We recently celebrated Pentecost, the feast that commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus’ followers after he ascended into heaven. It is one of the most important events in all of salvation history, but it is not always easy to see what relevance it has for us today. It can easily seem like we’re just remembering something that happened two millennia ago with little or no continued significance for the modern world.
However, our Church teaches that Pentecost isn’t just a commemoration of the past; it is also a time to remember something about the present. Specifically, it is a time to remember that, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost” (CCC 1302). When we celebrate Pentecost, we’re supposed to remember that the sacrament of Confirmation gives us the same graces the first Christians received 2,000 years ago.
Gifts from the Spirit
So what does that entail? There is a lot we can say about this, but I want to focus on just one key point. When the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples, they began to preach the Gospel in other languages, and the people around them were all able to hear it in their own native tongues (Act 2:4-11). There is one verse that sums this up pretty nicely:
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4)
I was recently reading this story and reflecting on it, and this verse struck me in a way it never had before. I’ve read the story many times, but this time, I realized that this verse teaches us a really important lesson. When the disciples spoke in new languages, the Holy Spirit allowed them to preach the Gospel to people who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to hear it. They were able to bring Jesus to people whom the rest of the Church at that time was simply unable to reach.
Our Own Unique Gifts
And he does the same thing today. We all have talents and interests that allow us to reach people others cannot, and we have to use those gifts to evangelize just like the first Christians did 2,00 years ago. Let me give an example of what I mean. I have a good friend who comes from a hip-hop background, and he uses it to bring the Gospel message to teenagers who’ve had similar upbringings. He travels the country speaking at youth conferences, and he is able to reach a lot of kids that others cannot.
Most Catholic youth speakers don’t come from anything close to that kind of background, so there is a bit of a culture barrier that sometimes keeps their style of evangelization from resonating with kids who do. My friend, on the other hand, can speak to them in a way they understand because he comes from the same kind of environment they do. He grew up in that same culture, so he knows how to reach them in ways other people can’t.
That is just one example, but we all have similar sorts of gifts. Maybe we listen to a certain kind of music whose fans normally don’t believe in Jesus or even in God. Maybe we are interested in certain activities that for whatever reason most other Catholics tend to stay away from (assuming, of course, that the reason isn’t because those activities are sinful). Or maybe we can actually speak a rare language, one that comes from an area where most people are not Catholic or even Christian. Whatever it is, we all have special gifts that allow us to reach people that most other Catholics cannot, and we have to use them to help spread the Gospel just like the first disciples did at Pentecost.
Doing Our Part
Granted, this doesn’t mean that we all have to go around the country speaking in front of large crowds. It doesn’t mean that we all have to become professional missionaries and go to faraway lands to preach the Gospel to people who have never heard it before. It simply means that we have to use our gifts to evangelize in whatever ways we can.
For some, that will mean traveling to preach the Gospel. For others, it might simply mean providing an example of authentic Catholic living and being willing to talk about the faith and answer questions from people who don’t normally get to speak with faithful, knowledgeable Catholics. And for still others, it can be anything in between.
Whatever you can do with your own unique talents and interests, the most important thing is that you do something. We all need to do our part to spread the Gospel (Ad Gentes 23). The Holy Spirit has given all of us unique abilities to reach people that most other Catholics simply can’t, and we need to use those gifts to do our part in the Church’s work of evangelization.
image: Stained glass window depicting Pentecost by piosi / Shutterstock.com