The Catholic faith is all about relationships, and the Holy Spirit is at the heart of those relationships, according to Carlo Stebbings, director of religious education for the Auburn parishes of St. Mary, St. Alphonsus, Sacred Heart and Ss. Martha and Mary, as well as St. Ann in Owasco.
From the very beginning, God has always desired an intimate relationship with his people, which is why he sent his son into the world, Stebbings said.
“Jesus knew he couldn’t stay on Earth forever, so he promises to send the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, and in this way God is living in each one of us, in a real way, for that intimate, deep relationship that he’s always desired,” Stebbings said.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles on Pentecost, which the Catholic Church celebrates each year on the seventh Sunday after Easter. The solemnity of Pentecost, which this year falls on May 20, presents Catholics with an opportunity to reflect upon and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives, Stebbings said.
“Traditionally we think of Pentecost as the birthday of the church, but we need to celebrate it in our lives as well because the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the apostles in the upper room on that day of Pentecost, and we receive the Holy Spirit ourselves,” he said.
There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. At baptism God gives us these gifts, which are sealed and strengthened through the sacrament of confirmation, so that we might use them as tools to help us develop our relationship with him, Stebbings said. Catholics frequently need to rely on the gift of fortitude or courage, for instance, to help them live out their faith in today’s world, he said.
“The gift of wisdom especially is one of those things I always encourage young people to seek and use because there are so many temptations that pull us away from God,” Stebbings said. “We need that gift of wisdom to help us discern what is going to be good, holy and true versus what is going to be pulling us away to sin.”
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are different from the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which according to the catechism are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity. These fruits are visible signs of a relationship with God, Stebbings explained. It’s not uncommon for a person who is enduring great suffering to still exhibit great joy, for example, and this joy is an outward sign of that individual’s deep relationship with God and a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in that person’s life, he said.
“Charity is another one. People in a relationship with God just give back — back to the church, back to the community. It just becomes a part of who they are. It’s an outward sign of that relationship,” he added.
The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit play a significant role in Catholics’ lives, so it’s fitting to celebrate them at Pentecost, Stebbings said. Many Catholics honor this feast by wearing red — a color traditionally associated with the Holy Spirit — to church on Pentecost. Their celebration does not have to end when they come home from Mass, however, said Stebbings, who encourages Catholics to take some time to reflect upon the Holy Spirit’s gifts and fruits in their own lives, and to share their reflections within their families.
Another good exercise, Stebbings suggested, would be for families to assign one of the 12 gifts of the Holy Spirit to each of the next 12 months.
“They could pick one and make it a challenge for the family to live it out each month,” he added.