By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput O.F.M. Cap.
“If we live by the Holy Spirit, let us be guided by the Holy Spirit” (Gal 5:25)
Good morning, and congratulations for being here. All of you have been blessed. A lot of young Catholic men and women around the world would love to be here
Our theme today is “Called to live in the Holy Spirit.” Describing the Holy Spirit isn’t easy. One of the great minds of early Christian history, St. Augustine, wanted to write a book explaining the Holy Trinity, the fundamental Christian belief that God is one God in three Divine Persons. There’s a legend that one day Augustine was walking along the beach at Hippo, his diocese in North Africa. He was trying to figure out the mystery of the Trinity. And as he moved along, he saw a boy running back and forth from the surf, carrying water in a bucket and pouring it into a small hole in the sand.
Augustine was curious. He asked the child what he was doing. The boy responded: “I’m pouring all that water” — meaning the ocean — “into this hole.” Augustine said: “That’s impossible. The ocean is huge, and your hole in the sand is tiny.” The boy responded: “Then how can you expect to put the mystery of the Holy Trinity into that little head of yours?” And then the boy disappeared.
Augustine didn’t stop thinking about the Trinity. In fact, he gave the Church her single most important Christian reflection on the Trinity, called De Trinitate, which is as profound and powerful today as it was 1,600 years ago.
But Augustine did learn to be humble. He learned that no matter how hard he thought about mysteries like the Trinity, he would never fully understand them. The same is true for us. We’ll always need faith to guide us in our lives. In all our searching for God, we need to remember what Pope John Paul the Great taught us: Our minds need to fly on two wings — faith and reason. We need both. They’re meant to go together.
All of you will recall what we say every Sunday at Mass when we profess the Creed. The Creed is the summary of what we believe as Catholics. It’s a public statement of our Christian faith. In the Creed, we use our first wing, the wing of faith. The Creed describes the Holy Spirit as “The Lord the giver of Life”. Now let’s use our reason. Let’s think about those words: “The giver of Life!”
What do we thirst for more than anything else in the world? Life. We want as much life as we can get. We want a long life, a happy life, a healthy life. Everything we hope for is somehow summarized in that powerful word, “life.”
In everyday slang we speak of “having a life.” We all worry about “the meaning of life.” We especially like to tell annoying people to “go get a life.” We make big plans for our future. We spend huge energy and resources to “build a life.” And yet the Church has been telling us all along that the Holy Spirit is none other than the “giver of life,” a kind of fusion engine of love who runs the whole thing. So maybe we should pay a little more attention to Him.
Pope John Paul, one of the patrons of this World Youth Day, wrote a letter to the Catholic bishops and people of the world about the Holy Spirit. He entitled it, quite sensibly, The Lord and Giver of Life. In his letter, John Paul reminded us that Jesus revealed Himself with these words from Scripture: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
So if the Holy Spirit is the giver of life, it means He’s the one that brings us to a full understanding and union with the real Jesus Christ — not with the “nice guy” or interesting teacher that the world would prefer Jesus to be, but the true Jesus Christ who is the only Son of the Father, the Savior of the world, and the source of all life and happiness for you, for me and for all humanity.
Catholic imagery usually shows the Holy Spirit as a dove. That’s the way He’s described in the Gospels: a dove descending over Jesus during his baptism. But have you ever wondered, Why a dove? Maybe one of the reasons is that there’s nothing threatening about a dove. A dove typically embodies purity, beauty and gentleness. The kindness of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives is exactly the opposite of the violence that the world and the devil rely on.
Violence isn’t always painful. It isn’t always bloody. Some things can feel very pleasant but leave a deep wound that we only discover much later. Every day, all of you drink in a river of bad ideas pushed by marketers who want your money, your approval and your conformity — and they make very sure they get it by using the radio, television, internet, popular songs and peer pressure to wrap you up in, like a spider getting ready for dinner. Today’s popular culture is based on a message that seems liberating, but it actually diminishes your humanity. It’s a message that reduces human dignity to what we can see and touch and own. It’s a message that squeezes great moral ideals and religious truths down into personal idiosyncrasies. In a nutshell, the modern world suggests that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. If someone else suffers as a consequence, if some damage is unintentionally done to other people by your actions, well, that’s not your fault.
Does that sound genuinely human to you? I don’t think so.
There’s a curious kind of irony at work when some young people criticize their parents, the Church and other authority figures, claiming that they want to be “free” or that they want to “live their own lives.” Many of those same young people then go out and dress the same way, listen to the same music, follow the same fashions and generally behave not like social reformers, but like lemmings.
It’s the worst kind of slavery when corporations and fashion designers and political opinion makers treat people like chumps. They trick a whole generation into doing what the world demands, while at the same time telling young people that they’re “free,” “original” and even “revolutionary.”
God acts in a completely different way. That’s why the Holy Spirit is shown as a dove: He reveals to us the truth, helps us understand who Jesus really is, and calls us to a radically new life in Christ. But He never forces us or deceives us into doing anything we don’t willingly choose to do. That’s real freedom: when we choose, against our shortcomings and temptations from the world, to live the true life brought to us by Jesus Christ.
In an age when our minds are soaked by so many distractions, it’s not easy to experience the Holy Spirit and his action in our lives. I find very helpful what that great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, wrote about the Holy Spirit: “Do not be worried or surprised if you find the Holy Spirit rather vaguer or more shadowy in your mind than the other two persons [of the Trinity]. In the Christian life you are not usually looking at [the Holy Spirit]: He is always acting through you. If you think of the Father as someone in front of you, and of the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third Person as someone inside you.”
The Holy Spirit is not floating around “somewhere out there”.” We received Him into our lives at our Baptism and our Confirmation. Beginning with those sacramental moments, He has always been dwelling within us. Someone may be tempted to ask: “Well, where is He, because I don’t feel Him.” If you don’t perceive Him, it’s probably because you’re not letting Him act in your life. Remember: He will not violate your freedom.
C.S. Lewis said something even more radical about the Holy Spirit. Listen: “If you are close to Him, the spray [of the Holy Spirit’s love] will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a person is united to Him, how could he or she not live forever? Once a person is separated from Him, what can he or she do but wither and die?”
Another common image of Holy Spirit is fire. The Holy Spirit came as “tongues of fire” in the story about the first Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles. Why is the Holy Spirit a kind of fire? It’s because fire is something that indicates intensity, energy and purity. Anything that comes close to fire is either consumed or becomes fire itself. Fire clarifies and purifies. We either become one with the fire, or we flee it.
Such is the Holy Spirit. He brings us the holy fire of God to transform us, to turn us into what He is, to make us God-like.
The Church teaches us that the Holy Spirit brings us seven gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Courage — which we also call Fortitude — Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. Each one of these gifts really requires a whole separate talk, but let me highlight one of the seven today: Courage. Through the gift of Courage, the Holy Spirit strengthens us to do the will of God in all things. All seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are equally precious, but I would stress Courage in a special way for you young women and men, because much of our culture today is aimed at making things effortless and quick, without any investment of time, personal energy or suffering.
Today’s technology can certainly make life easier and in many ways better. But lasting personal happiness and salvation can only be had the “old fashion” way, the timeless way, the way Jesus Christ showed us. The only way to true peace in our hearts and in the world is the hard way, the way of the Cross, the way of self-giving and sacrifice.
We live in a “lite” culture, a culture eager for shortcuts; a culture desperate to avoid inconveniences and pain. We need to remember St. Augustine’s famous phrase that “love is heavy.” Love takes no shortcuts. Love is not “light” or easy, but love is also the only thing that can really fulfill our deepest hunger.
That’s why Courage is so vital. And Courage requires a sister virtue that modern culture despises, a virtue that you should daily pray to obtain: Patience. Patience is much more than just a capacity to wait. Patience requires the will and the strength to do the right thing — not just now, and not just for a little while, but constantly and steadily, and especially if it involves suffering over an extended period of time.
One of my favorite Bible passages is the beginning of the second chapter of the Book of Sirach in the Old Testament:
“My son, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity. Cling to him, don’t abandon him; and your future will be great. Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient; for in fire gold is tested and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and He will help you; make straight your ways and hope in Him . . . You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy.”
This is the kind of Courage God asks from us. This is the kind of Patience implied in the Christian life God calls each of you to witness: a life that is pure, devout, chaste, generous to the poor and to those in need, courageous in protecting the human person from the moment of conception to natural death. And you’re asked in a special way to be generous to God, being ready to leave everything behind and follow His calling, be it to priestly, consecrated or married life.
This isn’t an easy task. And you know that too, of course. But the good news is that God also knows that it can be difficult, and so He has sent us his Holy Spirit, our Friend, our Comforter and our Counselor. A very ancient prayer of the Church, the Sequence of the Solemnity of Pentecost, describes the Holy Spirit by what He brings to our lives: He is the “giver of gifts”, “light of the hearts”, “sweet guest of the soul.”
The Holy Spirit is the one who brings us “rest and relief” in the midst of our toils; the one who provides “rest and ease” in our struggle with the anxieties of every age, especially this age which is our own, so filled with hopes and fears. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings consolation when our hearts grieve, and when we’re tempted to despair.
With such a gift, the gift of God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit, it really doesn’t matter how hard the challenges might be that we face. God is stronger, Love is stronger. Grace is stronger. So, like every generation of Christians before us, and even in the midst of this difficult age, we have every reason to take joy in the phrase that Pope John Paul turned into his motto: “Be not afraid!”