By Anthony J. Digmann
Special to The Witness
What is the greatest gift you have received? Perhaps the most likely answer is the gift of another person, such as a spouse, family member or friend. Pope Saint John Paul II often repeated the church’s teaching: “Man…cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (GS, 24). This was a key theme of his increasingly popular Theology of the Body.
To give of self is also an imitation of God who is a gift of self in his own Trinitarian being—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—but also to us. Usually our focus is on Christ as the primary example of God’s selfless love for humanity. However, we miss the fullness of God himself and his love for us if we do not consider the role of the Holy Spirit as well.
This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, which means “50th day” following Easter. This holiday was originally a Jewish celebration 50 days after Passover. In the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about the Holy Spirit descending upon the Apostles and filling them, as Jesus had promised. They were emboldened to preach the truth of Christ and give of themselves to contribute to the mission of the church. The mission of the church is none other than the mission of Christ himself, the salvation of souls and establishment of the Kingdom of God.
God is continually making a gift of himself, pouring himself out for us, and calling us to take up this approach toward others. This is the transforming power of God, which is evident in the life of Christ and the saints. This outpouring took on a new dimension at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit’s life and power illuminated the early church and has continued thereafter.
One of the most profound encounters with the Holy Spirit is that found in the sacrament of confirmation, appropriately celebrated around Pentecost. I am blessed with the opportunity to teach sacramental theology to the 101 sophomores attending Beckman Catholic High School in Dyersville this year, most of whom were recently confirmed by Archbishop Jackels. In my time with these students, I share with them the following story of the Holy Spirit working in my life.
About three years ago a sophomore asked if I noticed any change after being confirmed. Always open and honest with my students, I could not think of any concrete examples of how it had changed, so I essentially said, “no.” As I later reflected on this disappointing answer, I realized how wrong I was and how blind I had been to the working of the Holy Spirit in the 13 years since my confirmation. I soon returned to class and shared that my confirmation and the working of the Spirit had entirely changed my life, yet I had not noticed until this question prompted deeper reflection.
As a mostly apathetic, dutiful 17-year- old Catholic, I recall questioning whether I even wanted to be confirmed. I was only moderately interested in my faith, and I felt as if it was somewhat dishonest of me to go through the motions of the sacrament with minimal desire, understanding and commitment. Whatever minimal consent I brought to the sacrament, God amplified it beyond measure.
Looking back, I now realize that the months following my confirmation involved the kindling of a passion for Christ and the Catholic Church through seemingly unimportant and unrelated relationships and experiences. These involved dating a Baptist girl, intense discussions with friends about the purpose of life and existence of God, and the culmination of it all with the sacrament of reconciliation at a retreat in the fall of my senior year. Coming out of that experience, I had a burning desire for truth. After an extended time of questioning, studying and prayer, I found myself repeatedly convinced of the truths of the Catholic faith and willingly laid down my life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Now almost double the age when I was confirmed, I am beginning to see how pivotal my confirmation was in fully initiating me into the Catholic faith; it was a Pentecost event. The Spirit filled me, gradually melted my cold heart and set it aflame for the Lord. While my experience was not as immediate or dramatic as the Apostles’ at Pentecost, the effect has been similar—I have become a small vessel pouring out the ocean of God’s love, grace and truth into the world, all guided and fueled by the Holy Spirit. Though it has taken me too long to recognize, God’s gift of himself through the Holy Spirit is definitely one of the greatest I have received. Responding to this gift by giving of myself in return has helped me both find myself and encounter God.
Anthony Digmann, MA Theology, is a Catholic author, speaker, educator and video producer. He is a member of the theology faculty at Beckman Catholic High School in Dyersville. Visit his author & speaker website at anthonydigmann.com and his video production website at capturethisvideoproductions.com.
Photo courtesy of Catholic News Service/Crosiers