomas Aquinas said, Grace perfects Nature, and so these Gifts perfect Virtues of the intellect and will. These gifts perfect and ennoble the four cardinal virtues - temperance, justice, prudence, and fortitude - as well as the three Theological virtues - faith, hope, and charity. They are not an example to follow so that I can better myself, nor are they the strength to try harder to better myself. They are a pure gift, perfecting my nature, perfecting your nature.
Don't get me wrong, it is important to acquire virtue, a life lived virtuously is a life lived fully human, fully alive, knowing and loving God. But the Holy Spirit gives His gifts where He wills.
So, with that in mind, let's start on a journey, and talk about the gifts I have received.
About 9 years ago, I met a woman after TNL, a Mass at 10pm on Thursday night at Saint Thomas Aquinas, the campus parish at Iowa State (Go Cyclones). I had made an announcement she was interested in, but she couldn't hear all the details, so she came up after Mass to ask me about it.
Now, I had just met her, I didn't know her, know anything about her, and yet as she turned and walked away I knew - KNEW - that she was someone I needed to know. Not in a, "hey babe can I get your number," kind of way, it wasn't about any romantic interest or attraction, I just new that she would be a good person to know, to have on my team.
I am sure that if I had gotten to know her in the regular way, I would have come to the same conclusion, but that's the thing - I didn't come to this certainty through reason, or experience. It was the Gift of Knowledge, perfecting my intellect. It was the Holy Spirit telling me something. He was right, but we'll get to that in a minute.
Two weeks after I met this woman, I had gotten to know her pretty well. We felt safe around each other, we were able to share our life stories, our hopes and our dreams. Turns out we were very different, but wanted a lot of the same things. A good Catholic spouse, lots of kids. Things like that.
The Holy Spirit, not content with the common pace of events these days, gave me a few more gifts, this time Counsel and Fortitude, that is the perfection of prudence to make decisions, and fortitude to act on them even when you're terrified out of your mind.
Which is a pretty common state when you ask a woman you met two weeks ago to marry you.
I was 19, and I had asked a woman to marry me. And she had said yes. 2 years later she changed her last name. When you listen to the Holy Spirit, when you let Him give you His gifts, your life goes where you would never expect, but when it's done following the Will of God, He will use you to work amazing things. A priest friend of ours, the priest who baptized Michael, told us that our marriage was a sign and an example to others.
We had no idea what he meant then. I wish I didn't know now.
Fast forward about 8 years. We've been married for 6 years, and have 5 children:
- Angelica, whom Erin miscarried before meeting me. Erin had been raped, and conceived Angelica, who I claimed as my own the same night I proposed. The little girl had never had a father, so even though I never got to meet her, she is mine.
- Jeremy, whom we miscarried shortly after getting married.
- Eve, our first-born, who was born while we were still in college.
- Michael, who we were pregnant with my senior year - when we had a 1 year old, I had a job, and I was also team lead for a 2-semester senior design project for Google. He was born 9 days after I graduated.
- Gabriel Robert, "Little Gaby Tables," our first child in the real world, whom we were just getting to know.
And then our world ended.
Three months ago, November 6th, 2014. We woke up, and Gabriel didn't.
That day was literally the worst day of my life. I hope that is the worst day I ever have to live through.
Remember what Thomas Aquinas says: Grace Perfects Nature. That means it can sometimes be hard to tell where the natural virtues end and the graces begin, at least from the outside.
I cannot tell you how many times over the last three months Erin or I have been told how strong we are, what a great example we are (of faith, of marriage, as Christians, in mourning, take your pick). "You are so strong!" "You are handling this with such grace!" "I could never be as strong as you are!"
It looks like natural virtue from the outside. It looks like the fruit of forming ourselves, developing a habitus - a virtuous habit - of prayer, of faith, of trust.
Erin and I died on that day too. I do not have the words to described how crushed we were, how decimated. Torn apart. Destroyed.
But I can tell you where virtue ended and grace began.
In our darkest moment, He was there. He was there for me.
Remember I mentioned Faith and Hope. We use those words incorrectly most of the time. When we talk about faith, it's a sort of natural confidence, hope is a desire. I have faith in you, I have no faith in the system, I hope the Seahawks won't make an abysmal call on the 1, losing the Superbowl.
The virtues of Faith and Hope are quite a bit different from that.
Faith pertains to the intellect, allowing us to know God beyond our reasoning. I can know certain things about God without faith, such as His perfection, His Eternity, things like that. But I can't know HIM without Faith, without revelation, both through the Church and through growing close to Him in prayer. I can defend any article of the faith with reason, but I can't get there with it.
In the minutes and hours and days after Gabriel's death, there wasn't much I knew for certain. I knew about 2 things that I could verbalize: My son is in Heaven, and we will make it through this. I didn't know how we were going to get from point A to point B, I still don't, but I knew. I knew God would work in us, I knew Erin and I would be okay, and I knew my son was in Heaven.
Hope, on the other hand, pertains to the will, allowing us to choose God, and to trust in Him. When the Psalmist says (many times), "My hope is in the Lord," what he means is that I may fail, but God never will. Hope is what tells us that if we Love the Lord and keep His commands, He has promised to prepare a place for us in His mansion. Hope is what tells us that even when we fall, even when we turn from God, we can still make the plea of the Good Thief, who with his dying breath begged, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Do you remember what Jesus said in reply? "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23 39:43)
Hope is our longing for God.
Hope is perfected by the Fear of the Lord.
The Fear of the Lord - what does that really mean? Is not fear the anticipation of future evil? If God is Goodness itself, how can we fear Him? Aquinas tells us that kind of fear is the fear of the slave, that we will be punished. The Gift of the Fear of the Lord is the fear of the son, that we will be separated from our father.
Think of it this way. Studies have shown that children whose fathers wrestle with them have better self esteem, both boys and girls. I was messing around with my kids the other day, "fighting" with them. They'd rush at me, put up their hands like I did, and then I'd just crush them! A push here, a tap there, and bam! They're on the floor! And they LOVE IT! As children, we need to know that daddy can crush us. Not for fear of his punishment, but to know that he can keep me safe! If I am stronger than my father, then I am responsible for my own safety. Fear of the Lord is the gift that lets me rest secure in the POWER of God.
In that moment, when death had stolen from me my son, the Holy Spirit gave me the gift of Fear of the Lord, so that when I was too broken to do anything, I could still call out, "Abba! Father! Daddy!"
I called out to my Heavenly Father with a broken heart, realizing I was experiencing now a taste of the Cross. Is this what Mary felt like while she watched her son die? No, that would have been even worse, this just a taste of that agony and I can barely move, and yet she stood!
It is not with strength that I have made it three months, that we as a family have survived for three months. It is with weakness. It is not through virtue, but through grace, for we are crushed, "But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. " (Isaiah 40:31)
It is amazing to me how many people have been moved by our loss, and also by our lives after Gabriel died. So many people have been given hope by our witness, and by our witness I mean the Holy Spirit's grace active in us.
I have learned a little better what is meant by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I know a little better what Paul means when he says it is no longer I, but Christ living in me. I know a little better what it is to be lead by the Spirit.
With a broken heart full of joy, I have Faith, and I Hope. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sin, and I look forward to the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.
So be active in striving for the virtues, they will help you to live your life to the fullest, but do not think that simple virtue will be enough. Learn to know the Father, to whom you can cry "Abba!". Learn to know the Son, who stands knocking at the door of your heart, asking to be let in. Learn to know the Holy Spirit, your paraclete, your counselor, your advocate, who wants nothing more than to be your breath, to give you the Spiritual Life which will see you safe to our Heavenly Home.
Come, Holy Ghost,
Fill the hearts of Thy faithful;
Enkindle in them the fires of Thy Love.
Send forth Thy spirit and they shall be created,
and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom,
Pray for us.