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 questionsway
down on the page, maybe even the last problembecame
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.
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 livesespecially people in the Bibleand
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 armeven 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?
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
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 livesjust like our heartbeat and pulsethat
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 itwhether 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 isnot once, but three times!
And yet, the Holy Spirit sets the disciples on their
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
summerlet 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
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 learnedand why I'll never forget
my trig final.
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.