Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Pentecost – the role of the Holy Spirit

May 29, 2020


As we celebrate Pentecost, this is an opportune time to reflect briefly about the nature of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Most Holy Trinity.

As a youngster, my parish priests, the Sinsinawa Dominican religious sisters at Incarnation Catholic school where I grew up in South Minneapolis, and my parents taught me constantly about God the Father, the all-powerful Creator of the world, and Jesus, his only Son, our Savior and Redeemer, and what he did and said as reported in the gospels, but I heard next to nothing about the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, who is more mysterious and difficult to explain.

A stained glass window is from St. Emily’s Catholic Church in Emily, Minnesota. The dove is a symbol for the Holy Spirit, and the seven rays represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

As I have advanced in years, my devotion to and dependence upon the Holy Spirit has increased enormously. As I have searched for God, I learned that the Spirit is God’s abiding presence among us; as I have attended school, studied for tests, and written term papers, I discovered that the Spirit is enlightenment, truth, and understanding; as I have tried to live my faith with more conviction, I found out that the Spirit provides courage, stamina, and strength; as people have sought my advice, I learned that the Spirit is counsel and wisdom; and when I was ordained a priest and began the daunting task of writing homilies and articles, preaching, and exercising spiritual leadership, it became obvious that ministry is bigger than me or any human being, and the Spirit provides the insights, creativity, and inspiration.

When people ask me how they can support me as a priest, I ask them to pray to the Holy Spirit on my behalf. When it comes time to speak, the Spirit provides the words; when faced with hard decisions, the Spirit provides the guidance; when disputes arise, the Spirit is the source of justice and fairness; when tempted to react impulsively, the Spirit is patience; when sins have been committed, the Spirit makes forgiveness possible; when feeling downcast, the Spirit is joy; when self-absorbed, the Spirit teaches generosity; when filled with anxiety, the Spirit provides peace; and in the daily struggle to stay in right relationship with others, the Spirit is love, charity, and kindness.

Each of us desperately needs the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, our Advocate. As you pray to the Holy Spirit for me, I promise to pray to the Holy Spirit for you as well. The power of the Holy Spirit will wash over us, like it did over the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk 1:35), and the Holy Spirit will brace us to live according to God’s will (Lk 1:38). In fact, with the power of the Spirit we will be able to do great things because “nothing will be impossible for God” (Lk 1:37).

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Different portrayals of the Holy Spirit as a dove

June 7, 2019


A Dove and Holy Spirit. In religious art the Holy Spirit is most often depicted as a dove. The biblical basis for the dove symbolism is found in all four gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Each evangelist describes the descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove coming down from heaven (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22; Jn 1:32). The Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus at his baptism and upon the apostles on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:4) is the same Holy Spirit that descends upon every believer at the time of their Baptism and Confirmation, as well as every time a person receives one of the other sacraments.

Holy Spirit DoveA Variety of Depictions. When the Holy Spirit is shown as a dove, it is depicted in a variety of ways. A common form is one dove alone. Sometimes the dove is shown with rays of light or flames emanating from its head or within its halo, and the number of rays or flames varies, typically three, seven, eleven, twelve, or thirteen, and the number is symbolic.

A Dove with Three Rays or Flames. Three signifies the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is one of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, and it is the Spirit who unifies the three Persons of the triune Godhead, and also serves as the presence of the Father and his Son Jesus. Three also signifies the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (1 Cor 13:13), virtues that increase and flourish when a person submits to the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A Dove with Seven Rays or Flames. According to the Prophet Isaiah, there are six gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord (Is 11:2), and to round the number up to the biblically complete number of seven, piety was added to the list. There is another version of the seven gifts of the Spirit in the Book of Revelation: “power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing” (Rv 5:12).

A Dove with Nine Rays or Flames. The prevalent explanation for the symbolic value of the number nine is the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22-23); while an alternative explanation is the less-often mentioned list: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor 12:8-10).

A Dove with Eleven Rays or Flames. Eleven represents the twelve apostles without Judas Iscariot (Mt 27:3-10; Acts 1:13). Each of them received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:3).

A Dove with Twelve Rays or Flames. Twelve can be interpreted in two ways, either the eleven apostles with their new replacement, Matthias (Acts 1:26); or the eleven apostles with the Blessed Virgin Mary (Acts 1:14).

A Dove with Thirteen Rays or Flames. Thirteen represents the reconstituted Twelve, the Eleven plus Matthias (see Acts 1:26), as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary (see Acts 1:14). All thirteen miraculously received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost.

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St. Matthias, Apostle and martyr

May 9, 2019


St. Matthias is mentioned in chapter one of the Acts of the Apostles and nowhere else in Scripture. He was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, and with his selection the number of apostles was restored to twelve. According to Eusebius, St. Clement of Alexandria, and St. Jerome, St. Matthias was one of the seventy-two disciples appointed by Jesus to go out in pairs to every town and place that he intended to visit (see Lk 10:1), but there is nothing to verify this. At one time his feast was celebrated on February 24, but it was moved to May 14 to be near the time of the Ascension and Pentecost.

St. MatthiasAfter the Ascension and before Pentecost, Peter stood up and addressed the community on the importance of choosing someone to succeed Judas Iscariot, and he quoted a Psalm in reference to the betrayer, “May another take his office” (Ps 109:8b; Acts 1:20). Peter then explained the selection criteria. The person must be “one of the men who accompanied us the whole time that the Lord Jesus came and went among us” (Acts 1:21), “beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to the resurrection” (Acts 1:22). Two men were nominated as worthy from among those who had traveled with Jesus throughout his ministry, Joseph Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias.

Then, instead of taking a vote, it was decided that lots would be cast to make the choice. The usual method was to write each candidate’s name on a separate stone, place the stones in a container, shake the container, and the first stone to fall out would be the one chosen. By praying first and then leaving it to “chance,” the selection was made by God, the one who knows the hearts of all, and not by men, thereby eliminating the possibility of favoritism or error.

St. Matthias was given the rank of apostle and held in high regard by the Church. His name is included on the second list of apostles and martyrs in the Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer I.

After his selection, St. Matthias was with the apostles on Pentecost, and after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, he was filled with zeal. According to St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Matthias emphasized the importance of “mortifying the flesh to subdue sensual appetites – a lesson he learned from Christ and which he faithfully practiced himself” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints).

St. Matthias began his preaching ministry in Jerusalem and throughout Judea. Then he made a major missionary journey to Cappadocia which is located in far northeastern Asia Minor, as far as Georgia at the southern edge of Russia along the Caspian Sea. He proclaimed the gospel with fervor and sincerity, and as a result he suffered bitter persecution from nonbelievers. He was martyred sometime near 64 AD in Colchis which is located in the Caucasus Mountains north of Cappadocia. Accounts of his death differ; either he was crucified on a wooden cross or beheaded with a halberd, a military weapon that is the combination of a spear and a battle axe. His remains were eventually taken to Jerusalem to be venerated, and then transferred to Rome by Queen St. Helena.

St. Matthias is the patron saint of carpenters because of the wooden cross, and tailors, and he is invoked against alcoholism and smallpox. His symbols are a halberd or an axe.

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The Effects of the Gift of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation

April 27, 2018


Confirmation imparts the gift of the Holy Spirit. The person who receives this sacrament has already received the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Baptism, and the Holy Spirit abides with a person always. The Holy Spirit comes when a person prays or reads Scripture, or when a person asks the Holy Spirit for guidance, inspiration, or courage. Confirmation is not the new arrival of the Holy Spirit, but rather an intensification of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit enlightens the mind and impassions the heart. It gives increased knowledge and understanding of Jesus, his gospel, and the mysteries of the faith. It also moves a person to love Jesus more dearly and strengthens the desire to please and obey him.

The gift of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation completes the Sacraments of Initiation and equips a person to live one’s faith as an adult. A Christian child has the support of parents and family, but when it is time to leave home and live independently, the Holy Spirit gives the interior strength to make good decisions and to live a holy and virtuous life.

Confirmation serves as the foundation of the Sacraments of Commitment, marriage and Holy Orders. The Holy Spirit often points a person toward a lifelong Christian vocation, to live the faith as a wife or husband, and as a mother or father, or as a priest. The Holy Spirit may also guide a person in other directions, such as the consecrated life as a religious sister or brother, or as a dedicated single person. The Holy Spirit also directs a person toward a profession that is of service to others and improves society.

The Holy Spirit emboldens a person’s words and deeds. The special graces of Confirmation enliven a person to speak more often, more openly, and with greater clarity and conviction, about their faith and beliefs; to be an evangelizer, ready and willing to spread the good news of Jesus and his gospel; and to be better prepared and more determined to testify to the truth.

The Holy Spirit stirs a person to give bolder public witness to their faith, to give outstanding example through love, joyfulness, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and service. The Holy Spirit empowers a person to do mighty deeds, to perform good works that do much good, actions that are visible, make a strong statement, and are persuasive to others.

The gift of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation draws a person into a stronger bond with the Body of Christ, the Church. It encourages a person to receive the sacraments and pray with the community regularly, to make friends at church who are fellow pilgrims on journey of faith, to have partners on larger tasks and service projects, to pass on the gift of faith to others, particularly children and those searching for God, and to give collective or corporate witness.

The Holy Spirit prepares a person for battle. The Spirit gives a person the firm resolve and fierce determination to reject temptation, stand up against evil, refute errors, defend the faith, and withstand attacks. The Spirit also gives the strength and stamina to persevere in the battle, to remain true to Christ, unwavering in belief, and constant in goodness.

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Peace or division, which is it?

August 11, 2016


Holy Spirit dove

Stained glass window at St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Henning, Minnesota

Once when Jesus was speaking to his disciples, he broached the subjects of peace and division (Lk 12:51).  His words were difficult to understand.  He seemed to be in favor of peace one moment, but then he spoke about how he was a reason for division the next.  Was he speaking out of both sides of his mouth?  How can the same person be both peacemaker and a cause for division at the same time?

Jesus placed an enormous value on peace.  He proclaimed the gospel of love (see Jn 13:31-35; 15:12) and his mission was to bring peace.  He began his preaching ministry with the words, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9), and he practiced what he preached, doing everything in his power to bring cooperation, mutual respect, and harmony.  He worked to eliminate rivalries and dissension (see Mk 10:35-45).

Jesus fulfilled ancient hopes as the Prince of Peace (see Is 9:5).  When Jesus was born, the choirs of angels sang, “On earth peace” (Lk 2:14).  When Jesus would cure someone, he often would say, “Go in peace” (Mk 5:34; Lk 7:50; 8:48).  Jesus wanted the Twelve to abide by his word so there would be peace among them (Mk 9:50).  Jesus instructed his disciples that when they entered the home of a host family, they were to say, “Peace to this house” (Lk 10:5).  On the night before Jesus died he said, “Peace is my farewell to you, peace is my gift to you” (Jn 14:27), and his final words to his disciples were, “I have told you this so that you might have peace” (Jn 16:33).  After Jesus rose from the dead, his first words were, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19,21,26).  Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22), and Jesus, anointed by the Holy Spirit at his Baptism, was dedicated to peace.  He was an agent of peace himself, and he wants peace among families; the Body of Christ, the Church; and the nations of the world.

How is it, then, that Jesus, who was so peace-loving himself, and who wanted peace among everyone else, would also say, “I have come to bring division” (paraphrase, Lk 12:51b).  Jesus hates conflict.  So do we.  Jesus does not want arguing, fighting, or trouble.  But Jesus knew that conflict would be an unintended consequence of his ministry.  When it comes to a family, Jesus knew that his preaching would force the question, “Shall I follow Jesus?”  Some family members would follow him, others would not, and families would be torn apart.  Jesus would have preferred that the whole family would follow him together, but he was wise enough to know that not everyone not accept him, and his heart ached over the fact that some family members would reject him and that families would be divided.

The divisions are multigenerational.  Jesus referred to conflict between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters (see Lk 12:53).  In a family that disagrees over him, there are clashes over house rules, prayer in the home, Sunday Mass attendance, church weddings, vacation schedules, and many other issues.  Conversations can be heated.  Feelings often are hurt.  This is not what Jesus wants, but he realized that it would happen.

Jesus wants those who accept him to remain faithful to him, even if others in their family do not.  Where division does exist, faithful Catholics continue to love those who have gone another direction, work for family unity, keep the door open, pray for them, give good example, and try to bridge differences with love and kindness.

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The fruits of the Holy Spirit

May 13, 2016


HolySpiritDoveThe Fruits of the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is one of the three persons of the Triune God, the Most Holy Trinity, and St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians provides a list of nine fruits of the Spirit:  “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Gal 5:22,23).  These fruits emanate or proceed from the Holy Spirit, and they reveal what the Holy Spirit is like.  They serve as the Spirit’s character traits.  And because the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity, and because the three persons are one, the fruits of the Spirit reveal what God is like.

Good Fruits Intended to Grow.  The grace and power of the Holy Spirit give increase to these fruits.  Wherever the Holy Spirit receives welcome and cooperation, the fruits expand and intensify.  It may be a person or any size group, as small as a married couple or a family, or as large as a school or a parish, a business or an organization, a nation or the Church.  Whenever an individual or a group follows the prompting of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, and the other fruits increase, but when the Spirit is opposed, these fruits diminish or vanish altogether.

Love.   Agape love is the highest form of love, love for both God and neighbor.  It is selfless, focused on the other person, given freely and gladly without condition or the expectation of repayment, expressed in service, and willing to suffer on another’s behalf.

Joy.  Joy is an interior contentment that comes from being close to God and in right relationship with others.  It is joy to know God’s love, presence, and compassion, to realize that all is an undeserved gift from God, and to be in compliance with God’s will.  Joy also comes with speaking and upholding the truth, honesty and integrity in relationships, enduring hardships, and decent conduct.

Peace.  Peace is the harmony that occurs when justice prevails.  It happens when resources are shared equitably, power is used for service, interdependence is fostered, information is shared openly and honestly, the dignity of each person is respected, legitimate differences are tolerated, the disadvantaged receive help, hurts are forgiven, and the common good is upheld.

Patience.  Patience is the virtue of suffering interruption or delay with composure and without complaint; to suffer annoyance, insult, or mistreatment with self-restraint, refusing to be provoked; and to suffer burdens and difficult tasks with resolve and determination.  It is also the willingness to slow down for another’s benefit, to set aside one’s personal plans and concerns, to go at another’s pace, and to take whatever time is necessary to address their need.

Kindness.  Kindness is a warm and friendly disposition toward another.  A kind person is polite and well-mannered, respectful and considerate, pleasant and agreeable, cheerful and upbeat, caring and helpful, positive and complimentary.

Generosity.  God gives beyond all measure and is lavish in generosity, and thus blessed with such munificence, it behooves a person to have an abundance mentality, a bigheartedness, and an unselfishness that shows itself in giving and sharing.  It is extended to family and friends, strangers, and particularly those in need, and is offered not only as money, food, and clothing, but also as time shared and assistance provided.

Faithfulness.  God is faithful to the covenant and infinitely reliable, dependable, and trustworthy.  Faithfulness is demonstrated by loyalty to friends, duties performed, promises kept, commitments fulfilled, contracts completed, vows observed, and being true to one’s word.

Gentleness.  Gentleness is sensitivity for another person.  It is concerned with another’s welfare, safety, and security.  It is grounded in humility.  The approach is careful, tender, delicate, considerate, affectionate, and mild-mannered, free of all pushiness, roughness, or abrasiveness.

Self-control.  Self-control is self-mastery regardless of the circumstances, to be in control of one’s self rather than to be controlled by temptations, events, or other people, especially when under pressure or in times of crisis.  It is a virtue to remain calm, cool, and collected, reasonable and even-tempered; to be alert and conscious, able to slow down, proceed with caution and prudence, and avoid an impulse or kneejerk response; to be a moderating influence; and to have the strength and courage to reject evil and choose good.

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The ‘Wild Goose’ is on the loose: Encountering the Holy Spirit

February 26, 2016


Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble Licensed Under Creative Commons

Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble Licensed Under Creative Commons

“Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?”

Not wanting to appear clueless (although I was!), I responded with a strong, “Yes.”

Not wanting to lie to a priest, I quickly changed my response to, “Um, I think so. . . Well, I’m not sure.”

That was nearly 20 years ago.

It was the fall of 1996 and I was a college freshman at Franciscan University sitting in a parlor in the friary meeting with Franciscan Father Dave Pivonka for the very first time. It seemed like such a personal question to be asking on our first encounter, but once you get to know Father Dave, you quickly learn he isn’t shy when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Upon further discussion (and the admission that I had no idea what he was talking about), I realized I certainly had intimate encounters with the Holy Spirit prior to that moment, but I had never heard the term “baptism in the Holy Spirit” before. Thus began my journey of a deeper, more intentional relationship with the Holy Spirit in my life.

Father Dave first taught me it is only by the Holy Spirit that we are able to pray (see Romans 8:26) which completely changed the way I enter into prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit” is how I start all my prayer times now and are the first words off my lips before reading Scripture.


Father Dave Pivonka, TOR

When I think of Father Dave I can’t help but think of the Holy Spirit because he’s so full of it.” Full of the Holy Spirit, I mean. So when I found out he was developing a series on the Holy Spirit, I was filled with great joy and excitement. Father Dave is one of the most sought after preachers and is an excellent teacher. I have been waiting with eager anticipation for the release of this series since he first made mention of it. The best part is that the series is totally free and easily accessible online.

Leave it to Father Dave to learn that the Celts called the Holy Spirit “The Wild Goose” and come up with a clever, catchy name to grab people’s attention. The title alone made me want to learn more. When I asked him why he decided to do the series, Father Dave said, “The idea was pretty basic, more people need to know about the Holy Spirit. I wanted to do something that would be engaging, beautiful and welcoming. I think that’s what the videos are. The response has been overwhelming.”

Over the course years, Father Dave has taught me about the power and gentleness of the Holy Spirit, but I’m a slow learner. I mean a really slow learner. It’s almost 20 years later and I’m just starting to “get it.” However, I am now convinced of the necessity of a relationship with the Holy Spirit in order to fully live out my faith.

This series in particular has reminded me that the Holy Spirit meets us right where we are at. Gentle or booming; whatever we need. A soft breeze or blazing tongues of fire or somewhere in between. It has also made me a better a hospice nurse. It reminded me that the Holy Spirit will give me the words to speak (see Luke 12:12) during difficult discussions with patients and their loved ones; often I will silently pray, “Come Holy Spirit” during these difficult moments and the words just come. That’s not me. That’s the Holy Spirit.

In recent weeks, I found myself in situations at work where I may have otherwise become frazzled, but was able to surrender those moments to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and ask for wisdom and peace. It has revolutionized the way I interact with my patients and their loved ones because I am reminded that I am not the one in control, the Holy Spirit is alive and active; present with me and my patients, always leading the way. For those who are open to it, the Holy Spirit has also given me the courage to pray with my dying patients and their loved ones as they prepare to leave this world and enter into the next.

If you want to live in greater freedom through the power of the Holy Spirit, check out this series. It does not disappoint!

The Who, What, When, Where, Why and How

Who: The series is great for newbies or those who already have an established relationship with the Holy Spirit. It is appropriate for teens or adults.

What: A free online series on the Holy Spirit written by Father Dave Pivonka, TOR and produced by 4PM Media

When: Anytime! It’s available online 24/7.

Where: Wherever you have access to the Internet.

Why: To grow in your faith!

How: Each segment includes a video along with reflections, study guide questions and prayers.

Or you can do it the way I do: via Skype. I have a dear friend in Australia. We watch the videos independently and then discuss via Skype. We begin and end with a prayer to the Holy Spirit and in between discuss the study guide questions provided. The videos have rekindled my desire for a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit and have helped me be more mindful of the Holy Spirit in my daily life.

The Challenge: Simply watch the first video called “God’s Love Poured Out.” I’m convinced you’ll be hooked!

Come, Holy Spirit! Enkindle in us the fire of your love!

Gina Barthel is a registered nurse who currently serves in hospice care and is the proud, self-proclaimed “favorite aunt” to 25 nieces and nephews. She is a parishioner of St. Michael Catholic Church in St. Michael, MN.


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With quiet promptings the Holy Spirit transforms us

June 6, 2014



Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble  Licensed Under Creative Commons

Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble Licensed Under Creative Commons

Tongues of fire and door-rattling wind shook the Apostles up at Pentecost I’m sure. When I pray to the Holy Spirit I also sometimes expect dramatic action. Mostly what I want is for the Spirit to instantly transform me—to give me a clear vision for my vocation or life’s purpose, to make me bolder or better at prayer, and overall to make me act and feel holier.I wait for the Lord to come with a powerful show of force as the prophet Elijah might have been expecting:

Then the Lord said, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.” A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak … (I Kings 19:11-13 NAB)

Often while I’m waiting for wind and earthquakes, the Holy Spirit comes with small quiet whispers that nonetheless coax me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I say yes to what the Spirit asks. Little things like, ‘ask that crabby co-worker how his day is going’ or ‘say something nice to the cashier’ or simply ‘smile at the lady pushing her cart in the produce section.’  

Some promptings are scary

Other times out of fear and irritation I swat at the Holy Spirit’s suggestions like flies at a picnic. Little promptings that make me uncomfortable such as inviting a neighbor to a church event, sharing about my faith with non-practicing family members or defending Church teaching when it’s attacked.

When I do respond to these scary suggestions, the situations often turn out differently than I expect–and somehow I’m different. I think the Spirit quietly goes about transforming us as we let Him guide us. Maybe He’s doing with these small whispers exactly what we wish He’d do with one spiritual earthquake. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t ever make an earthquake, strong wind or fire happen in our lives.  

Elijah recognized the Lord in a small noise. We need to listen for those quiet promptings, too.

I believe the Holy Spirit gives us His gifts through these promptings.  As the Church teaches, Confirmation increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive at Baptism, gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. (CCC 1830)  But I wonder if are gradually learning to use these gifts as we rise to the challenges the Holy Spirit gives us.

He is transforming us

As we listen for the Holy Spirit’s whispers and try to act on them, we can trust that He is transforming us and  making us holy in the way He knows is best for us. St. Augustine reveals this trust in his famous prayer:

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.

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The Other Immaculate Conception

December 8, 2012

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Virgin Mary by Carlo Dolci Photo/JonDissed Licensed under Creative Commons

Why did Our Lady call herself the Immaculate Conception when she appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes more than 150 years ago? If she’d called herself the Mother of God or Holy Virgin, the French authorities might not have given St. Bernadette such a hard time.

It turns out that Immaculate Conception is the Blessed Mother’s married name.

No, that doesn’t mean St. Joseph is Mr. Immaculate Conception. According to St. Maximilian Kolbe, “Immaculate Conception” is the name Mary shares with her spiritual spouse, the Holy Spirit. Since she’s a creature and He is God what brings them together so intimately that they share a name?  As St. Maximilian writes, it has to do with their unique relationship and the Divine fruit of their union: Jesus.

Preparation for her vocation

What exactly is the Immaculate Conception? In the Blessed Mother’s case it means that from the beginning of her existence God willed that she would be free of original sin and filled with sanctifying grace. The Church teaches that He gave her this special grace to prepare her to be the mother of Christ. As the Catechism states,

“…In order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.” (CCC490)

I learned about this recently while reading Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory, a preparation for Marian consecration. (It’s a great book that presents Marian consecration from the point of view of not only St. Maximilian but also St. Louis de Montfort, Bl. Mother Teresa and Bl. John Paul II.)

A human being, Mary was conceived. But obviously the Holy Spirit wasn’t. So what makes Him the Immaculate Conception? Father Gaitley explains St. Maximilian’s thought that the Holy Spirit is the uncreated Immaculate Conception because He is the Life and Love that springs from the love of the Father and the Son.1

In Dwight P. Campbell’s Catholic Culture article, he quotes St. Maximilian as saying that the Holy Spirit is “the flowering of the love of the Father and the Son. If the fruit of created love is a created conception, then the fruit of divine Love, that prototype of all created love, is necessarily a divine ‘conception.’” This Love is the model for all the conceptions that multiply life throughout the whole universe.

The Holy Spirit makes Mary fruitful

Clearly, fruitfulness is part of this. Where does Mary fit into this? Because the Holy Spirit is fruitful He produces divine life in her in the womb of her soul which makes her his spouse, the Immaculate Conception, St. Maximilian writes.2

“In a much more precise, more interior, more essential manner, the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculata, in the depths of her very being. He makes her fruitful, from the very first instant of her existence, all during her life, and for all eternity.”3

Because of the grace of her Immaculate Conception, Mary is totally receptive to God’s love, Campbell states. She receives that love at the Annunciation and “in cooperation with the Holy Spirit makes that love fruitful — infinitely so — in conceiving the Incarnate Word.”

The fruit of the uncreated Immaculate Conception and the created Immaculate Conception is Jesus! St. Maximilian said it makes sense that as a married couple and as parents, the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother would share the same name.

“…If among human beings the wife takes the name of her husband because she belongs to him, is one with him, becomes equal to him and is, with him, the source of new life, with how much greater reason should the name of the Holy Spirit, who is the divine Immaculate Conception, be used as the name of her in whom he lives as uncreated Love, the principle of life in the whole supernatural order of grace?”4


1 33 Days to Morning Glory, Fr. Michael Gaitley (Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M, 2011), p. 52.
2 Ibid., p. 54.
3 Ibid., pp. 53-54.
4 Ibid. p. 54.


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The 7 best Confirmation gifts

April 17, 2012


Photo/ideacreamanuelaPps. Licensed under Creative Commons.

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit have been coming up in conversations with my goddaughter, whom I’m sponsoring for Confirmation this spring. She has her eye on a particular gift, even though she’ll receive all seven when she’s confirmed later this month.

As the Holy Spirit bestows the seven gifts on my goddaughter in Confirmation, He will increase and complete her baptismal graces. (I remember her baptism well. I’m excited to see everything come together as she receives the last of her sacraments of initiation!)

Whether you’re involved with Confirmation right now, were confirmed at the Easter Vigil this year (congratulations!), received the sacrament a while ago or you’re just interested in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this sacrament, here is quick explanation of the gifts and a description of each one.

We know about the seven gifts because in scripture Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would have them when the Spirit rested upon Him. (Is. 11:2-3) The first verse lists wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and a fear of the Lord. The Church recognizes seven gifts because while the Hebrew text mentions the fear of the Lord twice, Greek and Latin versions instead list “piety.”

Following the Spirit’s promptings

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are habits that perfect us so we’re able to follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote. They are supernatural gifts that are present to us as long as we’re in a state of sanctifying grace. They complete and perfect the virtues (faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) of those who receive them and make us docile and ready to obey the Lord’s inspirations. (CCC1831)  The gifts are meant to help us share in God’s life and nature—on earth and for eternity.

The gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding and counsel belong to reason, while fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord belong to appetite, according to St. Thomas.

  1. Wisdom: The ability to find God in all things—in nature, events in the world and generally the ups and downs of life. It keeps us from judging by appearances alone and makes us more mature in how we think and act.
  2. Knowledge: This gift offers understanding of God and the universe. More than a collection of facts, it helps us know who we are and the true value of things through life events.
  3. Understanding: This gift helps us know how to live as Christians. It also gives insight into the truths of the faith so we aren’t confused by the conflicting cultural messages on how to live. It is perfected through prayer and reading scripture.
  4. Counsel (Right Judgment): The knowledge to discern between right and wrong—and the ability to choose what is right and avoid sin. This gift also helps us seek direction in the Eucharist and Sacrament of Reconciliation while being open to the advice of others.
  5. Fortitude (Courage): The ability to overcome fear and stand up for what is right according to God’s law even in the face of rejection, verbal abuse or physical harm. It gives the firmness of mind needed to do good and endure suffering. And it provides the strength to live a good Christian life even when no one seems to notice.
  6. Piety (Reverence): A deep sense of love and respect for God and the Church. Reverence leads to prayer because in realizing our total reliance on God we come before Him with humility, trust and love. At the Holy Spirit’s instigation, through piety we pay worship and duty to God as our Father, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote.
  7. Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe): A gift that helps us recognize God’s majesty and glory, and His great love for us. It helps us avoid anything that would separate us from His love.

As I go through this list, I’m wondering whether I’ve fully unwrapped all these gifts since my own Confirmation. It’s not a bad idea to ask the Holy Spirit to inflame them in our soul.  In his article on the Catholic Education Resource Center’s site, Fr. William Saunders quotes Bl. John Paul II on the power of the gifts: “With gifts and qualities such as these, we are equal to any task and capable of overcoming any difficulties.”

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