Receive the Holy Spirit: Confirmation and Pentecost
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2: 1-4)
This coming Sunday, we celebrate Pentecost, that pivotal moment when the disciples of Jesus receive His Spirit and are sent forth to proclaim the works of God and preach the Good News of Christ. In John 14:15-19, Jesus promises before His passion and death that He will not leave His disciples orphans but will send them “another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth.” The Holy Spirit is indeed an advocate and a consoler, and according to our creed, “the giver of life” who sanctifies and animates creation. And during the Sacrament of Confirmation, we experience a taste of Pentecost as we each receive the seal of the Holy Spirit and are sent forth on mission to build up the Church.
Sealed by the Spirit
Confirmation is the third and final sacrament of initiation (after Baptism and First Communion) because it marks a beginning, rather than an ending, of a Catholic Christian’s journey of faith. It is a powerful moment in which the laying on of hands confers an anointing. The chrism oil used in this anointing emphasizes the literal meaning of Christ as “anointed one.” It is a moment in which the disciple of Jesus enters more fully into his deepest identity, Christ, and experiences himself as anointed, chosen by God to bear Christ to the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 1293) relates the many effects of oil: abundance, joy, cleansing, limbering, healing, and radiance. All of these are necessary for a Christian being sent forth on mission. In fact, the Church lists “readiness to act” and a commitment to prayer and penance as the requirements for Confirmation and provides in the sacrament just what is needed. The language of being “sealed” by the Holy Spirit emphasizes the total belonging to Christ which Confirmation symbolizes.
The Aroma of Christ
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “By Confirmation Christians, that is, those who are anointed, share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit with which he is filled, so that their lives may give off ‘the aroma of Christ’” (CCC 1294). I love this description of what the Holy Spirit does in us: somehow, in being sealed by the Spirit, we become a way for the world to physically and spiritually experience Christ alive.
That is exactly what happens at Pentecost. The disciples receive the Spirit and the exact gifts (in this case, language) needed for those they encounter to have an experience of Christ and come to faith. In my own life, I have had such moments when the Holy Spirit equips me with the right words, or intuition, or a prompting to pray for a certain person in particular ways. Recently, I gave a women’s retreat day to a chapel full of 70 people. The week before this retreat, I prayed for openness to the Holy Spirit and ended up making last-minute revisions to every talk I had written for the day. I knew with certainty that the Holy Spirit prompted these changes and allowed me to share experiences from my personal life that impacted particular women in profound ways, which they then shared with me after the retreat. In fact, one participant shared that she felt a significant shift in the chapel after I began speaking about these personal stories. My openness to the Spirit allowed me to share with courage some painful moments from my life that led the women gathered into deep reflection and a more intimate understanding of God’s love for them.
I suspect we have all had at least one moment that we can recall the Spirit moving us to act, speak, or pray and then seeing the amazing fruits that can come of following these promptings. If nothing in particular comes to mind, you might consider the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” When have you seen these fruits in yourself beyond your usual capacity for them? That’s the Spirit at work in you. Or reflect on the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and reverence. When have you had deep wisdom, or a sudden insight into something you previously could not understand? When have you given someone the exact words they needed, words that felt dropped into your mouth, originating outside you? Have you had faith beyond measure that a certain situation would be saved by God, or courage to act? We can pray for and welcome such experiences of the Holy Spirit working for, in, and through us.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of Your love. We desire to listen carefully for Your voice, follow Your promptings, and thereby reveal Christ in the world, just as the early Christians did after receiving You at Pentecost. Amen.