The Work of the Holy Spirit
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The Work of the Holy Spirit

Christ’s Promise of the Holy Spirit

On the way to His ascension, Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit on His followers. He told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to “wait there for what the Father had promised.” He reminded them: “It is what you have heard me speak about. John baptized with water, but you, not many days from now, will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Then still more clearly, He predicted what the Holy Spirit would do in their lives. “You will receive power,” Christ assured them, “when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses, not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and Samaria and indeed to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4-5, 8).

In the original inspired text of the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus promised the disciples that they would be “my martyrs.” If there was ever an age in Christian history when the followers of Christ would need the strength of martyrdom, it is today.

Our Lord could not have been more clear. He told us, “If you wish to be my disciples, take up your daily cross and follow me.” The source of strength to suffer for Christ comes finally from the Holy Spirit. In the language of the New Testament, this power is the same kind of power by which miracles are performed.

Christ’s promise of the Holy Spirit was the assurance that we would witness to Him before the world in which we live. The essence of being a martyr is to be a witness. And we know what a witness does. He gives testimony publicly that something he saw or heard is true. He has experience of a fact or an event, and as a witness he declares that what he says or signs his name to is so. He gives evidence to others that what he testifies to should be believed. Why? Because he personally knows.

We are liable to miss the preceding adjective “my” in the clause, “You shall be my martyrs.” This prefix is crucial. Those who are martyrs are witnesses to Christ. They testify, if need be with their blood, that what they believe is true because they have known Christ. The implication is that in order to be a witness, even to martyrdom, one must have experienced Christ, in a way comparable to what Peter told the early Christians: “You did not see Him, yet you love Him. And still without seeing Him, you are already filled with joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe” (1 Pet. 1:8).

So it was in the apostolic age, and so it is in ours. In order to witness to Christ we must believe in Him so strongly that we are filled with His joy. This joy which comes from the Holy Spirit is not devoid of pain.

But the joy is genuine and un mistakable. It is also profoundly com municable. In fact, one of the para doxes of martyrdom is the positive happiness that a strongly committed follower of Christ has in suffering for Christ.

This is brought out dramatically by St. Luke, the evangelist of the Holy Spirit, in describing the summons of the apostles before the Sanhedrin. They had been warned not to preach about the Savior. So the apostles were flogged and warned not to speak in the name of Jesus. As they left the jail where they had been scourged, they were “glad to have had the honor of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name” (Acts 5:40-41).

Most Catholics know that at baptism, we receive the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. What many do not know is that these fruits are the twelve joys which the Holy Spirit gives us, already here on earth, a foretaste of the joys of heaven. Every time we cooperate with the will of God, He rewards us with a happiness of spirit in the measure that we are faithful to His grace. What an apparent contradiction! The more painful our cooperation with the divine will, the more joy we receive from the Holy Spirit.

Martyrdom of Opposition

Not all the faithful who suffer for Christ also die for Christ. Opposition to the Christian faith and way of life does not always end in violent death for the persecuted victims.

Consequently, it is well to distinguish between what may be called martyrdom of blood and martyrdom of opposition, which is bloodless indeed, but no less and sometimes more painful to endure.

Not all the victims of persecution die at the hands of a godless government. Millions more are ostensibly free to walk the streets and live in a home. Yet they are, in effect, deprived of every human liberty to practice their religion and to serve Christ according to their faith. If they teach their children catechism, the parents are prevented from enjoying such privileges as decent living quarters or any kind of skilled job. If they are seen attending church, they are first warned, then threatened, and finally penalized even to the loss of their possessions.

So the sorry tale goes on, and has been going on for years, in spite of the conspiracy of silence in our Ameri can press.

But that is not the whole picture. We need to shake ourselves into awareness that our country is going through persecution. It is no less real for being subtle, and no less painful for being perpetrated in the name of democracy.

What do I mean? I mean that any priest or religious, any married or single person in America who wishes to sincerely and fully live up to his Catholic commitment, finds countless obstacles in his way and experiences innumerable difficulties that accumulatively de mand heroic fortitude to overcome and withstand.

All we have to do is place the eight beatitudes in one column and the eight corresponding attitudes of our culture in another column, and compare the two. Where Christ advocates poverty, the world de spises the poor and canonizes the rich. Where Christ praises gentleness, the world belittles meekness and extols those who succeed by crushing anyone who stands in their way. Where Christ encourages mourning and sorrow for sin, the world revels in pleasure and the noise of empty laughter. Where Christ promised joy only to those who seek justice and holiness, the world offers satisfaction in the enjoyment of sin. Where Christ bids us forgive and show mercy to those who have offended us, the world seeks vengeance and its law courts are filled with demands for retribution. Where Christ blesses those who are pure of heart, the world scoffs at chastity and makes a god of sex. Where Christ tells the peaceful that they shall be rewarded, the world teaches just the opposite in constant rebellion and violence and massive preparation for war. And where Christ teaches the incredible doctrine of accepting persecution with patience and resignation to God’s will, the world dreads nothing more than criticism and rejection; and human respect which means acceptance by society, is the moral norm. On the bloody side, our century has had more Chris tians who were martyred for Christ than in all the centuries from Calvary to nineteen hundred in cluded. I should know because not a few of my own relatives behind the iron curtain have shed their blood for Christ rather than deny their Catholic faith.

To this day, innumerable Catholics are dying for their faith at the hands of Muslims who are told by the Koran to either convert Christians from their idolatry of adoring the man Jesus as though He were God, or put them to death.

But my focus here is on our country. Call it an unbloody martyrdom. But have no doubt that to live an authentic Catholic life in America today is to live a martyr’s life. That is why the sacrament of confirmation cannot be more clearly identified than to call it the sacrament of martyrdom. Only the Holy Spirit whom we received on our Pentecost Sunday can sustain us in our witness to Jesus Christ.

After fifty years in the priesthood, I can testify to every syllable of the following sentence: Only heroic bishops and heroic priests, heroic religious, heroic fathers and mothers, heroic faithful, will survive the massive persecution of the Catholic Church in our country to day. We call ourselves the Land of Liberty. But the only liberty that is given freedom is the liberty to do your own will. Pro-choice is not just a clever phrase. It is the hallmark of a culture in which millions have chosen to do what they want and make life humanly impossible for those who choose to do what God wants.

Martyrdom of Witness

We still have one more type of martyrdom to reflect on, and it is, in a way, the most pervasive of all be cause no follower of Christ can escape it. This is the martyrdom of witness.

What do we mean by martyrdom of witness? Here the firm believer in the Church’s teaching authority; the devoted servant of the papacy; the convinced pastor who insists on sound doctrine to his flock; the teenagers who want to preserve their chastity; the firm parents who are concerned about the moral training of their children such persons will not be spared active criticism and open opposition. But they must especially be ready to live in an atmosphere of coldness to their deepest beliefs.

Sometimes they would almost wish the opposition were more overt and even persecution would be a welcome change. It is the studied indifference of people whom they know and love, of persons in their own natural or religious family, of men and women whose intelligence they respect and whose respect they cherish.

This kind of apathy can be demoralizing and, un less it finds relief from the Holy Spirit, can be devastating.

To continue living a Christ-like life in this kind of environment is to practice the martyrdom of witness. Why witness? Because it means giving testimony to our deep religious convictions although all around us others are giving their own example to the contrary.

It means giving witness twice over: once on our own behalf as the outward expression of what we internally believe and once again on behalf of others whose conduct is not only different from ours, but contradicts it.

Wherein lies the martyrdom? It lies in the deprivation of good example to us on the part of our contemporaries, and in the practice of Christian virtue in loneliness, because those who witness what we do are in the majority. We witness to them, indeed, but they are not pleased to witness who we are, what we stand for, what we say, or what we do.

Notwithstanding all of this, how ever, it behooves us to look at the positive side of the picture. We must remind ourselves that this witness of ours is not so sterile as we may suppose. Quite the contrary. Al though we may be, or at least feel, often quite alone, we are not alone at all. Not infrequently our severest critics can become our strongest admirers. In any case, witness that we give by living up to the conviction of our faith is surely demanding on human nature. That is why we call it martyrdom. But it is a witness to the truth, and the grace of the Holy Spirit is always active in the hearts of everyone whose life we touch.

If we would know the power of this martyrdom of witness, we have only to read the annals of the early Church. The handful of be lievers who received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, were as a drop in the immense culture surrounding the Mediter ranean Sea. Yet see what happened. This small group of convinced faithful were able, in less than three hundred years, to turn the tide of paganism in the Roman Empire. For a long time they were deprived even of the basic civil rights accorded to other citizens. They were often hunted like animals, and the catacombs tell us that they had to hide when celebrating the liturgy and hide the tombs of their re vered dead.

But their patience and meekness finally prevailed. Yes, but only because it was supported by unbounded courage, born not of their own strength, but of the power of the Holy Spirit that Christ pro mised to give those who would witness to His name. This promise is just as true today. All that we need is to trust in the Spirit whom we possess, and never grow weary in giving testimony to the grace we re ceived.

This is what Christ was talking about when He told us not to hide our virtues but allow them to be seen like a city on a mountaintop. We should not be afraid that by such evidence of our good works we shall be seduced by the evil spirit into pride and vainglory. The Good Spirit will protect us by the humiliation that witnessing to a holy life always brings. There will have to be enough death to self and enough ignoring of human respect to keep us from getting proud in our well-doing. We must be willing to pay the price of suffering in doing good, which is another name for being a living martyr, that is, a courageous witness to the life of Christ in the world today.

On the day of our confirmation, we received a special outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I would like to close with a prayer for an increase of these gifts, as we come near the close of the twentieth century.


O Lord Jesus Christ, who before ascending into heaven, you promised to send the Holy Spirit to finish your work in the souls of your apostles and disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me that He may perfect in my soul the work of your grace and love. Grant me the spirit of wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after those which are eternal, the spirit of understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of your divine truth, the spirit of counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven, the spirit of fortitude that I may bear my cross with you and overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation, the spirit of knowledge that I may know God and myself and grow perfect in the science of the saints, the spirit of piety that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable, the spirit of fear that I may be filled with a loving reverence toward God and dread in any way to displease Him. Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of your true disciples and animate me in all things with your spirit. Amen.

The Annunciation

It is not without deep reason that St. Luke is called the “Evangelist of the Holy Spirit.” When Our Lady asked the angel at the Annunciation how she was to conceive a son since she was vowed to virginity, the angel assured her that, “the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.” Some thirty years later, the Apostles asked the risen Savior on the way to His ascension whether He was then going to restore the Kingdom to Israel. He told them, “You shall receive the power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the very ends of the earth.

In both cases, at the Annunciation and at the Ascension, it is the Holy Spirit who does the humanly impossible. It was by His divine power that the Virgin Mary conceived and then gave birth to the Second Person of the Trinity made man. It was again by His divine power that the Apostles began to proclaim the divinity of Mary’s Son, and thus enable those who believe to be conceived and born again as children of God.

The key word in both cases is power, which the Holy Spirit gives to those who believe. It was Mary’s faith that opened her womb to receive the Incarnate Lord. It was the faith of the 3000 Jesus baptized on Pentecost Sunday which opened their hearts to receive supernatural life into their souls.

As we reread the story of the two annunciations, at Nazareth and in Jerusalem, we are struck by their common denominators. They are faith, which God requires of those whom He calls to do great things in His name; and the power that He promises to confer on those who sincerely believe.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of a humble faith in God’s promises as the precondition for the miracles He wants to perform. “If you have faith,” Christ told us on one occasion, “you can tell the mountain to move. And it will move, provided you believe.”

What is less obvious, however, is the nature of the miracles that Christ will perform through those who believe in His name. They are mainly moral miracles. They are prodigies of conversion of proud unbelievers to accept the mysteries of Christianity. They are the wonders of bringing stubborn sinners to repentance and the mercy of God. They are the signs of divine power that changes lukewarm and tepid souls into heroic followers of Christ and lovers of His Cross.

“Lord, I believe that you are my God who became Man out of love for me. Strengthen my faith in your Divinity. Enable me to believe in you so strongly that your Divine Power may perform the wonders of your grace in me. Make me, dear Jesus, a conduit of your grace to having a multitude of souls to your Sacred Heart, through the Immaculate Heart of you Mother Mary. Amen.”

The Holy Spirit Sustains the Virtue of Hope

On the first Ascension Thursday, just before Jesus ascended to His heavenly Father, He made a promise to His apostles that we desperately need to hear in our day. He said, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and even to the very ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The subject of our present conference is “The Holy Spirit Sustains the Virtue of Hope.” My plan is to cover three areas of this immense topic, which deserves not a one-hour lecture, but a lifetime of prayerful reflection.

First, we ask ourselves what is the virtue of hope; then, why does the virtue of hope need to be specially sustained in our day; and finally, how are we to assure ourselves of the help of the Holy Spirit to remain hopeful as Catholics and as consecrated persons in the most devastating century of Christian history?

Fortitude: A Cardinal Virtue and a Gift of the Holy Spirit

One of the Four Cardinal Virtues:

Fortitude is one of the four cardinal virtues. As such, it can be practiced by anyone, since, unlike the theological virtues, the cardinal virtues are not, in themselves, the gifts of God through grace but the outgrowth of habit.
Fortitude is commonly called courage, but it is different from what much of what we think of as courage today. Fortitude is always reasoned and reasonable; the person exercising fortitude is willing to put himself in danger if necessary, but he does not seek danger for danger's sake.

The Third of the Cardinal Virtues:

St. Thomas Aquinas ranked fortitude as the third of the cardinal virtues, because it serves prudence and justice, the higher virtues. Fortitude is the virtue that allows us to overcome fear and to remain steady in our will in the face of obstacles. Prudence and justice are the virtues through which we decide what needs to be done; fortitude gives us the strength to do it.
What Fortitude Is Not:
Fortitude is not foolhardiness or rashness, "rushing in where angels fear to tread." Indeed, part of the virtue of fortitude, as Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., notes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, is the "curbing of recklessness." Putting our bodies or lives in danger when it is not necessary is not fortitude but foolishness.
A Gift of the Holy Spirit:
Sometimes, however, the ultimate sacrifice is necessary, in order to stand up for what is right and to save our souls. Fortitude is the virtue of the martyrs, who are willing to give their lives rather than to renounce their faith. That sacrifice may be passive—Christian martyrs do not actively seek martyrdom—but it is nonetheless determined and resolute.
It is in martyrdom that we see the best example of fortitude rising above a mere cardinal virtue (able to be practiced by anyone) into a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit. But it also shows itself, as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, "in moral courage against the evil spirit of the times, against improper fashions, against human respect, against the common tendency to seek at least the comfortable, if not the voluptuous."

Fortitude, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, also allows us to cope with poverty and loss, and to cultivate the Christian virtues that allow us to rise above the basic requirements of Christianity. The saints, in their love for God and their fellow man and their determination to do what is right, exhibit fortitude as a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit, and not merely as a cardinal virtue.

What is the Virtue of Hope?

The virtue of hope is related to faith as desire is related to knowledge, or, in the question posed by St. Augustine, “what can be hoped for which is not believed?” If the object of faith is natural, the hope it inspires is the same; but when the truths believed are divinely revealed, the hope which aspires to possess them is supernaturally divine.

Hope implies seeking and pursuing, in other words, the appetite of desire and not of delight and enjoyment. And though hope and desire are often equated, they differ a great deal. Strictly speaking, when we respond to that instinctive urge which likes pleasure and shrinks from pain. But hope is for a difficult good, and responds to that higher part of our nature which is readily to tackle opposition. Moreover, desires may be vague yearnings for an object without reckoning whether we can obtain it or not, whereas hope is always evoked by some good that can be secured and even inspires a sense of confidence of achievement.

Speculative theology distinguishes hope by the four qualities that characterize the things we hope for. Hopeful things are invariable good; we do not hope for what is evil. They are future, and in this hope differs from joy which implies satisfaction over something good already possessed. They are difficult of attainment, otherwise than mere desire which prescinds from the hardships involved. They are also possible, and therefore hope is the opposite of despair which looks to a future prospective good that cannot be obtained.

Just as we speak of a human and divine faith, depending on the persons (man or God) on whose authority we believe, so we have two kinds of hope, natural and supernatural, according to the things desired and the persons from whom we expect to receive them. In the natural order, an object is possible whether because we can secure it by our own efforts or because we rely on the help of friends, in which case two elements enter, the good hoped for, and the person who will support our desires. Supernaturally, however, no one is able of himself to grasp the supreme good of eternal life, whose very existence would be unknown except for a gracious revelation from God. To reach heaven we need divine help, so that hope as a theological virtue has a twofold object: the beatific vision we look forward to attaining, and the supernatural grace by which this heavenly goal is attained.

Essential Elements.  The two basic elements of Christian hope are desire and confidence, so that hope itself may be defined as the confident desire of obtaining eternal beatitude. Already in the Old Testament, notably in the Psalms, we find this dualism expressed, where the just man looks forward to the consummation of happiness in the Life to come. “I am sure,” sings the Psalmist, “I shall see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Hope in Him, hold firm and take heart. Hope in the Lord” (Ps 26:11).

However, it was not until the fullness of revelation was made under Christ that the full meaning of hope became clear, since the clarity of what we desire determines the surety of what we hope for. Once the mystery of man’s elevation to the divine life and the love of God in the person of His Son were made manifest, the well-springs of desire to reach this high destiny were opened as never before. Compared with the glory that awaits us, the trials of our present existence are as paltry chaff, of which St. Paul wrote to encourage the Romans. “I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that will be revealed in us.” We who are the first-fruits of the Spirit, “groan within ourselves, waiting for the (perfect) adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope were we saved. But hope that is seen is not hope. For how can a man hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:18-25).

Implicit in the notion of hope is that we do not see, but accept on faith the glorification that awaits us. The will strives for what the mind, on the word of God, presents to us as desirable; yet in the same faith that we believe in heaven as the goal of our striving, we see the incapacity to reach that goal of ourselves. Trustful reliance on divine grace is more than a feature of supernatural hope; it is that quality without which hope would be a fabulous dream. The phrase “to hope in God” recurs in all the writings of Peter, Paul, and John, to impress the faithful that what makes them distinctive is not only the sublimity of their religion, or the certitude of their destiny, or even the purity of life to which God calls His chosen ones—but the confidence they should have of passing out of their “great tribulation” into the day of eternity. The effort they expand in serving God will be recompensed as only the Creator can reward those who are submissive to His name.

The grace of God our Savior has appeared to all men, instructing us, in order that, rejecting ungodliness and worldly lusts, we may live temperately and justly and piously in this world; looking for the blessed hope and glorious coming of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and cleanse us for Himself an acceptable people.

According to His mercy He saved us through the laver of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit; whom He has abundantly poured out upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior; in order that, justified by His grace, we may be heirs in the hope of life everlasting (Titus 2:11-14, 3:5-7).

Christians, therefore, are not as other men, who “have no hope,” because the faith is lacking. They see through the eyes of God what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him, and this vision gives substance to the future which is closed, or at least uncertain, to all who do not believe.

Why Does the Virtue of Hope Need to be Sustained in Our Day?

In the centuries since the New Testament was written, the vagaries of philosophy apart from revelation have reached their zenith in the utter pessimism that characterizes a great deal of modern thought, sometimes in circles that are only nominally Christian but always among people who have lost their faith (and consequently hope) in the supernatural. “The universe is what it is,” for Bertrand Russell, “not what I choose that it should be. If it is indifferent to human desires, as it seems to be; if human life is a passing episode, hardly noticeable in the vastness of cosmic processes; if there is no superhuman purpose, and no hope of ultimate salvation, it is better to know and acknowledge this truth than to endeavor, in futile self-assertion, to order the universe to be what we find comfortable.”

Cut off from the moorings of Christian hope, the alternative is stark pessimism which sees no finality in man’s existence and no purpose beyond the grave. Among the ancient Romans, Seneca ventured the opinion that “death is the end of all sorrows,” because once a man dies, “he no longer exists.” Modern naturalism offers nothing more hopeful.

Since the world is not ruled by a spiritual being, but rather by blind forces, there cannot be any ideals, moral or otherwise, in the universe outside us. Our ideals, therefore, must proceed from our own minds; they are our own inventions. Thus the world around us is nothing but an immense spiritual emptiness. It is a dead universe, purposeless, senseless, meaningless.

Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed, not by any purpose, but by blind forces and laws. If the scheme of things is purposeless and meaningless, then the life of man is purposeless and meaningless too. Everything is futile, all effort is in the end worthless. A man may, of course, still pursue disconnected ends, but his life is hollow at the center.

If not all naturalists are equally frank (or clear), the reason is only because they have not followed their philosophy to its logical conclusion.

How Are We to Remain Hopeful as Cathlics?

Object and Motive.  The object of Christian hope is heavenly beatitude and the divine grace by which we aspire to the intuitive vision of God. Those who believe in Christ, live “in the hope of life everlasting which God, who does not lie, promised before the ages began.” Faith and hope are theological virtues because both have God as their direct and immediate object; but where God is the object of faith as infallible truth, He is the object of hope because He is our highest good, towards whom the will of man constantly aspires and in whom alone it finds rest.

Co-essential with the tendency to reach God, hope relies on the divine goodness to furnish the instrumentalities of reaching Him. We desire to possess Him in eternity, and to receive the help He alone can give us in time. Both elements are a part of hope: the goal, which is God, and the way, which is grace. Without the first, there would be no destiny; without the second, no means.

Theologians differ in their ultimate analysis of the motive for hope. If we look upon hope mainly as the virtue of trust in God, and reliance on becomes God as our Helper. For St. Thomas and the more common tradition since patristic times, hope is essentially a confident dependence on God’s help. It does not include but presupposes the desire of union with God. It consists mainly in the expectation of a good difficult to obtain, namely the possession of God, so that the motive on our part is the assisting divine Omnipotence that elevates our souls, weans them from seductive desire for earthly things and bears them in the direction of heaven. God’s promises, as revealed in the Scriptures, simply confirm the certainty of His aid.

If, on the other hand, hope is conceived primarily as an act of desire, then its dominant motive is God as supremely able to enrich us. Scotus and the Franciscan school prefer to look upon hope in this light, where the principal act of the virtue is the desire or love for God, not as He is in Himself but as our happiness and the terminus of all our wants. This emphasis is traceable to St. Francis himself, whose exhortations to the Friars were built on the same theme.

Let us desire nothing, wish for nothing, take pleasure in nothing, and delight in nothing except our Creator, Redeemer, and Savior, the one true God, who is the plenitude of goodness, all good, complete good, the true and supreme good. For He alone is holy, just, true, and righteous; He alone is beneficient, innocent, pure, and from Him, through Him, and in Him is all pardon, all grace, all glory for the penitent and the righteous, as for all the blessed saints who rejoice together in heaven.

Objectively, of course, the virtue of hope comprehends two responses to God, trust and desire, and therefore includes both motivations, confidence in His help and yearning for Himself; nor is it possible in practice to separate the one from the other.

The Holy Spirit as Power

We speak of the Holy Spirit in many different ways: as Love, as Gift, as the Paraclete, as the Advocate. All of these titles are biblical and identify some of the profound attributes of the Spirit promised by Christ before his Ascension into Heaven. But there is one that we especially need to recognize today and that is the Spirit as Power. What does this Spirit as Power really mean? Let us analyze it in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit which pertain to the will.

Piety as a gift of the Holy Spirit aids and supplements the virtue of justice. This gift corresponds to the virtue of justice, making us prompt to act by disposing us to show reverence for God as a most loving Father and for all human beings as children of God. Consequently, this virtue of piety corresponds to the instinct we have and the virtue we should practice toward our natural parents, and the respect and reverence for God precisely as the Creator. This gift of piety, raised to the supernatural order, inclines us to not only worship God but to honor His children who are related to us by grace. It inclines us to consider others not as competitors in the struggle of life, but coequals under God, our common Maker, regarding them as our brothers and sisters through the saving merits of Christ's Passion.

Fortitude as a gift perfects the virtue of fortitude. It adds to the virtue of courage the important commodity of enabling us to carry to successful conclusion the most difficult tasks that are undertaken in the service of God. There are two forms of courage implied in this gift of fortitude: the gift to undertake arduous tasks and the gift to endure long and trying difficulties for the divine glory. A commendable type of courage anticipates grave obstacles while undertaking a course of action or a state of life or a new venture in the spiritual life or any apostolate, but the obstacles, vaguely foreseen, are faced with a quiet trust in Providence that inspires willingness to suffer in the prosecution of the plan. Another form or courage augments this dauntless spirit and continues what someone else initiated and – finding oneself weary from unexpected trials, persecution and external failure – it still continues on to the end. When Christ died on the Cross it seemed an external failure. Faith alone tells us it was the greatest internal success of all human history. Both of these types of courage are necessary for salvation and certainly for sanctification.

Fear of the Lord, the third gift of the Spirit as Power, strengthens the virtue of hope. It impels us to a profound respect for the majesty of God. Its correlative effects are to protect us from sin through dread of offending the Lord and by giving us strong confidence in the power of God's help. In filial fear, which is selfless, we dread to offend God, Whom we love. This is a sense in which the highest love of God is compatible with the fear of the Lord.

Christ promised not only His disciples, but us, that we would receive "power when the Holy Spirit comes on you." This power is not only for ourselves but for others that we, being strengthened, might witness to Him Who strengthens us. When Christ said, "You will be my witnesses," St. Luke, writing in Greek, used another word – "You will be my martyrs." We are bidden to witness as martyrs. How? By the way we live, which is the most eloquent witness we can offer.

One of the problems today is that some Catholic families are being estranged from the Faith by their own priests. The cavalier way in which some priests deal with the liturgy, their indifference to the Church's doctrine on faith and morals, and even their open hostility to the Vicar of Christ have estranged many of the faithful. Not a few have taken refuge with the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre. It is imperative that these people be reunited with the Vicar of Christ. We must pray. But we should also put them into contact with priests who are loyal to our Catholic heritage. A practical recommendation: write to Father C. Frank Phillips, C.R., Pastor at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago. His address is 825 N. Carpenter Street, Chicago, IL 60622.

There should be some sort of outreaching by all of us that others will glorify God and come to know Christ not only by seeing us as persons, but by whatever means or instrumentalities are at our disposal. We are to witness by who we are, by what we say, and also by our suffering. This is where the word martyr is so critical. We are expected to suffer for our faith if we wish to witness to Christ. The graces are there. By prior definition, such a gift benefits the one to whom it is given only if he appropriates and uses it. The problem with most of us is not that we don't have enough graces or gifts – though God knows we always need more – the real problem is to put to use the graces we have already been given.

What good are all the treasures of heaven which Christ has conferred on us – His most beloved children and people of God – unless we use them? Here lies the difference between those who are good Christians but remain until death in mediocrity and those who strive for, and reach, sanctity. It is up to us! And, strange as it may seem, when God sees we appreciate the grace we have by using it, He gives us more. This is the secret of holiness – using the gifts that God gives in order that, having received, we may glorify the Giver.

Mission of the Holy Spirit

As Catholics, we believe that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was sent into the world to redeem the human race and restore our friendship with God. But we also believe that the Third Person of the Holy Trinity was sent by Christ on Pentecost Sunday to sanctify the world which He had redeemed by His blood.

The primary mission of the Holy Spirit, therefore, is to make us holy, which means to enlighten our minds and enliven our wills with the grace of God. Never in the history of Christianity has the Church needed holy people more than in our day. The twentieth century has been the most crime-laden century in human history. The murder of innocent unborn children has become the law of most of the once-civilized nations of the world. The propagation of untruth and the consequent multiplication of evil have no counterpart in any previous period in human history.

There is no other solution for the crisis of our age than for holy people to be channels of grace to a world that is starving for divine truth and dying out of thirst for the love of God.

This is the mission of the Holy Spirit as we approach the twenty-first century. It is nothing less than producing saints among Christians in every state of life. Ordinary bishops, ordinary priests, ordinary religious, ordinary fathers and mothers, ordinary Catholics will not even survive the massive revolution through which the Church is going in our day. We need heroic Catholics, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, to restore even sanity in the modern world.

That is why the Holy Father dedicated the second last year of our century to the Holy Spirit. By His divine power, where sin has abounded, there grace will even more abound, beyond all human expectations. There is only one proviso. We must cooperate with this grace for the redemption of the modern world

Descent of the Holy Spirit

It begins with the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. First the context. "When Pentecost day came around they had all met in one room when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from Heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire. These separated and came to rest on the head of each. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech." So far the Descent of the Spirit.

Immediately after we know that Peter preached, what I tell my students in Theology, is the model homily: short, has a beginning, a middle and especially a pointed end. And above all it gets people to do something. Homilies should not end in the mind. We are then told that Peter having given his sermon produced this result. We go back to Luke. Hearing this, Peter's homily, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the Apostles, "What must we do brothers?" "You must repent," Peter answered, "and everyone of you must be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The promise that was made is for you and your children and for all those who are far away, for all who spoke to them for a long time whom the Lord our God will call to Himself.

Peter urged them, "Save yourselves from this perverse generation." They were convinced by his argument and they accepted what he said and were baptized. That very day about three thousand were added to their number. These remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. The many miracles and signs worked through the Apostles made a deep impression on everyone. The faithful all lived together and owned everything in common. They sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves, according to what each one needed. They went as a body to the temple everyday but met in their houses for the breaking of bread. They shared their food gladly and generously. They praised God and were looked up to by everyone. Day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved. So far, St. Luke.

As we look back over these words of revelation, we are first of all struck by the fact that the promise which Christ made to the Apostles telling them to wait and pray and He would hence send them the Spirit who would give them the power to be His witnesses even to the ends of the world. Christ did not take a long time fulfilling His promise. This was the end of the first retreat. It began on Ascension Thursday and closed on Pentecost Sunday, and as all good retreats, it ended with the coming of the Holy Spirit. We are told that all those gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem including, by the way Mary and the women, as I always tell any women in the audience they too received the Holy Spirit just for the biblical record.

Now when we are told in Acts or elsewhere that people are filled with the Holy Spirit that can mean a lot of things. What it means in essence is that they received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Just a word about those gifts. The gifts, beyond the virtues that we receive when we are baptized, are those supernatural instincts which lead us to practice the virtues that are incumbent on us as believers. Virtues are the powers. Gifts are the instincts to use those powers. Thus, for example, our bodies periodically need food. What if we did not have a corresponding instinct of hunger? Clear? We'd starve. The gifts correspond then to the natural instincts urging us, impelling us, from within to want to do, to be hungry for the things of God. Peter's sermon we will skip.

Effects of the Holy Spirit

But now the effects. Immediately after Peter finished his homily those who had heard him were touched. The first effect, genuine effect of the Holy Spirit, is to make one conscious of his or her sins. How this bears emphasis. The first fruit of the Holy Spirit is to make us aware of who we are of ourselves, sinners. Consequently the desire for conversion of hearts, an openness to do God's will. They are told by Peter, and notice to remind ourselves, the same Spirit that spoke in Peter was the One that was active in the hearts of his hearers. By the way, as one who does a lot of speaking, I can tell you how I bank on that! Am I clear? What good would it be for me to preach or teach whatever I do unless I have the comforting assurance that the same Spirit was active, pardon me, in you?

Peter then told them, "Admit your sins." Now you’d think by now after eight days, I'd get off the subject. Well no because for the rest of our days we will have to be reciting the Lord's Prayer when we ask to be forgiven our trespasses, and in the Hail Mary, pray for us sinners. The first fruit of the Holy Spirit is to have us humbly admit our sinfulness. How prosaic can you get? Then be baptized. Well, we appreciate that, that part be finished. Receive the Spirit, which we have. Then Peter said that "not only those who had been immediately baptized," but he added, "also those who are far away will receive the Holy Spirit." That's us, far away in distance, far away in time. But note the precondition. The precondition is the constant admission of our sinful nature. The Holy Spirit will flood us with His graces if we have the humility to admit our needs. Then we are told immediately after this conversion and Baptism, that those first followers of Christ were faithful in four ways. Each one should be remembered because this is the foundation of all community living.

Foundation of Community Living

First, they were faithful to the teaching of the Apostles. Second, depending on the translation, this one says the brotherhood. Well, given this audience, the sisterhood. The Greek is koinotita, which means community. Now that bears to be emphasized that along with loyalty to the Faith to the teaching of the Apostles which for us is the teaching of the Church. Correlatively we are to be faithful to the community. There is such a thing as loyalty to the community. Then fidelity to the breaking of bread which is Luke's praise for the Eucharist. And faithful to their prayers, meaning their community prayers. Couldn't be a better set of norms for any community anytime including now.

We are then told that the Apostles worked miracles. Now that I think bears to be also stressed. The Holy Spirit gave gifts but He didn't give everybody the same gifts. Not everybody had the gift of miracles. Let that be said. The Apostles did for the obvious reason that they were the witnesses to the teachings of Christ and consequently, as we saw in a previous context, the same God who teaches Truth that is beyond the capacity of the mind to understand must, and this is part of the Divine Logic, must render that Truth credible by working miracles which are called signs in order to testify to the Truth of what otherwise the mind could not believe. Pardon me, it could but not reasonably. In fact we have a word to describe belief without good reasons for believing. We call that credulity and people who are strongly motivated through credulity are called frenetic.

But faith is believing indeed in things that the human mind cannot comprehend but it has grounds for believing and those grounds are the wonders, signs and miracles that over the centuries from apostolic times down to the present, God makes sure are worked in His Church. We are told as a consequence they left an impression on all. That's the apostles. But now the Big One.

St. Luke in describing the manner of life of the early Christians tells us many things. In essence, he tells us that the early Christians lived together, worshipped together and met together. You will also notice the universality of Luke's language. He says "all the faithful lived together" meaning therefore that from the very beginning of the Church community life began. As a matter of fact, you would expect it because what the faithful who had just been converted by Peter's preaching simply did was to carry on what Christ had already started. You might almost say that built into the concept of Christianity is the notion of togetherness.

We are further told by Luke that they possessed their ownership of everything, another universal, in common. Do you see why it bears emphasis to remind those who have ostensibly left all to follow Christ? Why it's worth reminding them that they are to leave all! And part of ourselves is what we own. We are further told they sold all their goods. Now Luke, by the way, is not given to superlatives but in this passage on community life he is filled with universals: it’s all this and everything that and everyone something else. They sold all their goods and possessions. We might say goods are the things they had immediately around them and the possessions was what we would now call real estate or in pre-corporation days, the possessions would now be called investments. How religious today must be aware that the heart and base of religious life is poverty.

St. Robert Bellarmine, the man whom I'd as totally mastered as I could, through four years of Theology and then I wrote my doctoral dissertation on one aspect of his teaching, a man who lived through the havoc of the sixteenth century, that the main reason for the disintegration of religious life throughout Europe when not hundreds, but thousands of convents and monasteries disappeared. The main reason was that the religious were not practicing poverty. It was true in the sixteenth century it is true in the twentieth so much so that I often wonder why religious ever call me back. Look to your poverty. Then appropriately, now this by the way under the influence of the Holy Spirit, was an interpretation you will recall of Christ’s words to the rich young man. Remember what He told him? After the man had said I have done all these things that is kept the Commandments from my youth what more is wanting to me? Then Christ’s answer, I like this translation, "If you wish to go the whole way then go sell what you have, give the proceeds to the poor and come follow me."

Now what the Holy Spirit whom Christ promised that He would explain all the things that Christ had taught, what He added, and this is precious, it is not only or necessarily that one sells all he or she has and gives it away and then well, and then, what do you do? People must live. There must be means of support.

The addition, better, the development of doctrine from Matthew recording Christ’s prescription to the rich young man and the description here in Acts, is that having sold all their goods and possessions, then they formed a community and shared of the proceeds as each one needed. So that you might say the essence of this poverty, religious poverty is not destitution otherwise not only the individual who gave everything away couldn't survive but less still could the community. Right? It is that having sold their goods and possessions, they shared out the proceeds of what they sold among themselves. And the point is, as each one needed, not of course necessarily as each one wanted, which I keep reminding superiors to distinguish between people’s wants and needs. Generally speaking, people’s wants exceed their needs.

Luke goes on to inform us now that pristine community which for all times remains the paradigm of all community. They met together periodically but they went as a body to the temple everyday. Scholars tell us that was an unheard of phenomenon, everyday and together. So they prayed together, they worked together and they walked together. A good religious likes to be with other members of the community. We are told they met together and they shared their food gladly and generously. How that needs to be said, having eaten by now some thousands of meals with my fellow religious. Even after years in community living to share one's food, now this is not a trifle, gladly. You know what that means? Somebody took the piece of fruit or the piece of meat that I wanted. That's what it means. Generously, so that by the time it comes to me, I forget how many of you sit at table, We usually have been sitting six to a table. Now the sixth person gets the biggest piece. That's a good proof of sound religious life. Then you've got a good community, when the first one takes the smallest and the last one gets the biggest and the best. Makes sense, doesn't it?

All this high sounding theological speculation, all these big polysyllabic words, all these quotations from John of the Cross, all those beautiful passages from the Scriptures, to the contrary notwithstanding. We are living a good community life, when among other things we share our food gladly and generously. What follows is no surprise.

We are then told by Luke they were admired by everyone. Now the word admire has a cheap connotation in English. It, of course, comes from the Latin mirari which means to wonder and admirari means a strong wonderment. We don't have the verb in this context but you might say they astonished everybody. People couldn't believe it! Now why? Well for all the things they were doing together. One of the surest marks of the Holy Spirit is that we shed our selfishness and take on the desire to give and to share. We are told by Luke that they praised God. Who praised God? These early Christians. Now that may sound either strange or prosaic. It's neither. Why did they praise God? Because they knew full well that what they were doing could not have come from their own powers. In fact, the contrast between what they had been, and what they suddenly became, must have been so obvious to them. Naturally they would praise, watch it, they would praise God rather than themselves giving Him credit rather than either themselves, or even one another, praising God for what they were, and were doing. One final observation before my synthesis of this meditation. The overall result was a foregone conclusion. As a matter of fact, if the result had not followed, we wouldn't be here because what we are talking about is the origins of the Church.

Origins of the Church

So Luke says day by day God added to their community those who were also called by Him to be saved which in Luke's language means to be sanctified. God calls others to holiness through us if we are holy. Holiness produces holiness. Goodness reproduces itself. The chaos in religious life in countries like the United States, the drop in vocations among women religious in America in the last seven years – eighty seven percent. Thirteen entries, it’s getting less, to a hundred less than ten years ago. And that one in ten which it used to be is going only to communities that are living out this kind of life and as I don't hesitate saying, in direct proportion. You live this kind of community life and God will bless you where those whom He will call to follow your example. Those who don't do this will die out.

Effects of the Holy Spirit

Now a sort of capsulization of all that we have seen because we've touched on much. It is well I think, as we close this meditation to tell ourselves that the Holy Spirit sent by Christ produces two principal effects in those in whom He dwells and I would add in the degree to which He dwells in them. The first effect is on the individual. Enabling the person thanks to the Spirit within him, to conform him or herself to the Divine Will in total self-giving to God. Sacred writers called this, St. Bernard I believe coined the distinction, we call this affective union with God. That's the first and fundamental proof of the Spirit in the soul that receives Him willingly. But the second proof grows from the first. This is not quite for the individual himself but rather through the individual to the creation of a community. This is called effective union. Because where the first is the individual's union with God in the depths of His heart, the second is the effective way, the effective way in which that affective union is to be mainly practiced.

Meaning all that we have seen, the desire to live with others, to work with others, to share with others, let's admit it, to put up with others of course it is totally mutual. And the more people in our lives we find that we got to put up with, chalk that up as so many evidences of the fact that there are at least that many people who have to put up with you. How this bears to be underlined and encircled because it's strange, after all that we've heard about this. How misled we can be, of course, by the contrary spirit who is the spirit of disharmony, of disunity, of disorder. That the principal way we show our internal love for God is by living with and loving others. And this is not a passage from some social scientist. It is the teaching of the Savior, Who when He predicted the coming of the Spirit, this is the balance, John and Luke should be seen as complementing one another.

In John the long homily at the Last Supper Christ promised the Spirit. And what did He tell His followers to do? To love one another. The reciprocity of communal living “even as I have been loving you” and interwoven with His insistence on mutual, reciprocal, communal love intertwined to all of those insistences by Christ is Christ's description of the union that obtains in the Trinity where the binding power between Father and Son is the self-same Holy Spirit Who having, this is human language, not formed because that Community is Eternal. Being the reason for the Eternal Community which is the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is – that's the love that unites the Three Persons in sharing the totality of their Divine Nature. Mystery beyond comprehension but what should not be beyond comprehension is that that same Spirit dwelling in our souls should, provided we co-operate, effect a comparable unity among ourselves where we too share totally not excluding, how this bears to be stressed, not excluding our thoughts, our feelings, so that we share our hearts.

One last word. And of course the sacramental means by which this kind of unity in community patterned on the Trinity is made possible is the daily reception of that Christ Who to make this unity possible died for us on the Cross. Well as we all know, this in large measure is also our daily cross. Please God what we've shared together we will also be able to, with God's grace, to put into effective practice. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints

The ninth article of the Creed proposes our faith in the second great work of the Holy Spirit after the Incarnation. It is by His power that the Church came into being on Calvary. It is by His power that the Church continues to sanctify a sinful human race. And it is by His power that we hope to enter the Church Triumphant in heaven after having struggled successfully in the Church Militant on earth.

There are two mysteries of faith we here declare to believe, the Holy Catholic Church, and the Communion of Saints.

Our main concern here is to see the Church as a divine institution with 2000 years of unequaled human history.

This focus should always be in the catechist’s mind. In the practical order, clearness and accuracy in explaining the mystery of the church is basic to everything else in Catholic Christianity. To understand the Church is to understand everything else that we accept on God’s revealed word.

Christian Church
Code of Canon Law
Doctor of the Church
Ecclesiastical Law
Episcopal Conference
Fathers of the Church
Lay Apostolate
Magisterium, Extraordinary
Marks of the Church
Mother of the Church
Mystical Body
Roman Catholicism
Roman Primacy
Roman See
University of the Faithful


At the outset, it should be said that there is no substitute for the catechist’s knowing the Second Vatican Council’s two documents on the Church, their Latin titles are Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution on the Church, and Gaudium Et Spes, the pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

It is highly recommended that teachers of religion make either summary digests of these two historic documents, or simplified versions for the use of their students.

Why is this important? Because there has been real doctrinal growth or development on the Church’s understanding of who she is, and what are Christ’s expectations of His followers into the twenty-first century. The bedrock foundations of the faith have not changed. But, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our grasp of the Church’s meaning and of her role as Mother and Teacher of the human race, has been deepened and become more clear. The catechists should pass these insights on to those who are being catechized.

The Church Is Our Mother
Not too many years ago motherhood---pp148-149 JAH, our dependence on the Church as our Mother.

The Church is Our Teacher
The Church as our teacher follows logically from the fact that she is our Mother. How so?

To answer this question, we must pause for a moment to ask ourselves: “How mainly---pp.150-151---is the visible head on earth.

The Communion of Saints
In teaching about the Church, catechists should be clear in explaining that Christ came into the world to save us not only as individuals but as social beings.

The Church, therefore, corresponds to our supernatural existence as social beings. Immediately we see that this includes the Church on all three levels of her existence, on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven.

What unites the members of the Church still struggling on earth, being purified after death, and possessing the beatific vision of God? It is the Holy Spirit who is the one soul of the whole Mystical Body of Christ, militant, suffering, and glorified. The Holy Spirit is the Church’s Soul, even as the human beings who belong to the Church can be called her body.

When, then, we speak of the Communion of Saints, we mean the community of human beings who are united by one Holy Spirit. He is holy because He is God. He makes them holy, and therefore “saints” in the measure of their cooperating (or having cooperated) with His grace. But through Him they are also cooperating with one another. Consequently, we may say the Communion of Saints is the Cooperation of the Saints in sharing with one another the supernatural blessings they receive from the Holy Spirit.

In spelling out the practical implications of the ninth article of the Creed, it will be useful for the catechist to distinguish between how Catholics are to respond to the Church as their Mother and Teacher, and how to live out their faith in the Communion of Saints.

The Church Our Mother and Teacher
There are especially three implications for living out our belief in the Church of Christ as our Mother and Teacher. They may be expressed in three words: discernment, humility, and zeal.

Discernment. Needless to say, it is one thing to recognize…pp151-152JAH…despises me”(Luke 10:16)

Humility. Corresponding to the need for wise discernment#133;pp152-154#133;People of God.

Zeal. Once again, it is one thing to recognize#133;pp154-156#133;Savior of the human race.

The Communion of Saints

There is one obvious way we can put our faith in the Communion of Saints into practice. This is by communicating with one another supernatural blessings that each level of the Mystical Body has received from Christ.

Thus the saints in heaven intercede for us before the throne of God. The souls in purgatory pray for us. Moreover, the lives of the saintly persons who preceded us into eternity are an inspiration for us to follow.

But we can pray for the poor souls, to hasten their entrance into heaven. We can and should prayerfully communicate with the saints in heavenly glory.

On the widest possible scale, none of us are “lovers” in this world. We are in mysterious communion of spirit with the millions who had served God faithfully in the ages past, and with the millions on earth, who are living in His friendship now. Through Him, these countless multitudes are also in communion with us.

The Virtue of Faith

The Three Theological Virtues:Faith, Hope, and Charity
Our reflections during this retreat are on the Holy Spirit. What I wish to concentrate on during the less than two days that we have is what the Holy Spirit has given us. And, in the teaching of the Catholic Church there are three blessings, supernatural blessings, which the Holy Spirit has given to us. The Holy Spirit has given us the virtues, called theological virtues, of faith, hope, and charity. The virtues are the powers we received. In faith, the power to believe in everything that God has revealed. Faith corresponds in the supernatural life to the mind or the intellect in our natural life. Hope is the virtue or power of trusting in God, trusting he will give us the strength we need to remain faithful to his will. And charity is the virtue that we received when we are baptized, and virtue is power.

‘Virtus’ in Latin means power - power in the mind to believe, and power in the will to hope and love. And, I keep repeating, the power to believe will be beyond the human comprehension to understand. The power to trust against all human odds and above all the power to love, what a statement, the power to love the unlovable. In Christianity, there is no one who is unlovable. We are to love everyone. Those are the powers that we receive when we are baptized and, I repeat, from the Holy Spirit.

The Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit

But then we receive, we call, the gifts of the Holy Spirit - there are seven. Over the years, I have learned to assign one gift of the Holy Spirit for every day of the week. Sunday, the gift of wisdom. Monday, the gift of understanding. Tuesday, the gift of knowledge. Wednesday the gift of counsel. Thursday, the gift of fortitude. Friday, the gift of piety, and Saturday, the gift of the fear of the Lord. However, the gifts of the Holy Spirit differ from the virtues. Virtues are the powers - the ability - to believe and trust and love. The gifts on the other hand, we call the inclinations, the urges to put the virtues into practice. For example, humanly speaking our bodies would starve to death unless, well, we ate and drank what we need to sustain our bodies. So, in the supernatural life the Holy Spirit gives us, I repeat, the urges, the inclinations, call them the supernatural instincts to put the virtues into practice.

And then, without going through all the twelve gifts of the Holy Spirit and there are twelve - did I say gifts? No, the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are the satisfaction, the joy, supernaturally speaking, the pleasure we receive by putting the virtues into practice. Where the gifts are the inclinations, the fruits are the satisfaction we receive from putting the virtue that we received when we were baptized into practice. God wants us to enjoy, and I mean to enjoy, our doing His will and the enjoyments in the plural that we experience by practicing the virtues which the Holy Spirit infused into our souls. The satisfactions are called the fruits of the Holy Spirit. So much for a brief overview.

Faith – Man is a Believing Animal

Immediately we must distinguish between faith as a natural possession of every human being. We all naturally, spontaneously, believe. Over the years, I’ve told people I am not too happy with the Greek philosophers’ definition of man. Aristotle defines a human being as a rational animal. I’ve dealt with too many human beings not to know that not all human beings are rational animals. I don’t mean just those who are institutionalized. Having served as chaplain while teaching at the state university in Michigan, I was the Catholic chaplain for the, shall we call them the inmates, in the state hospital. But not all irrational people are in mental institutions. How well I know. Consequently my preferred definition of a human being: a human being is a believing animal. We are animals. We have a body, but we are believers spontaneously, instinctively, naturally. What do we know which we have not acquired by faith? We introduce our mother to someone. Can you imagine telling someone, “Now this is the lady who I believe is my mother?” But we believe that the person that we call our mother is our mother. Most of what we know we believe. We believe on the words of someone whose judgment and integrity we trust. However, we are talking about supernatural faith. Now we believe not on the words of another human being, but we believe on the word of God. And that is the virtue of faith that we receive the moment we are baptized.

What is Faith?

What then is this supernatural virtue of faith which is the first and primary benefit we receive from the Holy Spirit? Without faith everything else in Christianity is absolutely meaningless. Call it divine faith. Divine faith is the virtue or power which enables us to assent with our intellects to the truths revealed by God not because we comprehend them, but only on the authority of God who can neither deceive nor be deceived. There is no more important sentence in Christianity than the long sentence I have just shared with you. Let me repeat. Divine faith is the virtue which enables us to assent with our intellects to the truths revealed by God not because we comprehend them, but only on the authority of God who can neither deceive nor be deceived.

Over the years I have given eight full days retreats, five meditations a day, all on this one subject of faith. Over the years in teaching my own Jesuits their theology, I would teach them two semesters, three one hour classes every week, fifteen weeks each semester. That’s 30 weeks exclusively on the subject of faith. What are we saying? We are saying that, that we were baptized, the Holy Spirit infused. That’s the virtue which the Holy Spirit had to put into our minds. We believe with the mind and more clearly with the intellect.

And, as I have said to some of you so often, the English language is, and I mean it, the worst language in the world to teach Catholic Christianity. For the last huge, unabridged English dictionaries being published, after spending millions of dollars in research, the editors decided it is no longer possible to define a single word in the English language. The best you can do is describe how words are used. No wonder there is such widespread confusion in a country like ours. Ten people hear the same word, and they understand the word in ten different ways.

What then is faith? Faith is a supernatural virtue and what the Holy Spirit gives our intellects, our minds, to assent. We assent with our minds. We consent with our wills. We assent with our minds to everything which God has revealed. Where has God revealed? He has revealed in Sacred Scripture and, hear it, and in Sacred Tradition. We are not Protestants. We are Catholics. Not everything which God has revealed is in the Bible.

Faith therefore is the superhuman power that the Holy Spirit gave us, I repeat, when we were baptized to accept, assent with our minds to everything which God has revealed. Not because we comprehend it. Watch it. Comprehension means full understanding. There is nothing, comma nothing, comma nothing in our faith that we fully understand - which means comprehend. But still we accept on the word of God not because we comprehend, but because God who can neither deceive nor be deceived has told us it is true.

The Reason for the Church’s Current Crisis of Faith

Now some of the qualities of this fundamental power we received from the Holy Spirit when we were baptized. The first quality of our faith is submission of our minds to the mind of God. And I mean submission. I’ve taught my own Jesuits their theology for 25 years. And over the centuries we have chosen to accept those men into the Society of Jesus who had well above average intelligence. How well I know, the more naturally intellectual a person is, the harder it is for that person to submit his or her intellect to the mind of God. Oh, the humility of mind we need to believe. And this, my friends, in one declarative sentence is the reason for the gravest crisis in the history of Catholic Christianity.

What is the main reason for this crisis? Proud, highly educated minds refusing to submit like a child to what God has revealed. But I don’t get it. I don’t comprehend it. And I’m to believe? But I’m an adult. I finished college or in my case I finished college before I entered the Society of Jesus, and then fifteen years after entering the Society of Jesus I finally began to teach. I like to ask this question so you have heard this more than once. There are two questions. Just nod your head this way or this way. Are all educated people intelligent? Thanks. The most stupid fools I know of are those with bright shining doctorates, professors at our leading universities. A child that has the true faith, ten years old, is more intelligent than an unbelieving genius of sixty. Faith gives us knowledge that no natural intelligence can provide. Do I ever know that! Next question. The first was, are all educated people intelligent? You shook your head. Are all the intelligent people educated? My mother never finished the fifth grade in grammar school in Europe. A highly intelligent person. I want to stress, the superhuman intelligence which our faith provides, and among the lies that have seduced millions in a country like ours, is to identify intelligence with education. That is a lie. Our faith gives us knowledge. Deep, clear, uncompromising knowledge. Provides the human mind with such intelligence which no human education can provide.

But back to the first condition. We must bend these minds of ours to the mind of God. Only an insane person, hear it, only an insane person is an unbeliever. But watch it. If we’re even rational we believe. Believe, do I say. The average expenditure on advertising in our country, the latest figures, 170 billion dollars every year spent on advertising in our country. As I’ve said so often, my favorite definition of advertising is what gets people to buy what they don’t need with money they don’t have. Talk about being deceived. We believe, but hear, the virtue of faith gives us the power to believe in God. As St. John asks: How is it that we who are so ready to believe in human beings are so slow to believe in God? We are describing this first power, the power of faith which the Holy Spirit gave us when we were baptized, the power to assent, but hear it, voluntarily to assent freely, to assent with our full liberty. As I’m sure not a few of you mothers know, your children, they were baptized and received the power to believe, but as they grow up and the minds are exposed to so much untruth, I remember in Chicago having dinner with a couple, seven children and the mother in tears said all our seven children have left the Catholic Church. And the father added, all seven are educated in Catholic schools. The word Catholic in our vocabulary so often has to be put in quotation marks. The Catholic Church is going, is going through the most serious crisis, I keep repeating, of her 2000 years of history, and it is mainly a crisis of faith, surrounded as we are on all sides by widespread dissemination of the untruths. We are explaining how our faith, the power we received when we were baptized, that power to believe, is a voluntary power. We are free, free to believe or not believe. Not of course, as we say, morally free. We are supposed to believe, but we are physically free. Those who believe, who want to believe, and those who do not want to believe, do not believe. And during this retreat, whatever I recommend that you resolve, be sure to make acts of faith not just once a day, but every time that your faith is tested and tried. If your lives are like mine, our faith is tested more than once, dare I say, many times a day.

Importance of Faith

How important is our virtue of faith? Our faith is not only important; it is indispensable. Our faith is the foundation of everything, everything in Christianity - of everything. Our faith is the foundation of our hope. Only believing Christians have hope and the measure of our trust in God, and therefore hope and his promises. I will repeat: the measure of our hope is determined by the strength of our faith. And is our faith being tried! What a rhetorical question. Is our faith being tried in our day? Faithless people are hopeless people. We have only as much hope as much as we have faith. No more. Your lives, as my life, are being tried, tried as never before, and this true not just of our own lives, in the history of Christianity. Why is faith important? Because, faith is the bedrock basis of our hope. Why is our faith important? Because, as with hope, so with love. Our love is only as strong as our faith. And as we said last night, God gives us graces that we enjoy, and we smile, and we are so grateful. God gives us graces that are painful, and they can be very painful. To believe they are graces takes superhuman faith. To believe when I am told by a bishop, “John, you’ve got a problem. You’ve got a fixation on dogma, and fixation is a mental disorder.” And why? Because I insisted that a faculty member of an organization that I was told by the Holy See to organize, one of the faculty members was hired without my knowledge and against my will who did not believe in original sin. So I told the board of directors, he’s gotta be fired. The bishop defended him. So instead of his being fired, I was fired. Just to give you an example.

Why is our faith so important? Because faith is the bedrock granite foundation of both our hope and our love. Hear it. There should be no unlovable people in our lives, do you hear me? You know and I know there are people that are harder to love than others. Part of our human nature, this is plain ABC psychology, we naturally love those who love us. Naturally, but supernaturally we are to love those who don’t love us. And some they not only do not love us, they positively hate us. You mean, Father, please be careful. Watch your language. Are you telling us we are to love those who hate us? Yes, my friends and it takes faith, faith in a God who became man to die on the cross out of love for those not just to the time of his crucifixion, but until the end of time, would reject the very God who died on the cross out of love for them.

Why is our faith so important? Because our faith is the foundation of all our virtues. There is no patience without faith. Either I see God, what a test of faith this is, is do I see God in everything, in everyone whether it is in my life or how can I possibly be patient? Patience is a voluntary acceptance of pain. There is no chance to be without faith. We must believe our bodies and our powers of reproduction have been given to us for that one purpose - to show our love. You married women, for your husbands. Show our love by what, what a commandment from God. To reserve the exercise of our sexual powers exclusively for you women for the husband whom you’ve married and not to just practice chastity in body but chastity in mind, chastity in the imagination. You don’t, you just don’t practice chastity without a strong and deep faith.

Why is faith so important? Faith is so important because it is the foundation of our prayer. When we pray, our bodily eyes, well, see whatever our bodily eyes see. I see, well, a machine that amplifies my weak voice. I see you people here in chapel with bodily eyes and when we pray who are we to pray to? You are to pray to God. To God? Where is God? I don’t see Him. But if we have faith, we see Him. That’s what faith is. Seeing with the eyes of the mind what is totally invisible to the eyes of the body. We pray only as much and as deeply and as fervently as we believe.

Why is faith so important? What a statement. Without faith, life would be unlivable.

Faith that Suffering Has Meaning

I have the privilege this March the 25th to receive into the Church, baptizing after some months of instruction, the prosecutor Richard Thompson who prosecuted the doctor/ murderer Dr. Kevorkian in Detroit. I’m sure you’ve heard about him - promoting the killing of adults, especially aged or people in pain. And Mr. Thompson told me - he called me up, I had never met him before. “I want to become a Catholic. Will you give me instructions?” Come over. He told me, “I never thought I’d become a Catholic, but while doing my reading and research for the prosecution against Kevorkian I found out the only authority on Earth that still believes in the sanctity of unborn human life and the sanctity of adult life, the only religion that still believes that suffering has meaning is the Catholic Church. So, I thought, you ought to become a Catholic.”

Our faith gives meaning to our life and especially gives meaning to the trials of life. The sufferings of life gives meaning to so many persons, situations, experiences that are contrary to our wills and whatever else you forget in this retreat, please don’t forget the meaning of pain. Pain is whatever is contrary to our will, hear it, close the book. But you must have faith to believe there is meaning, deep profound meaning, through faith. And the deepest reason is because we believe; we believe that God became man mainly, mainly to endure pain out of love.

Our Natural Knowledge of God

We said we would have certain master themes found in the scriptures and revealing to us the spiritual life, as the Holy Spirit, the source of the spiritual life, inspired the authors of the scriptures.

As we approach these master themes, we should immediately recognize that the two Testaments of sacred scripture are not only the Old and New Testaments chronologically, they also differ doctrinally. Certainly, there is an essential unity between these two testaments for the obvious reason that it was the same Holy Spirit who inspired Genesis at the beginning of the Old Testament and on to the Bible inspired the Apocalypse closing the new. But, though it is the same Spirit who inspired both Testaments, the Testaments differ immensely.

There is a difference, surely, between God revealing Himself through human beings and God speaking to us in person. St. Paul could not have been clearer. I quote from his letter to the Hebrews “At various times in the past and in various ways God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but in our own time, the last days, He has spoken to us through His Son. The Son that He has appointed to inherit everything and through whom He made everything there is.” This is still by way of introduction.

In our reflections on the principle spiritual themes of the Bible we will regularly distinguish in each conference between what the Old Testament and what the New Testament says about each successive theme. But let us keep in mind that the New Testament is new. It develops and amplifies, it confirms and clarifies, it enlarges and specifies what the Old Testament reveals about God, about us, and about our responsibility to Him. This is not unimportant to state as we begin this retreat, many reasons why we should clearly distinguish between the Old and New Testament. We better. Why? Because we will understand the spiritual life only if we recognize that the New Testament goes far beyond what the Old Testament reveals.

We Christians are expected to believe in mysteries that were simply not revealed until Christ came into the world and we as followers of Christ are required to practice virtue that was never so demanding, even if you please, of the patriarchs of old. We who read and hear and listen to day after day from the Old Testament and from the New let us make sure that we know that our spirituality is Christian spirituality based on the New Testament, otherwise (and what an important adversative adverb), otherwise we are liable to settle for practicing unchristian or pre-Christian spirituality. Not so. The God whom we are trying to follow is the God who became man, and as man revealed by word of mouth and by the more powerful word of example, what loving God, which is the spiritual life for us, really means. That was the introduction to our first theme.

Our first theme in the retreat is the knowledge of God. There will be two conferences on our knowledge of God: the present one on our natural knowledge of God, and the following conference on our revealed knowledge of God. And as we begin our first conference let us make sure we do not underestimate the importance of knowing the true God. It was Christ Himself who declared, “Remember this,” speaking to His Father, “this is eternal life that they may know, (hear the verb); that they may know you the one true God and the only begotten Son whom you have sent into the world.”

Knowledge is the granite foundation of the spiritual life. Fundamental therefore to everything the Bible teaches us is the conviction that we can know God, know Him in this life and know Him in the life to come. In fact, without knowing God with our minds we could not, it would not only be difficult or inadequate, it would be impossible to love God with our wills and therefore to serve God with our whole being.

Now what does the Bible say about our natural knowledge of God? Given the widespread agnosticism and even atheism in our day, and not just in godless communist countries, in our own United States, widespread agnosticism and atheism, given this fact, there is more than passing value in seeing what the Scriptures teach about our ability to know God, know Him even apart from supernatural revelation which is our first conference. “It is in fact a defined article of the Catholic faith which teaches that it is heresy to deny that the one true God, our Creator and Lord cannot be known with certainty in the light of human reason by those things which have been made.” That last statement was a direct quotation from a definition of the First Vatican Council.

What does the Old Testament tell us about men’s capacity to know God even apart from God revealing Himself? In the Old Testament, as I am sure you know, some of the books were written outside of Palestine among the Jews, as we say, of the dispersion, or a more sophisticated word, Diaspora. Among these Jews in pre-Christian times outside of Palestine was the revealed book of Wisdom, which sadly is missing in the Jewish bible and missing in the Protestant bible. Sad. Being in regular contact with non-Christian pagans, often highly intellectual, the dispersed Israelites living some thousands of miles away from the Promised Land. Jewish coins have been found from the sixth century B.C in the northern tip of Scotland and southern tip of Africa. The Jews were there as part of the dispersed chosen people of God, but being in such intimate and massive contact with unbelievers otherwise, that in Palestine, where they of course form the vast majority, the Holy Spirit reveals in the book of Wisdom about man’s capacity to know Him, the one true God, even by the light of reason.

In context, the inspired author of the book of Wisdom is telling His own people that the pagans among whom they are living are guilty for not worshipping the one true God. And what the book of Wisdom told the Jews in their day, the same book is telling us in our day that even those who have not been touched by God’s supernatural revelation are guilty, hear the word, guilty, if they do not honor and worship the one true God. It was these five verses, the first five of the fourteenth chapter of the book of Wisdom that some twenty-five years ago inspired me to learn and then teach about the non-Christian religions. In other words, even pagans are guilty, (terrifying statements), if they do not know or worship the one true God. I quote from the inspired author.

“For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world. If through delight in the beauty of these things men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them. And if men were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is he who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.” The book of Wisdom.
The inspired author therefore tells us that pagans, by definition, who fail to recognize the true God, but worship creatures instead, are guilty. Dear God that is a terrifying statement. But we go on. Not only are the teaming millions who do not worship the one true God, on the inspired testimony of the Bible guilty, but the Scriptures go on to explain why they have not come to recognize the one true God. The reason, the Holy Spirit tells us in the Bible is, listen, it is immorality. People make gods of creatures because they rationalize their evil deeds. Unbelief is the fruit of immorality. We need the Holy Spirit to tell us that. That is why St. Paul, building on the book of Wisdom, tells us in the clearest terms why there are pagans, idolaters in the world. St. Paul had to warn the Christians of his day not to be taken in by the idolatry so widespread all around them. And let us make sure that Paul is speaking to us, that the Romans of our day equally are guilty for failing to acknowledge the one true God. And the underlying reason for their refusal to acknowledge the true God is their massive immorality.

St. Paul therefore, and you notice we are going to follow this logic throughout the retreat; St. Paul went beyond the Old Testament. He repeated what the book of Wisdom says, that God can be recognized by the light of reason from the marvels of creation that He produced. But Paul says more, he also explains why. That he reads from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans first chapter, the eighteenth to the twenty-first and the twenty-sixth to the twenty-eighth verses. The anger of God is revealed from heaven against all the impiety and depravity of men who keep truth imprisoned in their wickedness. Keep those two words on your mind for life. Keeping truth imprisoned. Imprisoned truth and wickedness.

Wickedness in the will blinds the intellect from seeing the truth. For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them since God Himself has made it plain. Ever since God created the world His everlasting power and deity, however invisible, have been there for the mind to see in the things He has made. That is why such people are without excuse. They knew God and yet refused to honor Him as God or to thank Him. Instead they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened.

The more they call themselves philosophers the more stupid they grew, until they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for a worthless imitation, for the image of mortal men, of Burns, Cortropez and Reptals. That is why God left them to their filthy enjoyment and the practices with which they dishonor their own bodies. Once they have given up divine truth for a lie and have worshiped and served creatures instead of the Creator, that is why God has abandoned them to degrading passions. Why their women have turned from natural intercourse to unnatural practices and why their men folk have given up natural intercourse to be consumed with passions for each other. Men doing shameless things with men and getting the appropriate reward for their perversion.”

St. Paul. My friends, we better hear these words. What St. Paul is telling us is profound but terrifyingly practical. Not recognizing the one true God. God, Paul tells us, will bring those idolaters to commit the most shameless crimes. Pride of intellect leads to immorality in body and, conversely, un-chastity always blinds the intellect. When Christ in the beatitudes declared, “Happy are the pure of heart for they shall see God”, He was saying far more than most people realize. Chastity of body is an absolute condition for light of mind. Unchastity blinds the intellect from seeing God even in the works of nature. The passage we have just read where St. Paul describes the homosexuality so rife in the first century is a condemnation of that widespread crime in our day. And may God forgive me if I say one syllable more then he wants me to. And the worst in today’s world are unchaste priests and religious. God blinds the unchaste and un-chastity always blinds the intellect. The Romans therefore of the modern who revel in their unnatural lust are bearing the fruit of their disregard of God and then their disregard of God just sinks them deeper into the quagmire of unbelief. In other words God cannot be ignored with impunity, by anyone, Christian or un-Christian. Intellectual pride which rejects God always makes a person the slave of his passions. I close.

Dear Jesus, how you emphasize the need for your followers to practice chastity according to their state of life, chaste wedlock, chaste singlehood, chaste widowhood, chaste consecrated chastity. Teach all of us, dear Jesus, how closely related is our chastity to seeing you clearly, deeply, lovingly in this life as the condition for seeing you in the beatific vision in the life to come. No matter how hard it may be, dear Lord, give us the strength to be chaste because you told us and we believe you, only the chaste will see God here and in the heavens to which we aspire. Amen.

Closing Prayer

Let us ask our Lord to deepen our faith, because there is nothing, and the word is nothing, in our lives that is more necessary in any age, but especially in our age, than to believe, believe deeply, believe firmly, believe clearly.

Lord Jesus, we ask you to give us something of the faith of your mother. She believed when the angel told her she was to become the mother of the Most High. The moment she pronounced the words and told the angel, “Be it done to me according to your word,” Mary believed she was carrying her God in her womb. Give us, we beg you dear Jesus, something of the faith of your mother when she held you in her arms Christmas morning. She believed she was holding her Creator. Give us something of the faith of your mother while she stood on Calvary and saw you as man bleeding to death. She believed he was God who as man was dying out of love. Mary, Mother of God and our mother, obtain from us from your Son something of your faith so that believing in Him here on Earth like you, we may possess him and be embraced by him for all eternity. Amen. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Lord Jesus, we ask you to give us something of the faith of your mother. She believed when the angel told her she was to become the mother of the Most High. The moment she pronounced the words and told the angel, “Be it done to me according to your word,” Mary believed she was carrying her God in her womb. Give us, we beg you dear Jesus, something of the faith of your mother when she held you in her arms Christmas morning. She believed she was holding her Creator. Give us something of the faith of your mother while she stood on Calvary and saw you as man bleeding to death. She believed he was God who as man was dying out of love. Mary, Mother of God and our mother, obtain from us from your Son something of your faith so that believing in Him here on Earth like you, we may possess him and be embraced by him for all eternity. Amen. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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