We can learn not only from the Apostles' teachings, but even from their situation.
Sheltered in placed. Cut off from friends. Terrified by an external threat. Apprehensive about the future. Today’s Catholics have a tremendous amount in common with the apostles after our Lord’s ascension into heaven. After nine days, the apostles, set alight with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, burst forth from their lockdown on a mission to convert the world.
It seems that this is where the similarities between the apostles’ situation and ours ends. As shelter in place orders expire, we step gingerly from our homes, still not freed from anxiety and, in many places, still not able to partake of the sacraments. Rather than blaze with the Spirit, we feel burned by the coronavirus. Rather than proclaim Christ, we complain of our lot.
But we do have one thing in common with the apostles too easy to overlook: if we have received the sacrament of confirmation, we have flowing within us the same Spirit the apostles received. Confirmation is our Pentecost that fortifies us with the Spirit’s seven gifts—knowledge, understanding, counsel, wisdom, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord.
So long as we remain in the state of grace, we can call upon these gifts whenever we desire – when we have an occasion to proclaim the faith, or whenever our faith is challenged. This is how we imitate the apostles, even if our tiny contributions do not make the same dramatic marks on the world.
For centuries Catholics have anticipated Pentecost with a novena to pray for the coming of the Spirit. This year, as we pray, here are nine actions, tailored for our unique circumstances, which put into action the grace of confirmation we already have.
Read the Old Testament. As Peter offered the Church’s first ever homily on Pentecost morning, he cited the Old Testament that Christ had fulfilled. We cannot fully appreciate our salvation apart from its scriptural roots in ancient Israel. In these days, we may profit from reading the Book of Joshua, which recounts Israel’s dramatic entrance into the promised land. As we read, we can make God’s admonition to Joshua our own: “Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Remember your baptism. After Peter spoke, the people were “cut to the heart” and asked what they should do. “Repent and be baptized,” declared Peter. We who already have been baptized possess a permanent character on our souls that marks us for Christ. By baptism we have God for our Father and Christ for our brother. In the face of tribulation, we are consoled knowing that whatever befalls us, we ultimately belong to Him.
Examine your conscience: The repentance that Peter calls for is not a one-time event, but a daily one. In this time when confessions are not widely available, we must hold ourselves accountable for our sins and beg God for His mercy.
Call someone you have not spoken with for a while. Ignited by the Spirit, the apostles went forth and announced Christ to a world yet to know Him. We can bring Christ’s peace to someone with a simple call to say, “I have been thinking of you and praying for you.”
Find a creative way to witness to Christ. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church because it sent forth the first witnesses of Christ to convert the world. We can witness even from our homes by placing an image of Jesus as the Divine Mercy on our doors or the cross from our windows.
Pray the rosary. Awaiting Pentecost, the apostles devoted themselves to prayer together with Mary, the mother of God. As children, we instinctively fly to our mothers in times of distress. To persevere through our current distress, praying the rosary puts us in the lap of Mary, our mother, who shows us better than anyone how to center our lives on Jesus.
Pick an apostle patron
Pray to an apostle whose story resonates with you. Has the economic shutdown cut your work and income? Pray to St. Matthew, the former tax collector. Are you having trouble recognizing God’s providence in these moments? Pray to St. Philip, who boldly identified Jesus as the prophet early on, only to be reprimanded by Him at the Last Supper for failing to understand. The apostles were ordinary, even bumbling, human beings, not special of their own right, but made so by the Spirit. With God’s grace, we, too, can be transformed.
Let the Spirit teach you
Call on the intellectual gifts of the Holy Spirit. Baptism gave us the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which confirmation later strengthened in us. Four pertain to the intellect: knowledge, understanding, counsel, and wisdom. Ask the Spirit to help you see God’s will for you in the midst of this pandemic and in going forward from it.
Be not afraid
Conquer fear. The Holy Spirit gives us fortitude to live our faith amidst the trials of life. The uncertainty of the present moment can stoke fear and despair. The Spirit helps us overcome these temptations when we remember that Catholics cannot escape the cross, which was the means whereby Christ conquered the world. On Pentecost, let us pray, filled with the Spirit’s fire, that most ironic of prayers: “Hail, O cross, our only hope!”
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism.