The Holy Spirit and the Sacrament of Love
by Elizabeth B. T. Russell
Elizabeth Bernadette Teresa Russell is seventeen and a junior in high school. She has been home-schooled her entire life and is the eldest in a family of eight children five boys and three girls. Her favorite school subject is literature, and her favorite pastimes are reading, writing, talking with her brothers, and watching romantic movies. She wrote on this topic because she is in love with the Holy Spirit and, next to Holy Communion, Confirmation is her favorite sacrament. This picture was taken on the day that Elizabeth was the proud sponsor for her brother on his confirmation. This paper was written for a religion class.
Christ, in His everlasting love and mercy, sends down the essence of His being in the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Spirit of God is love, and so the Holy Spirit, being the Spirit of God, is love. In baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon the individual, and fits him to know and love God; yet it is only in the Sacrament of Confirmation that the Paraclete bequeaths the fullness of His Fruits and Gifts upon the soul, enabling the soul to love fully, for love has gifted fully. Only then is the Christian ready to face the world as a mature man, capable of drawing upon every virtue in its extremity, and loving God with a full heart and mind. One receives the Holy Spirit in confirmation in a like manner to that of baptism, yet in a fuller manner, as a mature soul. The Catechism says, “Confirmation perfects baptismal grace; it is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine affiliation … and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds” (CCC 1316).
Throughout scriptures and sacred tradition, the Holy Spirit has shown undying proof of His love for humanity. At the very beginning of the book of Acts, after Christ has ascended to the Father, the Spirit descended upon the faithful in the upper room. He not only sent tongues of flame over their heads, but He inflamed their hearts with the fire of His love. They declared the works of the Lord boldly, for “Peter … lifted up his voice and addressed them, ‘Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words’” (Acts 2:14). And he went on to tell the good news, of all Christ had said and done.
Peter had “lifted up his voice” though he had been worried before, and frightened to declare the works of the Lord. He spoke to “all who dwell in Jerusalem”, not speaking in private, but addressing the whole world, for Confirmation “gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, and to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the cross” (CCC 1303) .
So, when the Spirit opened the apostles’ hearts, their fear was gone, and a purpose filled their souls: a purpose of preaching Christ and His love to the ends of the earth. Moreover, as He filled them with His love, He filled them with the means of spreading that love: for on that day, the moment after they received Him, three thousand souls were received into the Faith through their preaching. So it has continued throughout the ages. The Spirit has been passed down from the first apostles to this day so that the Christian can forever have the overwhelming, loving power of God, and can carry out his individual ministry to the greatest of his ability.
“The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). Notice that of all these, love is listed first. It is the ultimate virtue, for without it, no other is possible. Without love, one cannot be truly patient, or kind, or good; one cannot have peace, be joyful, or have faith. “So Faith, Hope, Love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is Love” (I Cor 13:13).
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39, emphasis added). Love is the greatest commandment.
Saint Paul writes to the Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Cor 13:1). He could possess every charism under the sun, but if he does not act in love, then it carries no weight. “Love is patient, and kind” (I Cor. 13:4). Thus is it before the other virtues, because without it, the other virtues cannot exist. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Cor. 13:7). Therefore, when the very person of the Trinity who is love, descends fully upon the soul, every virtue, every fruit, is given full power, and the confirmand assumes absolute maturity into the faith. “When I was a child I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man I gave up childish ways” (I Cor. 13:11).
In addition to the fruits, the Holy Spirit confers seven gifts upon the recipient of confirmation. These gifts are “wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord” (CCC 1831). Isaiah mentions these gifts, declaring their future benefits long before the Spirit of God came to man in confirmation,
And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and might,
The spirit of knowledge
And the fear of the Lord.
Confirmation bestows these seven gifts, “which render us susceptible to the workings of actual grace, which make us love the things of God, and, consequently, render us more obedient and docile to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost” (Catholic Encyclopedia: newadvent.org/cathen/07409a.htm). Actual grace is that grace that enables one to perform loving acts of spiritual weight more easily. Actual grace comes with the act, and departs after the act is over. Yet, when one is susceptible to actual grace, it becomes easier to perform such loving acts, and, eventually, such acts can become holy habits. Thus, these gifts that are strengthened at confirmation can become habits which are good and necessary to growth in the soul.
The wisdom that the Spirit bestows is not the wisdom of the world, but rather the wisdom of the after-world. The Random House College Dictionary revised edition states that wisdom is “The knowledge of what is good or right coupled with good judgment”. Yet, the spirit’s wisdom is not the good judgment of the world, but of that which is above worldly things. It is what is right in the highest sense, for it possesses the knowledge of the greatest good: God for God is goodness itself.
Understanding leads one to comprehend the things of God. That is not to say that once one receives confirmation one should completely understand God, for no one can ever really understand Him. “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways’, declares the Lord.” (Is 55:8) However, the gift of understanding enables one to realize that which God wishes to reveal to him. With the gift of understanding, the Bible, tradition, and private revelations become much clearer to comprehend than before confirmation.
“The gift of counsel springs from supernatural prudence and enables us to see and choose correctly what will help most to the glory of God and our own salvation” (Catholic Encyclopedia: www.newadvent.org/cathen/07409a.htm).
Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues, it is the virtue that “helps us to make practical judgments on what to do and what not to do” (Baltimore Catechism p. 249). Prudence, then, is a spiritual, yet natural, quality that can help one to act wisely in spiritual and worldly matters.
Yet, when the gift of counsel is received, the prudence becomes supernatural. As the Catholic Encyclopedia describes it, “The Supernatural Order is the ensemble of effects exceeding the powers of the created universe and gratuitously produced by God for the purpose of raising the rational creature above its native sphere to a God” (www.newadvent.org/cathen/14336b.htm). Meaning, then, that God assists in raising our intellects to the position next to His, so that we may best understand and, therefore, love Him. Counsel is the gift that raises the prudence already within us to the supernatural quality that “will help most to the glory of God and our own salvation.”
Fortitude is the supernatural quality that enables one to continue on even when one’s mortal and natural strength is exhausted. Athletes, when running a race, will speak of their second wind, in which, although they had been at their last breath before, they suddenly feel as strong as at the beginning. Fortitude is God’s gift of a second wind. It enables one to fight spiritual battles, regardless of one’s natural strength, for one is always in need of God’s supernatural might. Fortitude “strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life…. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause” (CCC 1808).
In the Spanish language, there are two words for the verb “to know”: conocer and saber. Saber means to know information: “I know where the library is”; while conocer means to know who someone is, personally, and intimately: “I know my mother”. The gift of knowledge imparts both these “knowings”. It assists one in having knowledge of the things of God the facts of religion, the understanding of faith. However, and far more importantly, it imparts the knowledge of God; it assists one to know God personally and intimately, apart from facts, but with the familiarity with which Mary and the saints knew and lived in communion with God. This is the enviable state of the gift of knowledge, for it is only in this state that one loves God, because if one does not know God, one can not love Him.
Piety is that gift that opens one to love and worship God with undivided devotion, no matter what the circumstances. Piety increases one’s love of God and of all that which is in relationship to God. “As by the virtue of piety man pays duty and worship not only to his father in the flesh, but also to all his kindred on account of their being related to his father so by the gift of piety he pays worship and duty not only to God, but also to all men on account of their relationship to God” (Catholic Encyclopedia: newadvent.org/summa/3121.htm).
Mankind, the saints, and the Scriptures all stand in relation to God, and thus, it is through piety that one reveres them. When one is pious, one respects the Word of God even when he does not understand it, and similarly loves and honors the saints and man, because piety increases the reverence and admiration due to God. “Hence it belongs to piety to honor the saints, and not to contradict the Scriptures whether one understands them or not” (Catholic Encyclopedia: newadvent.org/summa/3121.htm).
The final gift of the Spirit is fear of God.
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee,
I detest all my sins because of thy just punishment,
but most of all because they offend thee, my God,
who art all good, and deserving of all my love.
This is the prayer every penitent prays during the Sacrament of Confession (emphasis added). It is the prayer of true penance, for it states that one detests sins most of all because they offend God. Not because one shall be cast into the eternal pains of hell, or because the act shall be found out, or because one is under obligation to feel sorry no, one is sorry because he loves God. He fears God in the most perfect sense love.
When a parent looks kindly upon a child, and expects all and everything good from the child, but the child fails to obey them, and does wrong, the child fears the disappointment he knows will show in the eyes of his father and mother. It is this fear, the fear one receives in confirmation, which helps the children of God refrain from sin, and feel real penance when they fail to obey and love their Father.
The Sacrament of Confirmation is the completion of a Christian’s initiation into the Catholic Faith. It enables the confirmand to become a full follower of Christ who can call upon each and every gift that God has to offer. Every time he calls upon the Spirit to strengthen him, his gifts, already present within his heart, grow, and enable him to love and serve God and his fellow men to the greatest of his ability. Alone, man is weak and useless, but with God, and God’s love, “all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (New York: Image Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1994).
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 2006).
Jacques Forget. “Holy Ghost”. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910) www.newadvent.org/cathen/07409a.htm.
Baltimore Catechism Official revised edition No. 2, (Ed. Father Bennet Kelly, CP - New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp. 1962).
Joseph Sollier. “Supernatural Order”. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912) www.newadvent.org/cathen/14336b.htm.
Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas (Second and Revised Edition, 1920) translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Online edition copyright 2008 by Kevin Knight newadvent. org/summa/3121.htm.
The Random House College Dictionary revised edition (New York: Random House Inc. 1988).
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