“What gift do you want?” In preparation for Confirmation, my whole class gathered with Bishop Michael Kenny in an informal “meet and greet.” Since he was visiting from Juneau, Alaska, he wanted to meet us before the Confirmation and I remember that he was very personable. He told a few jokes and even shared stories about himself. Then he asked us a very pointed question: “What gift do you want?” I have to admit that my first thoughts were about the family reception following the Mass and the cards and presents which I would receive. So the Bishop continued: “The Holy Spirit is eager to give you a personal gift at Confirmation, but you have to be ready. So, what gift do you want?”
On Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the gift of the Spirit in our lives. In fact, in many ways, Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. Just as Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ, the Feast of Pentecost celebrates the moment when the Holy Spirit came to birth in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. Though the Gospel had been conceived in their hearts during Christ’s three years of preaching and healing, after the Ascension, the disciples found themselves unsteady and unsure of how to continue Jesus’ work. Gathered in the Upper Room of the Last Supper for nine days of prayers, the disciples prepared for the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Historically and theologically, Pentecost (or Shavu’ot) celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. God frees Israel from spiritual bondage with the gift of a special covenant, seven weeks after escaping slavery in Egypt. Fifty days after ascending the mount, Moses descended Sinai with the 10 commandments. The gift of the 10 commandments was not simply a list of rules to follow, but constituted the covenant of which formed the Israelites to be a special people. Thus at Pentecost, the nation of Israel was born.
Pentecost morning found Jesus’ disciples gathered to celebrate this gift of covenant and wait for the Spirit whom Jesus had promised. And just as Moses ascended Mount
Sinai in order to descend with the Torah, so, too, Christ ascended into heaven in order to send his Spirit of covenant. The Spirit’s fierce fiery flames forge the followers of Christ, forming them into a powerhouse of preaching. Ecstatically emboldened, Peter witnesses to the Gospel empowered with the gift of tongues. Speaking the “language of the Spirit,” all those who were gathered for the feast of Pentecost from difference places in the world were enlightened as the Spirit was enkindled in their hearts. The five thousand who were baptized on that day are the first of those who now tally more than 1.2 billion strong. Thus at Pentecost, the Church is born.
On this birthday of the Church, the Holy Spirit is eager to give us gifts. Bishop Kenny’s question to me applies to all of us: “What gift do you want?” Perhaps, like me, your initial response to this question is: “I’m not sure.” And if it is, the challenge is to discover how we are called and gifted by the Spirit to make a difference in the world. For this reason, I invite you to attend our Called and Gifted Workshop, which takes place on June 19-20 (see inside for more details). The goal of the workshop is to be able to recognize that God has graced each one of us with unique spiritual gifts. When we name these gifts, we can share them with our family and friends, our workplace and community. Come learn how the Spirit works in our lives and be prepared to have the Spirit enliven your life. After this weekend, you will be able to answer the question “What gift do you want?” and be empowered to put it into practice.
Today, we reconnect with the moment of our Confirmation, to live from the Spirit within us; to speak a word of wisdom and counsel, understanding and encouragement. Just as the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit were conceived in the minds and hearts of the disciples at Pentecost, we ask the Spirit to come alive in our lives. Today, we pray to be born anew from the fire of the Spirit whose flame is kindled within us.
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.