June 3, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

The Holy Spirit gives us the gift of joy

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:2-4).

This Sunday, June 5, we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the day that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples in “tongues as of fire” showering them with his abundant gifts. On that day, the timid, tongue-tied followers of the risen Lord became bold, outspoken and eloquent witnesses whose hearts were on fire with love for God and for all God’s family, the Church.

As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once observed in a homily for Pentecost Sunday, Jesus is “the One who is the Truth that gives life to men and women. What he gives is not just any kind of joy but joy itself, a gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Joy itself, which is the Holy Spirit’s gift, is what we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday. In a world too often characterized by darkness and the depths of despair, the Holy Spirit comes to us and fills our hearts with gladness. If we open our hearts, he dispels all sadness, all cynicism and all bitterness, and he replaces them with joy itself.

According to Catholic tradition, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of God. But as Pope Benedict makes clear in the quote above, Jesus himself is the Holy Spirit’s greatest gift.

Jesus is joy itself, the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams. Jesus is given to us in the word of God, in the sacraments, and in our union with God and one another in Christ’s Body, the Church, which carries on the ministry of Jesus in the world.

All of the manifestations of Christ’s presence in our lives are made possible by the Holy Spirit, the Advocate sent by the Father to teach, guide and encourage us as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

When we say that joy itself, the person of Jesus, is the Holy Spirit’s greatest gift, we are not downplaying the importance of all the other gifts. In fact, as St. Paul frequently reminds us, our unity as members of the Body of Christ is enriched by our diversity as men and women who are blessed with “different spiritual gifts.” As St. Paul observes:

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Cor 12:4-7).

Each different gift given to one or more individuals in the Church serves a unique purpose. The “same Spirit” provides for all of the diverse ministries that we carry out in Jesus’ name, including praying, teaching, healing, counseling, working for justice, peacemaking and much more. All of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy have their source in the Holy Spirit’s activity in the world. It is the Spirit who prompts us to be tender, merciful and just, and only by the sanctifying grace that comes into our souls through him, can we “be Christ” for others.

During these troubled times, when all experience the world’s darkness and the profound disunity that breaks apart families, communities and nations, we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit more than ever. We need to learn how to forgive others, how to engage in respectful dialogue with people we passionately disagree with, and how to pray for our enemies. We need the grace of the Holy Spirit to help us be women and men for others—especially when everything in our culture tells us that we should only look out for ourselves.

These words from the sequence for Pentecost express our desire for the transforming grace that the Holy Spirit provides:

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

We need the Spirit’s help to “bend stubborn hearts” and bring tenderness, justice and peace to situations that divide us from one another. We need healing and renewed strength to “wash the stains of guilt away” through compassion, forgiveness and kindness. Above all, we need joy itself, the person of Jesus Christ, who loves us and sets us free.

A blessed Pentecost Sunday to all. †

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