6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
In today’s Gospel, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, stretches out his hand, with his fingers, and touches the leper, cleansing him of his leprosy. The gesture is filled with meaning because one of the titles of the Holy Spirit is ‘the finger of God’. As God the Son touched the leper with his hand and his fingers, he wants to touch us by sending forth his Holy Spirit into our lives to cleanse us, to purify us, and to transform us with the life of grace.
In today’s 2nd reading St. Paul sums up the whole Christian life by telling us, Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. This is what our life becomes like after we have been purified and transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit.
Today, as we prepare together as a parish for the Bishop to administer the sacrament of confirmation on April 8, I continue with the 3rd in my series of seven homilies on the fundamentals of the Catholic faith.
First I spoke about the supernatural life of grace, a sharing in God’s own life, that Jesus won for us by his death on the Cross and that comes to us through the visible means of the sacraments. In my 2nd homily I gave a summary of the seven sacraments through which we live and grow in the life of grace.
Nevertheless, we can speak of life in two ways. When we are asleep, we are still alive; but we speak of life more as the actions of life; those actions reveal the kind of life we have. When we are asleep, we might seem little different from plants; we even talk about someone who is awake, but just lying there doing nothings as ‘vegging out’. There are also actions like moving around and eating that we have in common with the other living animals. Sometimes we act on pure ‘instinct’. But those things that we do, like speaking or making things, that are results of our thinking and choosing are unique to us as human beings; they reveal our uniquely human life, a life that has its source hidden within us, in the secret sanctuary of our soul where we think and choose, for good or for ill.
So also, when we speak of the life of grace, of sanctifying grace, we have that life within us even when we are sleeping. If we have been baptized and are living in the state of grace, then even when we are asleep we are truly children of God, just as we are truly living human beings even when we sleep. Perhaps many of the baptized children of God are asleep and need to wake up, for the life of grace is revealed, both to ourselves and to others, when whatever we do, in thought, word, or deed, we do for the glory of God.
The motivation, more than anything else, reveals the life of grace within us; the motivation brings all the diverse elements of our life and action into the unity of our relationship to God, as children to our heavenly Father. That is what we see in the life of Jesus who said, My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (Jn 4:34) And, I always do what his pleasing to him, [my Father]. (Jn 8:29) And he prayed, Father, I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. (Jn 17:5)
To live the life of grace, to live as Jesus did, do everything for the glory of God, we need the help of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul writes, Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. (Rm 8:14)
When we act from ourselves, rather than from the Spirit of God, then our motivation falls short, and even though we mean well and do good after a fashion, a sort of leprosy creeps into the moral structure of our life. When we let ourselves be led by the Holy Spirit, he purifies our motivation, sets our house in order, so to speak, and so purifies us from the moral leprosy that so readily creeps into our life and actions.
The same Holy Spirit who gives us the life of grace is the one who acts within us to put that life of grace into action. He is truly the Lord, the giver of life. The Holy Spirit acts within us chiefly through his seven gifts and through the theological and moral virtues that he establishes in our soul. Through the virtues he gives to us the power to act, but through seven gifts he guides us in the use of that power and moves us to use that power.
Today I will speak about he seven gifts, later I will have to speak about the theological and moral virtues.
We learn about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit from the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Messiah, who possessed the fullness of the Holy Spirit; Isaiah prophesied: 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. (Is 11:2-3) The ‘spirit of strength’ is the same as the ‘gift of fortitude’ and the first mention of the ‘fear of the Lord’ corresponds to the gift of piety, which is how it was translated in the ancient Latin Vulgate, while the second mention is the same as the gift of the ‘fear of the Lord’.
These are gifts that belong first of all and in their fullness to Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man. When he pours out the Holy Spirit upon his Church he gave us also these gifts. So St. John writes, from his fullness we have all received. (Jn 1:16) These gifts are like ‘windows’ in the soul, beautiful stained glass windows, through which the Holy Spirit enters and fills his temple.
- Through the gift of Wisdom the Holy Spirit gives us an intimate knowledge of God through experience. He gives us to taste already in this life of the reality of God and of eternal life. This is what it means truly “to know the Lord”.
- Through the gift of Understanding he enables us to grasp the truths of the faith from the inside, their meaning and inner connection. He helps us to ‘connect the dots’. With the gift of understanding doctrine is no longer a stale teaching, but a living and life-giving word.
- Through the gift of Counsel he gives us light to judge rightly about how to put our faith into practice. He shows us the right course of action even in difficult and complex situations.
- Through the gift of Fortitude he gives us the strength to stand up for what is right and just and true, even in the most difficult and dangerous situations, even in the face of torture and death. This is the gift that belongs most of all to the sacrament of confirmation and is revealed above all the in holy martyrs who shed their blood for love of Jesus Christ.
- Through the gift of Knowledge the Holy Spirit helps us to judge rightly about things we hear and read, whether they are in conformity to the faith or not. This is the truly Catholic instinct for right faith.
- Through the gift of Piety he helps us to live in the Church as children in our heavenly Father’s house. He gives us a filial affection for God, leading us to call out ‘Abba, Father!’ Under the influence of piety, we no longer view the Church as a cold, bureaucratic ‘institution’, a human organization like any other, but we see everything and everyone as belonging to our Father’s house. In this way the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to live in the Church as in the Holy Family of Nazareth.
- Through the gift of the Fear of the Lord he fills us with a sense of God’s greatness and majesty that leads us always to be mindful of his presence, to act with reverence, and to fear offending him.
The gift of Wisdom is the highest of the gifts, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Ps 111:10) When the Holy Spirit leads us on the path to the highest wisdom, he first instills in us the gift of Holy Fear, leadings us to recognize God’s greatness and majesty and our own unworthiness and sin. This Holy Fear does not lead to despair, rather working in conjunction with the gift of Counsel, it gives us hope and confidence; it leads us, like the leper in today’s Gospel, to draw near to Jesus and say, If you will, you can make me clean.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of the work of the Holy Spirit in us, but the gift of Counsel, is evidently a very practical gift to which we should attribute great importance. During the course of our life we are continually faced with the question, “What should I do?” Often when we ask the question and often when we answer it ourselves or listen to someone else’s answer, God is not even on the radar screen. As a result we end up, with respect to the highest goal and the most important things of life, choosing blindly.
The gift of counsel enables us to choose with light from on high. “What should I do?” Often the first answer to this question is that I should turn to the Lord, should seek his light and his strength, seek the assistance of his Holy Spirit. The gift of counsel then moves us first to prayer, teaches us in prayer to seek for God and his will, and finally in answer to prayer gives us the light that we need to do everything for the glory of God.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.