This Sunday the Church brings the Easter season to a conclusion with the celebration of the feast of Pentecost, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles as recounted in Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles. This feast is often called "the birthday of the Church" because with the coming of the Spirit the believers began a whole new way of living together and were transformed from a frightened group of people hiding behind locked doors into a band of fearless preachers willing to risk death to proclaim the gospel.
THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
In paragraphs # 1030-31, the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers the traditional list of the gifts which the Holy Spirit continues to pour out on us today.
"The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit." (C.C.C. # 1830) "The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. [Is. 11:1-2] They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations. Let your good spirit lead me on a level path." [Ps. 143:10]
THE FRUITS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
In Galatians 5:22 Paul writes that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Note: This list of nine "fruits of the Holy Spirit" is slightly different from the Catholic Church's "official" list of the twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit which was based on the Douay-Rheims translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible in which Galatians 5:22 reads: “But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity.”)
A modern English version of the twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit might read
charity, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, long suffering, mildness,
faith, modesty, continence, and chastity.
Whichever list you use, the idea is that there are identifiable effects of the Holy Spirit's presence in a person. The list is surely a wonderful upbeat meditation on what one's life could look like if the Spirit were allowed to take over.
The gifts of Holy Spirit are interior -- the transformation of human identity. The work of the Spirit is found not only in spectacular speaking in tongues, and prophesying, not only missionaries’ ability to proclaim and work wonders, but is found above all in their ability to imitate the suffering of the Messiah. While the fruits or signs of the presence of the Spirit in our lives include love, joy and peace, the Spirit is a crucial help in the more somber realities of life, helping us to travel wisely and well through the Wilderness.
THE SPIRIT AND SUFFERING
During the time between Easter and Pentecost the Church meditates on the Acts of the Apostles. Here are a few citations from that book that show the early Church's growing understanding of the mystery of suffering.
5:41 Sanhedrin had Peter and the apostles whipped for preaching, then “The apostles for their part left the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they had been judged worthy of ill-treatment for the sake of the name.”
7:59 As Stephen was being stoned he could be heard praying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ He fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’”
9:16 The Lord appears to Ananias and sends him to Saul, “I myself will indicate to him how much he will have to suffer for my name.”
14:22 [At the end of their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas are back in Antioch:] “They gave their disciples reassurances, and encouraged them to persevere in the faith with this instruction: ‘We must undergo many trials if we are to enter the reign of God.’”
20:22 [Paul is speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus:] “… how I served the Lord in humility through the sorrows and trials that came my way from the plottings of certain Jews….But now, as you see, I am on my way to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit and not knowing what will happen to me there – except that the Holy Spirit has been warning me from city to city that chains and hardships await me.”
Through the work of the Holy Spirit suffering has taken on a meaning for the first time: it is no longer an absurd obscenity that robs life of its meaning and erases all our joy. No, through the gift of the Spirit, we can now understand our suffering as a participation in the suffering of our Savior, we can see our pain as a share in Christ’s saving passion and death, we can count all our defeats as steps on the road to victory, all our dying as steps on the road to the new life of Easter where all our sadness will be turned into joy. This is all the work of the Spirit.
BALANCE OF JOY AND SORROW
There is a beautiful balance in the work of the Spirit, its gifts and its fruits. It is a source of Joy for us, filling our lives with wisdom and all those interior gifts. But it also strengthens us to quietly and confidently go through the cares and trials and even tragedies of life with the sense that we are being privileged in our pain to walk in the footsteps of our Suffering Savior.