Spirit seems to be desirableif not necessarily
holy. Pep rallies at school hope to boost team spirit. Families
bake cookies to get in the Christmas spirit. Singing "The
Star Spangled Banner" can rouse your patriotic spirit.
The Holy Spirit is more than a fleeting feeling
or a seasonal celebration. Catholics preparing for Confirmation
hope to receive the gifts and fruits of this Holy Spirit.
This Youth Update intends to increase your awareness
of that Holy Spirit, your appreciation of the Spirit's gifts.
First, who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit
is the third person of the Blessed Trinitythat is, the
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Basically, that's our Christian
belief: There are three divine persons in one God.
When we talk about three persons, we tend to
think of individuals. That makes sense to us because if someone
told you that your favorite music group was appearing in
person, you would visualize three or four individuals.
But that's not how it is with God.
The inner life of God is nothing like our experience.
We only know about it because God has told us, and even then
it is so mysterious we can't fully understand it. God is timeless,
all holy, uncaused, perfect and infinite in mind and will,
and the three persons of God cannot be separated. God is Father,
Son and Holy Spirit.
We know that God's Spirit has always been around.
The very first verse in the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures,
Genesis, tells us that God breathed his spirit over the water
to make the earth. We see the spirit a number of other times
before Jesus came. For example, David was filled with the
spirit when he had the courage to face Goliath, and Moses
was radiant with the spirit when he received the Ten Commandments.
So we hear of the Father and the Spirit in the Hebrew Scriptures.
But was Jesus there? Didn't he come later? Wasn't he a human
being like we are?
The answer to all these questions is yes. Jesus
is the Word of God, so he was present all through what we
now call Old Testament times. But although the people experienced
the spirit mightily, they knew God as power. They thought
that their best response was to try to please God by obeying
the Law and the commandments, even though they didn't always
understand what those laws and commandments meant.
But God spoke the word that became flesh: Jesus.
He came as a fully human being who would have a life like
ours, with a beginning and an end. Through his life, we learned
what God really meant by the commandments. He showed us how
to live and taught us about the relationship of the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit. He dealt with all the human problems
that we have, but he called on all the love of God and strength
of the Holy Spirit which were within him to live a life that
was completely without sin. He set a perfect example for his
apostles. But his death on the cross looked like the end.
Crisis of Leadership
How can you keep following somebody's example
when that person's not around anymore? Think about the greatest
teacher or coach you have ever had. You were inspired while
he or she was involved, right? And the next year you were
still sort of high about that subject or sport because of
all you learned before and the way you felt about it. But
as a few years pass, your school spirit or team spirit fades.
Right? Why? Most people seem to need a continued connection
to keep up a relationship. This feeling sometimes is called
Jesus understood very well what would happen
to his followers once he was gone. When Peter had seen Jesus
walking across the water, Jesus said, "Come on out,"
and Peter was willing to try because Jesus was right there
to catch him. But another time when a storm came up on the
sea and Jesus was asleep, Peter panicked. So there was good
reason for Jesus to worry that the leaders he had trained
for his Church would run away at the first sign of trouble
from those who had nailed the real leader to a cross!
So Jesus told them that he would send a helper,
someone they could turn to when they needed to know if they
were doing the right thing. That helper is the Holy Spirit.
Here Comes the Advocate
Jesus told them that they would not be left
orphans when he died. He said that he would ask the Father
to send "another Advocate to be with you always, the
Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept because it
neither sees nor knows it. But you know it because it remains
with you..." (John 14:16-17).
An advocate is a person who is always on your
side. And that is the job of the Holy Spirit: to always be
with us to guide and to help us. You probably don't remember
your Baptism, but think back to everything you've learned
about it. What are the words the priest or deacon who baptized
you said? "In the name of the Father, and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit." So you already have the Holy
Spirit in your life.
Just like the apostles to whom Jesus spoke about
it in the first place, that Holy Spirit remains in you. But,
as Jesus also said, the world finds it hard to accept because
we can't see the Holy Spirit. So how do we know the Spirit's
there? How do we take advantage of this helper who will let
us know if things are right or wrong? Andif you are
preparing for Confirmationdoes this imply that you will
not receive the Holy Spirit until you are confirmed?
Let's take those questions one at a time. First,
how do you know that the Spirit is here? Let's look at the
evidence of the apostles' lives. After Jesus died, how do
you think they felt? They had no leader anymore. They must
have been terrified that, if anyone found out they were followers
of Jesus, they would get hung on a cross, too!
It's hard for us to relate to this kind of feeling,
living in a free country like ours. Try to imagine that a
new law is passed that makes it illegal to belong to a youth
group. Your group discusses it and, since you know there's
nothing wrong with youth groups, you decide to stay together.
The next week all your adult advisers are arrested because
they didn't break up the youth group.
Imagine what would happen. Some of you might
want to picket or fight for your rights, but others would
deny they ever belonged to a youth group. Some parents would
hire lawyers to get the advisers out of jail, but others would
say that their children couldn't have anything to do with
youth groups any more. So there you'd be, with no adult leadership
and none of your members agreeing on what to do.
That's just about what happened to the apostles.
Luke describes the situation in the Book of Acts. The Twelve
stayed together in a safe place, tried to pray and make decisions
about the future. They kept reviewing the stories about what
Jesus did when he was with them in hopes that this would help
them figure out what they should do next. They waited nervously
in the hope that the advocatethe helperthat Jesus
promised would come.
Then, the Acts of the Apostles tells us: The
apostles were in the room and "suddenly there came from
the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled
the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to
them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on
each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled
them to proclaim" (Acts 2:2-4).
Can you imagine what the apostles did after
they received the Holy Spirit? They left the safety of that
room and began to tell the stories of Jesus to other people.
They were no longer afraid. This transformation from fear
to courage, from silence to an inspired message, proved to
many in Jerusalem at the time that a new Spirit, a Holy Spirit,
had transformed the apostles. In that same chapter of Acts,
Peter promises that same Holy Spirit to all who are baptized.
The same kind of transformation can result in your life.
How do we take advantage of this helper who
was sent to give us courage and power, and the wonderful security
of knowing that what we are doing is right? I guess the first
thing we need to understand is that the Holy Spirit doesn't
always come as dramatically as that day of wind and fire in
the apostles' little room.
You have already received the Holy Spirit during
your Baptism. When your parents show the old Baptism pictures
and talk about how cute you were, they probably don't mention
a wind sweeping through the church, or tongues of fire, I
suspect. Yet we know, through faith, that the Spirit is present.
What we need to figure out is how to tap into all the help
1. Ask for it. Last year a young friend
of mine named Laura was trying to choose which college she
would attend. Her grades were only average, so she felt as
if her choices were limited. But worse than that, her parents
absolutely wanted her to go to a certain school. She was dead
set against it, both because she thought she'd be turned down
and, mostly, because they were so dead set for it!
Laura talked to a few people about her feelings
and our assistant pastor suggested that she should pray to
be guided by the Holy Spirit. Well, she did pray about it
and she visited several colleges, her own first choice as
well as her parents' choice and even a few more. She liked
more than one but she told me that the one she felt most comfortable
at was the one that her folks wanted her to attend.
She told me, "It was weird. I absolutely
didn't want to be there, but I felt like I belonged. It was
like being home." So she decided to go along with her
feeling and she was not only accepted, she did well her first
year and in her sophomore year was elected to a student board
that very rarely chooses underclassmen. While she lacked total
confidence in her decision, many signs now demonstrate its
wisdom. She really believes that the Holy Spirit guided her
choice, and it's not hard to tell if you use the next step.
2. Check out the result. Not everything
that happens is from the Spirit. But usually if it is there
will be some signs. First of all, you'll be happy.
Laura felt as if she belonged at her school even when she
was really fighting being there. She couldn't imagine that
she could be happy there, but she was. Often, you'll feel
at peace. Now, that doesn't mean that nothing will go
wrong. There have been lots of times when exams have made
Laura a wreck, and not all the grades she got left her feeling
calm and peaceful. But overall, she is comfortable with herself
and who she is becoming.
Another good sign is that you'll care about
other people. What you want will become only one among
many things that matter. Laura was able to accept the fact
that her parents had gotten their wish. And on campus she
has become a member of a small faith-sharing community that
offers support and makes being away from home easier. That
support system leads to the next step.
3. Get all the help you can. You need
not be isolated. Even as we begin to reach out to others,
people will reach back in love. Be selective about the people
you look up to. Parents are usually good choices. They gave
you your first values. Maybe you have other relatives you
can trust. How about your pastor or another person in your
parish with religious values? Friends who share your principles
and priorities can be helpful. When you want to talk about
a situation, talk to those kinds of people. One way the Spirit
works is through other people. Finally
4. Trust God. There are times when no
one can understand why things happen, good or bad. But we
have a wonderful gift in our faith. I don't know if my young
friend would have been as happy if she had continued to fight
her parents and had settled for a different school. But I
do know that she turned her decision over to God and she is
a very happy person today.
Expressing Your Belief Is Your Call
Sending the Holy Spirit, and letting us know
that this powerful advocate would be at work in our lives,
was one of the most wonderful things Jesus did. The Holy Spirit
brings us the unconditional love of God and offers us access
to an amazing gift. Having the strength and love of God to
call on whenever we need guidance is what has enabled the
Church to survive for 2,000 years, through periods of persecution,
great leadership, poor leadership, radical change and incredible
While we surpass the boundaries of earth into
outer space, we still face terrible pressures of extreme wealth
and extreme poverty on this planet. But through it all we
have the calm reassurance that when we ask, the Holy Spirit
is present to help us.
As a Catholic Christian, you are heir to this
fabulous gift. Take some time over the next couple of weeks
to notice how many things seem to happen almost without any
reason. Some people call these things coincidences, but could
they be the Holy Spirit at work? Try in your own life to ask
for guidance and be very conscious of the result. Remember,
we don't usually get tongues of fire and gusts of wind, so
sometimes you don't know until later that the Holy Spirit
Today's world offers many choices. So many people
are trying to tell you things they say will make you happy
and successful. Everybody has something to sell, and you continually
have to decide what to buy. Sometimes it gets very expensive
and you just can't be sure it's worth the price. Isn't it
fantastic that we have been given the completely reliable,
and always available free gift of the Holy Spirit?
On to Confirmation
You have had the gifts of the Holy Spirit all
your life, but you were so young when you received them that
you were really not aware of the number of times you would
need to call on this helper. Such an awareness is the first
call to Confirmation. Now you are old enough to begin to understand.
Now you can call the Holy Spirit by name. Jesus said, "Ask
and it will be given to you" (Matthew 7:7). There's not
a gang or a group, a pill or a program in this world that
comes with that kind of a guarantee!
This issue of Youth Update was
read with great care by Raquel Davis, 15; Kamira Jones, 15;
Shannon Lanier, 14; and Shawn Lanier, 16. All four are members
of St. Agnes Youth Group in Cincinnati, Ohio. St. Agnes's
entire youth group is planning to participate in the August
pilgrimage to Denver for World Youth Day.