Using the gifts of knowledge, reverence, fortitude Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Mar. 05, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Reflecting on Holy Spirit’s gifts

Lent is a good time to reflect practically on all of these gifts, but on three in particular: the gift of knowledge, the gift of reverence (fear of the Lord), and the gift of fortitude (courage).

The gift of knowledge which we receive in Confirmation extends to a whole array of things that are necessary and helpful to our salvation. But that gift of knowledge includes, of course, self-knowledge. And self-knowledge includes the knowledge of our sins. The gift of knowledge and the gift of fortitude (courage) are the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, moving us to receive the Sacrament of Penance (of Confession, of Reconciliation).

Thank God, I hear so many priests and people in the diocese speak with great enthusiasm of the leadership of Pope Francis! But one of the top priorities of Pope Francis is going to Confession, to receive the Sacrament of Penance.

He speaks of this more often, I believe, than did either St. John Paul the Great or Pope Benedict XVI, both of whom were very devoted to this sacrament and expressed this devotion publically many times. But, Pope Francis really hammers home the point about the importance of going to Confession -- indicating that a particular confession experience early in life was what oriented him to giving his life completely to Christ through the priesthood in the Jesuit Order.

Knowledge and fortitude lead me to know my sins and to have the guts to admit them to a priest, because this is the will of Christ. The first gift from the risen Christ to the Church was the Sacrament of Penance when, on Easter Sunday evening, Jesus breathed upon the Apostles and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit! Whose sins you forgive are forgiven. Whose sins you retain are retained!” It is the explicit will of Christ our God that we confess to a priest, who in fact is in the person of Christ, so that we really are not confessing to the priest, but to Christ through the priest, according to the explicit plan of our Risen Savior.

Penance during Lent

Pope Francis has asked all of us to give very special consideration to receiving the Sacrament of Penance during Lent and he has asked that special efforts be made to make the sacrament available. I will soon be in discussion with our priest council about this matter and I know that we will want to respond in a way appropriate to each parish. But there are so many people who have been away from the sacrament for a long time, and this is the time to come home to God’s mercy.

Praising Pope Francis for his emphasis on mercy is all well and good, and the chief vehicle for receiving the mercy of God is the Sacrament of Penance. And Pope Francis wants us to do something about that, especially during this lenten season.

So please ask the Lord to stir up in your heart the gifts of knowledge and fortitude received at Confirmation. And be sure to make a good confession before the great Easter celebration. If you have been away for a long time, all the more important it is for you to come home. For us as Christians, home means the place of God’s mercy here on earth -- the confessional -- which prepares us to be at home at the Eucharist and in the Heavenly Kingdom.

Gift of reverence

Another of the gifts of the Holy Spirit received at Confirmation is the gift of reverence, that is, fear of the Lord. That means concretely, that we are to be reverent in our behavior, and especially at Mass -- at the Eucharistic Celebration.

The tendency toward informality since the Second Vatican Council has led to a certain casual approach to things. That casual approach may seem more familiar in a world where hardly anything is done formally, but it does not embody the gift of reverence -- reverence especially in reception of Holy Communion.

I have seen individuals (who have no bad intentions) with the host still in their hand, stopping to speak to someone who is sitting up front after they received Communion. I have seen others speaking to friends on their way up the aisle to Communion. I know there are no bad intentions involved, but when people do this, they do not look as though they have approached or are about to approach the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords.

When we receive the consecrated host, we are not touching the host, or engaging in some merely symbolic act, we are touching the flesh of Jesus Christ! How important it is that the Holy Spirit stir up in our hearts the gifts of reverence to know what we are doing when we dare to touch the flesh of Christ.

In my own mind, reverence is certainly aided by reception of the body of Christ on the tongue. Communion in the hand is certainly allowed, but in fact, it is allowed by way of special permission given to bishops’ conferences that have asked for that permission.

The whole casual approach that our culture takes to so many things militates against reverence in the way we handle things. In considering this point, I was reminded of the fact that only a few years ago, we treated things like photographs with much greater care. They were more precious and it was more difficult to replicate them. We handled them with care, framed them, and stored them carefully. But technology now allows us to treat them with less care, which is understandable because they can be easily reprinted!

My point is that so much is made to be dispensable in our day that we hardly have examples of treating anything as precious. We don’t have the habit. Even our most expensive technology is dispensable. When one considers the power contained in a smartphone or a tablet, it’s remarkable to see how easily they are tossed around and handled -- because the data within is stored elsewhere and the devices can be replaced.

Given this reality, I can understand that people often, and with every good intention, decide when receiving the Eucharist in their hand, to handle it with greatest efficiency. The efficient handling of the Body of Christ does not reflect the awareness that the person is touching the flesh of Christ.

Approaching Holy Communion

During Lent, it would be wonderful for all of us to meditate as we approach Holy Communion, that we are about to touch the flesh of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, putting aside any other thought or distraction.

It is a time to call upon the Holy Spirit to stir up in us the gift of reverence, the gift of fear of the Lord, if you will. We should call on those gifts so that our reception of the sacred host is never done in a way that appears casual to us or to others.

For those who have never received Communion on the tongue, Lent would be a good time to “experiment” with this practice for the sake of achieving greater reverence. The Church in the United States has been given permission by the Holy See for the distribution of Holy Communion in the hand and that permission remains intact -- that should be very clear. But the important question at a deeper spiritual level is not simply what is permitted, but what would help me to grow in holiness and reverence as I prepare to receive the sacred host, which we know IS Jesus Christ -- present body, blood, soul, and divinity -- His very flesh and blood.

Courage, fortitude, and reverence (fear of the Lord) -- beautiful gifts of the Holy Spirit which we have received in Confirmation. How greatly would these gifts enrich our spiritual life and our lenten practice if we would but call upon them!

And please, for those reading this who might never have received the Sacrament of Confirmation, it is certainly never too late. It is urgent. And if you have not received the Sacrament of Confirmation, certainly Lent would be the perfect time to make that known to your parish priest and to plan for the reception of those wonderful gifts and graces which we all need during the challenging times in our life.

Thank you for reading this. God bless each one of you! Have a holy Lent. Praised be Jesus Christ!