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Holy Spirit:
Giving Your Life
the Light Touch

by Christopher M. Bellitto

I didn't really feel the Holy Spirit until my high school trigonometry final.

Our math teacher told us we should pick out a question we knew we could answer to make a good start. Well, I couldn't do the first one, and then the second was too hard, the third was confusing and on and on. Maybe eight or ten questions and I still didn't have a clue! My whole body started to sweat. I hit the panic button.

Not knowing what to do I just stopped but, no, I didn't pray. There was no great sign from heaven; no magical answer appeared before my eyes. But slowly one of the questions—way down on the page, maybe even the last problem—became clear to me.

I started to solve it, then saw how a piece fit in with one of the first questions that blew me away a few minutes before. I went to work and ended up with a good grade.

The day of my Confirmation was nice, but it wasn't until I took that trig exam five years later that I appreciated the Holy Spirit's touch in my life. In this Youth Update, I'd like to talk about how you too can see the Holy Spirit at work in your life.

Unseen Inspiration

The Holy Spirit is like air or electricity You can't see those things but you can feel or see what they do. The wind is invisible yet you see it bend a tree. Electricity can't be held in your hand but you're probably reading this piece of paper by the light it produces. Let's talk about the effects of the Holy Spirit by looking for signs of inspiration in other people's lives—especially people in the Bible—and then try to see the Spirit in our own lives.

For me, sitting in that exam, the Holy Spirit was a booster shot. I had received the grace of the Holy Spirit in my Baptism and Confirmation. Whenever I made the Sign of the Cross or received a blessing at Mass, I recognized the Spirit's presence in my life.

Like most people, though, I looked at Baptism and Confirmation as one-shot deals. You do it, it's done, move on. Let's be real: I just took the Holy Spirit for granted until I needed that shot in the arm—even though I didn't even pray for it. But once I felt the Spirit's push in the math question I could answer, I took it from there.

In the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel, the prophet says that God's spirit "set me on my feet" (Ezekiel 2:2). That's what I think the Holy Spirit does. The Spirit gives us a reality check, a wake-up call, an all-call alarm signal. If you've ever been confused by something your teacher or mother said and then all of a sudden you "got it," you've experienced what I mean. Have you ever been pushed or pulled in a surprising direction you didn't choose or even know existed?

Holy Heartbeat

So the Holy Spirit is not a one-shot deal but a gift that keeps giving. This understanding (which is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit!) came to me very visibly about a year ago when I watched as my favorite uncle, who is a priest, was ordained a bishop.

The whole liturgy focused on the Holy Spirit and reminded me of the Church's history. The Church always has a "laying on of hands" combined with certain prayers that together grant the Spirit. At my uncle's ordination as a bishop, all of the other bishops present laid their hands on his head for a moment and shared the Holy Spirit with him in a special way.

Now, very few of us will be ordained bishops, but we have been baptized and probably most of us have been confirmed, too. In those sacraments, the priest laid his hands on our heads or maybe held them up over us if we were in a large crowd. Either way, the Spirit came into our hearts and is still there.

The Holy Spirit is more than an e-mail message that you can simply read, delete and dismiss. The Spirit is a living presence in our lives—just like our heartbeat and pulse—that helps us in whatever we do. The Holy Spirit gives us a boost of creativity or insight or energy or patience or inspiration whenever we need it—whether we know we need it or not, just like what happened to me in my trig final.

The Spirit at Work

Want proof? Let's take a look at some New Testament moments with Jesus' disciples. Sister Mary Ellen, a wise teacher in my elementary school, used to tell us, "If you ever have any doubts about what the Holy Spirit can do, look at what it did for Jesus' disciples."

True. These guys were not always the model followers. Listen to the readings at Mass or read parts of a Gospel on your own. The disciples were ordinary people who were filled with the Holy Spirit, just like you and me. And they never seem to get it.

The disciples always seem confused by what Jesus is talking about. He's got to explain his messages to them again and again, sometimes very simply. Jesus says he'll destroy the Temple and raise it up in three days. He's talking about the resurrection from Good Friday to Easter Sunday and they're trying to figure out how one guy can rip down a really big building and then cement the whole thing together again in 72 hours. They're clueless.

Just when Jesus really needs his friends, on Holy Thursday night after the Last Supper, they fall asleep on him and run away when he's arrested. Peter, who's supposed to be the leader, turns into a coward. He denies that he even knows who Jesus is—not once, but three times!

And yet, the Holy Spirit sets the disciples on their feet.

Take a look at what happens during Pentecost (Acts of the Apostles 2). The disciples are all hiding from the confusion after Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension. Even after Jesus spent the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension to heaven carefully explaining important matters to them, they're still scared and can't move. But then their room is filled with the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire rest over each of their heads.

What happens? They're surprised and inspired. Even though they don't know certain languages, they run out of their hiding place and start preaching to the crowd as if it is the United Nations. People from all over the place can understand the apostles in their own languages. Peter, who totally denied Jesus, becomes the most vocal and decisive disciple. Of all people, Peter's suddenly got guts. He's inspired and becomes the surprising leader throughout the rest of the Acts of the Apostles.

Then there's the story of some of Jesus' followers as they walk along the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). After Jesus dies they hear that he's alive. This puzzles them as they leave Jerusalem for a long walk on that first Easter Sunday. Jesus shows up but they don't recognize him even though he explains everything that happened. When they sit down to have dinner, Jesus breaks bread and all of a sudden they see.

The Gospel doesn't say specifically that the Holy Spirit came down upon them, but their eyes were opened. They were surprised and inspired.

There's a popular Church song about this moment called "In the Breaking of the Bread." As it tells the story of the road to Emmaus and Pentecost, it makes a good point. Even after the surprise and inspiration of the road to Emmaus, Jesus' followers stumble a bit. "But then we became afraid without him," the song goes. "In the darkened room we stayed without him, waiting for the one he said that he would send."

The payoff comes when the song bursts out, "Then the Spirit of the Lord came down upon us, filling us, changing us. Giving us the strength to say: We saw him! Suddenly our eyes were opened, and we knew he was alive!*

*In the Breaking of the Bread," by Michael P. Ward.©Copyright 1986, World Library Publications, a division of J.S. Paluch Company, Inc., Schiller Park, IL 60176. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Living the Spirit

Through the Holy Spirit, even people like these followers who have their human doubts are inspired to go out and spread the word about Jesus. Those 10 days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday hold a lesson: Sometimes you have to wait for that blast of energy from the Holy Spirit.

You might get discouraged or scared while you wait. You might feel that you've got no energy or even a clue.

You might be restless, which can be a good thing. Being restless means that you're not satisfied: You're thinking of something better. Restless energy can make you a dreamer and then a doer. In this time of your life, your teenaged years, there's a lot of dreaming and doing, lots of planning and hoping that your plans come through.

How might you seek the Holy Spirit's assistance as you think about where you might go to college, what job you'll look to find after high school, or what you'll do this summer—let alone for the rest of your life? These concerns can make you restless or discouraged, but the Holy Spirit will encourage and strengthen you.

St. Paul wrote a letter to his friend Timothy to give him a similar spiritual boost, maybe because Timothy felt restless or discouraged. Earlier, Paul had put his hands on Timothy to share the Holy Spirit with him. In this passage he tells Timothy that was not a one-shot deal.

"I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands," Paul tells him. "For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control....Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us" (2 Timothy 1:6-7, 14).

The Holy Spirit is a gift that Timothy must keep alive. He's got to get to work with that living presence of the Spirit.

There's something more. The Holy Spirit takes us where we might not want to go. There's an old saying: "If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans." Despite your ideas about what you want to do with your life, the Spirit might take you where you least expect to go. And inspiration might come when you're not looking or asking for it. It may even come when you don't want it!

God's plans for you go beyond your own plans. You want one thing but God has something more in mind. The Holy Spirit opens your eyes to this "something more." The Holy Spirit changes you, gives you strength and courage and faith.

After all, we all need help getting on our feet sometimes. That's what I learned—and why I'll never forget my trig final.

Christopher M. Bellitto, Ph.D., is assistant professor of Church history at St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, in Yonkers, New York. He writes frequently for academic and popular publications and is the author of What Every Catholic Should Know About the Millennium (Liguori Publications).

This Youth Update was critiqued by Susan Brims (16), Lynda Fiely (15), Scott Huelskamp (15), Christy Schmitmeyer (15) and Shannon Steinbrunner (17), all of St. Francis Parish in Cranberry Prairie, Ohio. Shirley Broering, parish youth coordinator, invited the five to gather at the rectory for pizza, a review of the text and discussion.



A Teenager's Prayer
to the Holy Spirit

On Pentecost, the Church asks us to pray a special hymn or "sequence" that you can use any day of the year to ask for the Spirit's help. Remember that the grace of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, Pentecost and Confirmation is never a one-shot deal. What's here is a modern adaptation of that ancient song with questions to help you apply its ideas to your everyday life.

Come, Holy Spirit. Shine the rays of your light down on us from heaven. Come, Father of the poor. Give us your gifts and light up our hearts.

You are the best at comforting us when we're worried. You're the most welcome friend in our souls. Come to energize us. You give us rest when we work hard and we're tired. You cool us down when we're hot with temptation. You cheer us up when we're sad.

  • How is the Holy Spirit a source of light and gifts in your relationship with your family, your friends, your classmates? How can the Holy Spirit help you heal broken relationships?
  • Have you ever felt curiously comforted or happy in a bad situation? Suddenly energized when you're really tired? Calm in the middle of turmoil, especially at home?
  • Can you name a time when you were tempted to do something dangerous or stupid and then backed off for no apparent reason?

You're the most blessed light in our lives. Shine into the most personal, secret parts of our hearts. We're your faithful friends.

We know we can't do anything right without you. We sin when we're separated from you. Please wash what's sinful in us. Pour water on our thirsty souls. Heal us when we're hurting. When we're stubborn, help us to bend. When we're cold, warm our hearts. When we're lost and confused, show us the right way to go, the right thing to do.

  • Was there ever a project you secretly didn't think you could finish or a class you were convinced you'd flunk? And even though you were down you achieved your goal or passed the course anyway? Ever think there was no way you could do the right thing, but did?
  • Did you ever take an action that you thought was unforgivable until someone forgave you? How did that feel?
  • Were you ever so angry at a person that you never wanted to talk to him or her again but eventually you made up?

Please give us your seven gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. We have faith in you and we're asking for your help because we know we could use it.

Reward us when we use the virtues you give us. Grant us rest in heaven at the end of our lives. Give us the joy that will never end. Amen. Alleluia.


How can you tell if an idea you get is really from the Holy Spirit? Sometimes my ideas just seem crazy, not inspired!


Yes, some ideas can be troubling or difficult. Ask yourself these questions to test whether your inspiration is from God: Would the Holy Spirit send an idea that caused you to hurt yourself or someone else? No way. Would the Holy Spirit plant an idea that challenged you in a positive direction or made you think about a problem differently? You bet. An idea that tears down, harms or is negative cannot be from God because the Spirit of God creates, improves and loves. All life-altering inspirations require the test of time (more than an hour or two). Live with a choice for a while to see if that choice brings peace or turmoil. Then test the opposite decision. The Holy Spirit doesn't drop down random ideas and run. You'll receive the follow-up help you need to see inspirations through.


If every confirmed Christian gets the gifts of the Holy Spirit, why aren't things going better in the world?


Great question! Look at it this way: You get a terriftc new computer from your grandparents when you graduate, but you never take it out of the box, set it up and turn it on. The gifts of the Spirit lie sleeping in many people because they haven't "activated" them or even considered the possibility. The Spirit's gifts are given for us to use and to share with others. When we do, we are helping to "renew the face of the earth," as one prayer of the Church puts it. That's building a better world—and you can be a builder right now.


Fortitude and fear of the Lord seem almost opposite in nature. I know the second means "wonder and awe," but I don't understand how to express both with enthusiasm. Can you help?


Fortitude means having guts, sticking it out, keeping on when you don't want to keep on. Fear—in the Bible—means, as you say, wonder and awe toward God. I think you're confusing fortitude with a "macho" attitude which does seem the opposite of wonder and awe. But the fortitude or courage the Holy Spirit inspires will lead to bravery expressed with gentleness. The fear of the Lord will express itself in your attitude of respect for the word of God, for expressions of faith, for Church teaching. Sometimes all that will require fortitude, so these two gifts of the Spirit are closely allied, not opposite at all.


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