The year before I was confirmed I was taking regular 10th grade religious education classes at my home parish every other week. One Sunday night we took out our books and distractedly read a chapter in it as a class. Looking back on my Catholic education classes I probably should’ve paid more attention, but that’s beside the point. All of a sudden the religious education directors walked through the door looking very distraught and said, “Class, I’m really sorry, but we’re not able to continue religious education classes anymore.”
A surprised murmur of voices filled the air.
“The United States government has repealed religious freedom and are forcing us to stop educating the youth on any particular religion. All churches will be state owned from here on out, and we could be facing major consequences even being here right now. If you could please follow me down stairs… we’re going to be talking with the rest of the classes about this as a group.”
Looking back, I was probably very gullible for believing that what they were saying was true, but it was very convincing. Even though at this point in my life I approached my religion very half-heartedly, I was still really interested in learning about it, and I wanted more than anything to be confirmed.
I didn’t really know what it meant to be confirmed, but all I knew was that I would be receiving a new sacrament and the gifts of the Holy Spirit would be stirred up within me. I wanted very sincerely to know all about what that meant, but now it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to receive a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit like I always thought I was. I was very upset and it just didn’t seem right.
We all followed her downstairs very silently. What did this mean? What was going to happen? “I’m a Christian,” I thought, “Everything was about to get a whole lot harder. What if people start to persecute us?” All these thoughts filled my mind. Later on though, the class discovered that this was all just a grand hoax. The police were not coming to keep us from learning about our faith; religious education classes could resume as normal, and best of all I was going to be confirmed the following year!
Today is the feast of Pentecost. Leading up to today I started thinking more and more about this specific moment in my life when my faith seemed like it was about to be severely contested, and life as a Catholic was about to look a lot like the way the first Apostles did: highly dangerous and extremely criticized. Sitting downstairs in the basement of the pastoral center, our teachers asked us a question. They said, “If we asked you if you still wanted to come and learn about Jesus in secret, despite these circumstances, would you? Would you willing to risk your life to know Christ?”
My first thought was yes. Yes! Of course, why wouldn’t I? It would be easy not to… it’s definitely no easy task to be a Christian anymore, but I still would. I would fight for Christ. I would live for the one who died for me, even if it meant dying myself. Here’s the thing though, in this highly secularized world, our faith is constantly being contested. This was not anything new. There are so many misconceptions held inside and outside of the Church by ill-informed people who weaken the body of Christ and cause our institution to face persecution each and every day.
Our government doesn’t help our religion in the slightest, although thank God we are free to practice our faith, the ideologies held by officials is far from being inclined to God anymore. Our culture is so disengaged from faith, and maybe it’s just where I come from, but bringing up the name of Jesus in regular conversation is almost offensive to some people.
Our world aches for a love that only God can fill. It aches for joy and authentic human connection. Humanity needs true fulfillment, hope, and faith in something greater than our selves. Pentecost reminds us that despite the backlash we receive from the culture, if we can kneel before God, we can stand before anyone. Why? Because we have the same Holy Spirit within us that the Apostles did in the Upper Room where Jesus ate with them, washed their feet, gave His true body and blood, and where He left to set forth for the Garden of Gethsemane, ultimately handing over His very self for the whole world. They were there in the presence of Christ. We are always in the presence of Christ. And I think too many times us Christians read this scripture and think it’s some kind of dramatic play or fiction novel.
It’s not. It’s our story. We are called to live it every day with boldness and confidence. “Con” means “with” and “fide” means “faith” in Latin. To have confidence is to have faith. In this case, we are to have faith in Christ who gave us His Spirit to proclaim His truth to a world in desperate need of His love.
We forget too easily that we have the power to live as the Apostles did. We must only ask for it. It wasn’t easy to live out, and that’s the beauty of it. This is reality of the Christian life. This is the birth of our Catholic Church- the birth of Christianity! Our Church was learning how to be a Church! They’re learning how to listen to the spirit. I think that if average parishioner was better at being open to listening to the Spirit within them, then we would grow exponentially as a Church. We are really hurting in this area and it’s for one reason only: we don’t know how to listen. We’ve forgotten the beauty of silence. Our Lord can speak to us in tons of ways, but His preferred course of action is through silence.
And here are the Apostles. They’re sitting in silence just waiting for something. They’re doubtful, they’re scared, and they don’t know what to do. It’s kind of like me in the basement of my pastoral center with the people who have been guiding me the whole time telling me that I can’t be confirmed anymore, and if I want to be, I’m going to have to meet in secret in order to do so. That day I think was the most influential parts of my religious education experience because it held so much truth. In this world we will have trouble, Jesus promised us that, but He also told us to take courage, because He has overcome the world. (John 16:33) We can do nothing apart from His Holy Spirit. We need it so desperately in order to even proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and ascended into glory. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is the only one who makes this possible (1 Corinthians 12:3). Just look at Mary, she’s the spouse of the Spirit, so truly, the Holy Spirit, God, is the only one who made ANY of this possible! This was His plan for us. Apart from this truth, many Christians are at a grave disadvantage.
Today we aren’t just celebrating the birth of our Catholic Church; we celebrate the proclamation of words. Words are capable of moving a person to tears of joy or loss. We can say one word and it allows us to speak volumes. Words matter. So why are so many of us scared to speak up? I was so ready to fight for the faith when it felt like the one thing I would need most in this life was about to be taken away from me. The Spirit was surely stirring in that room that day.
I realized that that’s what Pentecost is all about. I recognized that I needed Confirmation. I needed to stir up the Spirit already within me at Baptism to equip me with the battle ahead, and without it, I would be lost. But now I’m starting to realize that the Holy Spirit has been so influential in leading me in all areas of my life. In times of great trial, great joy, great uncertainty… calling upon the Holy Spirit has only allowed me to bring people to the faith and become the Catholic I am today.
The first reading today tells us that the Holy Spirit came down upon all of the disciples at the same time. No matter who the disciple is- whether it be the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Peter our first pope, or a tax collector called to greatness, they each received the Spirit in the same moment. And so it is with us. No matter who we are, or where we come from, we are called to know God and proclaim His word with confidence. In 1 Peter 3:15 it says, “Always be prepared to give a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” That verse pertains perfectly for what the disciples were called to do, and they did it. They received the gift of tongues- in Greek and in scripture the word for “tongue” and “words” are the exact same, and its no coincidence. The tongue is what enables us to speak. We need the Holy Spirit to proclaim Christ. We are vessels of His life, and we can do nothing without Him.
How beautiful is it that we are all called to be saints! I am so blessed to have such a rich apostolic tradition such as this. I pray that we may all recognize that we truly are, “witnesses of all these things” and strive to live our lives every day with Him and for Him. We are sinners, but we are called, despite our weaknesses, to use our gifts for the kingdom of God, become more authentically ourselves in the image of Christ, and proclaim hope for all people.
How truly beautiful it is to be a Catholic! When you leave Mass you are sent out. The word “Mass” actually means, “Missal” AKA to be transformed and sent out by God.
It’s time to be sent out of the Upper Room. Enjoy your journey.