You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses (Acts 1:8).
Last July, Pope Benedict XVI issued his annual Letter to Young People. This letter, setting the tone for World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, is encouraging, challenging, and exciting. Why? Because in it, the Holy Father expressed his deep desire that young people—indeed, all of us—will experience the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
The “Principal Agent” of Salvation History. Benedict begins his letter by looking through the Bible to see how active the Holy Spirit has always been—leading up to the great day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out on all believers. And what happened on that first Pentecost? The Holy Spirit “renewed the Apostles from within, filling them with power that would give them courage to go out and boldly proclaim that 'Christ has died and is risen!' Freed from all fear, they began to speak openly with self-confidence.”
This outpouring of the Spirit inspired and emboldened the apostles to build the early church. And guess what? This is supposed to be our experience as well! As Benedict said, “I want to invite you to come to know the Holy Spirit more deeply at a personal level. This is the only way we can experience the full blessings available to us as children of God.”
Theology 101. Let's take a few moments to establish some facts. Let's call it “Theology 101.” If you were baptized as an infant, you probably did nothing more than cry. But while you were crying, God was doing a whole lot more. He was declaring you as his own child. He was opening the gates of heaven for you. He was pouring “every spiritual blessing” into your heart (Ephesians 1:3). And most important, he was removing the stain of original sin.
Long ago, St. Paul talked about original sin. He said, “Through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all” (Romans 5:12). He also said, “Through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners” (5:19). So sin brought death—spiritual death—and so to make things right again, Jesus said that we needed to be “born from above,” or “born of water and Spirit” (John 3:3,5).
Born of water and Spirit—that's exactly what happened when you were baptized. When water was poured over you, the stain of original sin was washed away, and you were given a whole new life. You were “born from above.” That new life came to you as a tiny seed needing to be nurtured. Think about it: A baby has everything you have, but a baby can do hardly anything. As the baby grows up, everything that was once potential becomes actualized, and he or she can do more and more. That's what God wants to do inside of us. He wants us to develop our baptismal gifts as we grow up in our faith. And what's even better, he wants to help us along the way.
So if the seed gets watered and fertilized, it has a chance to grow. But there is one more thing it needs: the sun. And that “sun” is the Holy Spirit. He shines the light of God's love and warmth onto us. He shines the good news on us, telling us how great Jesus is, why he died for us, and how he wants us to live.
So many young people all over the world want to be good. So many of you try your hardest, too. Your intentions are so often very good. But temptation and the desires of evil can make it very difficult to fulfill these good intentions. The plain truth is that without the Holy Spirit's help, it is very hard to please God.
A Battleground. Did you know that there is a battle going on right now for your very soul? It's a battle between good and evil, and the stakes are high. But you don't have to fight alone! You have the Holy Spirit, you have the Eucharist, and you have each other.
St. Paul's own life gives us a great example of how God wants us to win this battle. One of Paul's early traveling companions, named John Mark, got intimidated by the challenge of preaching and decided to leave Paul and Barnabas right in the middle of a missionary journey. Over time, however, the Holy Spirit helped John Mark overcome his fear, and he asked to come back and join Paul and Barnabas.
Barnabas was ready to accept him, but Paul refused. Barnabas could see that John Mark had grown up and deserved a second chance. Paul, however, dug his heels in. His “once a coward always a coward” approach was too harsh and too stubborn, and it led to a split between Paul and Bar-nabas. Isn't that sad? Why couldn't they resolve their disagreement? Why was Paul so hard-nosed? Why didn't Barnabas try to find a compromise? Because the power of sin works hard to divide us and to prevent us from building the kingdom of God.
In the end, Barnabas proved to be right. John Mark went on to write the first gospel—the Gospel of Mark. It seems, too, that Mark and Paul resolved their differences over time (2 Timothy 4:11). This is one example of how Paul eventually won a battle going on in his mind. And this example tells us that by winning the battles we face every day, we will eventually win the war for our souls. Situations like this argument with Barnabas gave the Holy Spirit—and probably Paul's brothers and sisters in Christ—the chance to help Paul see where he was wrong and to help him to be changed a little bit more into the image of Jesus.
We can all get stubborn or prideful. We can also commit a lot of other sins. The point is, in our minds we have gifts and virtues, and we have a lot of junk. It's the Holy Spirit's goal to help us increase our gifts and virtues, while Satan's goal is to trap us in the sin and the junk that separates us from God and each other. It's up to us to try to get rid of the ways of sin and take on instead the way of Jesus—the way of peace and love, honesty and respect, kindness and compassion (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Become What You Eat. If the great St. Paul needed to make changes, it stands to reason that we do too. Paul needed the Holy Spirit, and so do we. How do you think Paul finally saw that his attitude toward Mark was too harsh? For that matter, how do you think he was able to do all that work, like preaching in so many cities and starting all those churches? How do you think he was able to teach and write all that deep stuff about God? Because he learned how to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
What was Paul's secret? He had a deep love for the Eucharist and for prayer. Paul told the Corinthians that our prayerful disposition when we receive the Eucharist is of paramount importance. He even explained that the reason why many among them were weak or sick was because of their lack of reverence for the body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:29-30).
It's the same for us. If you want to have a deep and living relationship with Jesus, you really can. All you have to do is seek, with all your heart, to let what you eat at Mass change you into Jesus. All you have to do is come to the table of the Lord hungry! He will do the rest of the work. All of us will face different battles, but with the grace that comes from the Eucharist, we can know victory!
People on a New Pentecostal Mission. The Holy Spirit is asking all of us—but especially you young people—to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The call to evangelize is at the heart of the Holy Spirit's work. God wants all of his children to be with him in heaven, and he is calling all of us to spread the good news that heaven is available to everyone who believes and is baptized.
In the same vein, Pope Benedict XVI has asked each one of us to evangelize at least one person this year. He has asked all of us to “invoke the Holy Spirit, confidently asking God for the gift of a new Pentecost for the Church.” As you know, at the first Pentecost, thousands of people were converted to Christ and were filled with the Holy Spirit. All Peter did was speak about Jesus, and the Holy Spirit went to work (Acts 2:40-41).
So let's all pray for World Youth Day. Let's also pray with Pope Benedict for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Let's pray for an outpouring that convinces us to nourish the seed of baptism in us. At the same time, let's pray for an outpouring of the Spirit that sets a fire in the heart of every young person who will be at the World Youth Day in Sydney. And finally, let's pray for our own parishes: that the Holy Spirit will come upon us so that we all can have a Pentecostal outpouring in our own homes and neighborhoods. Who knows what God is prepared to do? Maybe we too will see thousands come to Jesus!