Bishop's Interview: Going forth filled with gifts of the Holy Spirit
Editor: Bishop, we celebrate Pentecost on June 8. Let’s talk about the Holy Spirit. First of all, tell us about the importance of the feast of Pentecost.
Bishop Vásquez: The church celebrates Easter and the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus for 50 days, and the feast of Pentecost is the culmination of Easter. The Resurrection is such a deep and profound mystery that the church does not celebrate on just one Sunday, instead we grow to appreciate it over a period of time.
The Holy Spirit is that gift from God that Jesus promises will be with us forever. “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name — he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you,” Jesus said to the apostles in John’s Gospel (14:26).
On Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter, the apostles received the Holy Spirit and the church was born. From that moment on the church becomes who she is called to be –– the body of Christ here on earth to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world. Filled with that gift and power of the Holy Spirit, the church is sent to bring Good News and evangelize. She does this through preaching the Gospel, celebrating the sacraments, Catholic education and all her charitable activities.
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. We sometimes have these images of the Holy Spirit, like wind or fire or a dove, but we must remember that the Holy Spirit is God. God is always with his church to proclaim and continue the mission of Jesus.
Editor: We believe that there are gifts of the Holy Spirit, which we receive at the sacrament of confirmation. Where do we find this in Scripture?
Bishop Vásquez: Yes, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are found in Scripture, specifically in the book of the prophet Isaiah. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide,” says Isaiah 11:2-3. Jesus was originally given these gifts and through the Holy Spirit, they are given to us.
We must remember that these are gifts from God. We cannot merit them nor are we entitled to them. They are from God; these gifts are about power and especially about how each person comes to know God, to respond to those gifts, to live them out and to follow the will of God.
Editor: What are the specific gifts?
Bishop Vásquez: They are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord –– the seven gifts. Sometimes we use different names for them -– like for fortitude, we may use courage or we may use awe for fear of the Lord. We may use different terms, but all of them are about how the Christian carries out the mission of the church in the world. They are given to us so that we in turn become servants of the world. They are not given to us for the purpose of keeping them for ourselves. With the help of these gifts, we are to go out into the world and proclaim the Good News.
In the Catholic Church, we have always highlighted these gifts particularly during the sacraments of baptism and of confirmation. Baptism is the beginning of this life with Christ. The Holy Spirit that is given to us in baptism tells us very clearly that we are a child of God and we are given the grace to become truly united with Christ in his death and his Resurrection. Then at confirmation, our baptism is confirmed or strengthened. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For by the sacrament of confirmation, (the baptized) are more perfectly bound to the church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.”
Every year, I visit our parishes and confirm many young people. One of my main messages to the youth is that these gifts are given to us not only for our own good but most importantly for the good of the whole church. Another important element of the sacrament of confirmation is the anointing. I ask the students, When we hear the name – Jesus Christ – what does “Christ” mean? Some think it is a last name; some of them define it as Son of God or Savior or Redeemer, but specifically “Christ” means the anointed one. Jesus was anointed to begin his ministry and mission. The Spirit comes upon him and he begins to proclaim the Good News and undertake his public ministry. He proclaims Good News to the poor; he heals the blind and restores the lame and frees the captives. Miracles begin to happen – miracles are signs of the Spirit’s activity in the world. During the sacrament of confirmation, we receive and are anointed with the same Spirit of Jesus. Not a different Spirit, not a lesser Spirit, it is the same Spirit.
Editor: As we mature in our faith after confirmation, how can we better cultivate the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
Bishop Vásquez: We have to be open, continually open, to the gift of the Spirit. We have to work on our relationship with God. If we look at the sacraments as only static moments, then we miss the whole point. The sacraments are really about our relationship with God and deepening that relationship. Every sacrament is a personal and deep encounter with Jesus Christ. The sacrament of baptism helps us to know that when we are baptized Jesus is there. When we are confirmed the same Spirit that anointed Christ is given to us and when we receive the Holy Eucharist, we receive Jesus Christ.
All of the sacraments are about encountering Christ and being conformed to him. Sacraments are not magic. Each sacrament is a personal encounter with the Risen Lord who then helps us become faithful disciples. A disciple follows Jesus every day. There are still struggles, there is still suffering – this is part of discipleship. In our day to day living, the sacraments strengthen us so that our relationship with God deepens.
Editor: What is your prayer for us as we conclude the Easter season and move into Ordinary Time?
Bishop Vásquez: On Easter Sunday Jesus comes to his disciples in the Upper Room though the doors are locked. Jesus breathes on them, gives them the gift of the Spirit and gives them the authority to forgive sins. He says to them “Peace be with you.” May we experience the peace of the Resurrection and also allow ourselves to be filled with joy (one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit).
As Pope Francis says in the opening paragraph of Evangelii Gaudium, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”
On Pentecost as soon as the apostles receive the gift of the Spirit, they go out to tell everybody about Jesus Christ. That is one of the things that happens once we receive the Spirit, we can’t keep the message for ourselves. It is a joyful message. It brings about conversion, and it changes hearts, which is what Pope Francis has been telling us. I pray that we will abandon our fears and strengthened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we will proclaim Christ throughout the world.