Gifted with the Spirit: Confirmation
Junior High, Lesson #4 “Recognizing the Holy Spirit in Your Life”
Dear Parents, Guardians, and Sponsors:
Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (130-202 A.D.) described the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father. They are completely united with the Father and yet they are distinct. They are not the Father, but they accomplish the will of the Father, which is the salvation of the world. When we make the Sign of the Cross, we pray, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In this simple prayer we attest to our belief in the salvation Jesus accomplished on the Cross and in the Blessed Trinity, the revelation that the One God exists in three Divine Persons.
The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. They are perfectly and simply one. Yet they are distinct. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not the Father. Still, the three are one. It is the deepest mystery of our faith. Every person we know is ultimately a mystery. The depths of their being are only knowable inasmuch as they reveal themselves to us. It is even more so with God. God is the ultimate mystery, and yet God revealed something of the divine inner life by making known to us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and that Love is a relationship, a Trinity. Jesus said, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30) and “If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him… Whoever has seen me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:7-10).
To be Baptized and Confirmed, then, is to freely accept God’s gift of the Spirit, and thus to share in the life of God. This alone makes eternal life possible, for only God is not subject to death. One way to think about Heaven is this: we are brought into the very Heart of Love Itself, which is the eternal life of God.
Before Heaven, though, the Spirit dwells in us to make us one mode of God’s presence on earth. The Spirit joins us to the Body of Christ, so that the Church—all the baptized—continues the work of Christ and really is the presence of Christ in the world. Because of the Holy Spirit, our good works are not merely our own. They are Christ’s work. They are a sharing in the salvation of the world to the glory of God the Father!
Fire is one of the most common symbols for the Holy Spirit. It is a symbol of love and excitement. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” asked the disciples on the road to Emmaus after the Risen Christ had appeared to them (See Luke 24). The symbol of the Sacred Heart of Jesus shows the heart of Christ on fire with love, a fire that is fed by the wood of the Cross. The love of Christ, in other words, is perfect love. He willingly accepted “even death, death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8) out of love for us, even though we were and are sinners. Jesus lived out His own teaching about love: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Fire is an apt symbol for love, and hence for the Spirit, who is the Love between the Father and the Son. Just as fire spreads without losing anything of itself, the Spirit helps us to spread love. “Set the world on fire” is a motto of the Jesuits in the tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556 A.D.) And St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80 A.D.) is reported to have said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
Both through us and apart from us, the Holy Spirit is at work in the world accomplishing the will of the Father and the mission of Christ without ever violating human freedom. Love requires freedom after all.
But how can we recognize the invisible presence of the Spirit? We must learn to read signs. Discernment is a particular gift and skill of the Christian disciple. We must open the gift and learn to discern the presence of the Spirit at work in our lives and in the world. Christians have been doing this for 2,000 years. One important sign of the Spirit’s presence is the beauty and authenticity of a Christian life. “When Christians share love, show joy, uproot injustice, and bring peace, they reveal the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. We see this presence and power wherever we witness conversion, holiness, virtue, prayer, and patient endurance of suffering.”
In other words, we recognize the presence of the Spirit by looking for good fruits. Following St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, we traditionally name 12 Fruits of the Spirit. These are signs that a Christian is living in accordance with the gifts of the Spirit and living in God’s grace:
- Charity – love of God above all and love of neighbor as ourselves, even our enemies
- Joy – deep contentment that doesn’t erode with the waves of passing pleasures and pains
- Peace – the result of a conscience that is not troubled
- Patience – from the Latin patior, meaning “to suffer,” we can handle waiting for God’s answers
- Kindness – stern when we must be, but always loving in our interactions with others
- Goodness – virtuous living has formed good habits in us, making it easier to do what is right
- Generosity – recognizing that everything we have is God’s gift, meant to be shared liberally
- Gentleness – as God is, despite our sins and failures, so are we towards the weakness of others
- Faithfulness – as in a marriage, fidelity is essential for love to grow and deepen over time
- Modesty – humble in character and respectful in appearance
- Self-control – alive in the Spirit, the Christian learns discipline, the root of the word “disciple”
- Chastity – a healthy integration of our spirituality and our sexuality that is loving and life-giving
Another sign of the Spirit’s presence is when one performs the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy with unselfish motives and out of love. The Corporal Works of Mercy are: Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, and burying the dead. The Spiritual Works of Mercy are: Converting the sinner, instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving all injuries, and praying for the living and the dead.
We hope that our young people will accept the Spirit of God into their lives so that each one becomes, in the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), “a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”
 Student lesson, page 4.
Kevin Dowd is a doctoral candidate in theology and education at Boston College, where he also received his M.Ed. A graduate of Harvard University, Kevin has taught in Catholic schools and public schools in both Massachusetts and New York. Currently he teaches theology at Anna Maria College in Paxton, MA and writes a weekly blog connecting the Sunday readings to life. You can read the blog at http://www.bayardinc.com/the-word-is-life/