According to Catechism of the Catholic Church, God is Love, but “because we are dead or at least wounded by sin, the first effect of the gift of love is the forgiveness of our sins. The communion of the Holy Spirit in the Church restores to the baptized the divine likeness lost by sin” (733-724).
Thus, at baptism, we receive the mercy of God through the Holy Spirit, and our sins and the punishment due to them are taken away. When we are baptized as children, the original sin that we inherit from Adam is removed. If we are baptized as an older child or an adult, it means that in addition to original sin, our personal or actual sins are also taken away.
Instead, we receive the gift of sanctifying grace, which the earnest Christian seeks to increase throughout his life so that as he nears the end of his time on earth, he may possess an abundance in the life of grace and go with confidence towards meeting his Lord. The Catechism goes on to speak of this abundant life:
“He therefore gives us the ‘pledge’ or the ‘firstfruits’ of our inheritance: the very life of the Holy Trinity, which is to love as ‘God [has] loved us. This love (the “charity” of 1 Cor. 13) is the source of new life in Christ, made possible because we have received the “power” of the Holy Spirit.
“By this power of the Spirit, the children of God can bear much fruit. He who grafted us onto the true vine will cause us to bear “the fruit of the Spirit: … love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control”. (735-736)
We “love by the Spirit” and we “walk by the Spirit”. We see the mercy, love and power of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the saints, transforming them into the love of Christ. Among the best examples is the life of Saint Peter, the leader of the apostles and the first pope.
Peter was a fisherman who lived in Galilee. He was married, although Scripture never tells us of his wife. He may have been a widower when he joined the company of Christ. Peter, then called Simon, became totally devoted to Our Lord after witnessing the miraculous catch of fish. Christ called him to his side with the words,
Mark 1:17 “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Peter had a great love for the Lord, but he was brash and often embarrassed. Such a moment occurred when Christ came walking on the water to the apostles. Peter also volunteered to walk on water, but within a few steps his faith failed and he began to sink. Jesus saved him, leading the apostles to declare,
Matthew 14:33 “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Peter also witnessed a miraculous scene at the Transfiguration, and rather than remain in silent contemplation, he had to cry out,
Luke 9:33 “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.
Peter initially refused to let Christ wash his feet at the Last Supper, “You shall never wash my feet” (John 13:8). He pledged to die with Christ (“Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you,” he said; Matthew 26:35) but, when the guard arrived, after a brief scene of wildly swinging a sword and cutting a servant’s ear, he soon flees with the others:
John 18:10 “So Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. The name of the slave was Malchus.
Mark 14:40 “And they all forsook him and fled.”
He followed Christ at a distance to the place of his passion, but denied Christ three times when the servants identified him (Matthew 26:69-74, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55- 62 and John 18:15-18).
But despite his long list of failures, Peter also had his good times in the gospel. In John 6, when Christ explicitly speaks of eating His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, many walked away because they could not accept this teaching. Jesus looked at the apostles to see if they too would leave, and Peter answered wonderfully for himself and the others (except Judas):
John 6:68-69 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we believed, and heard that you are the Holy One of God.
Also in Matthew 16, when Jesus questions his apostles by asking them: “Who do men think is the Son of man? it was Pierre who was able to give his magnificent answer,
Matthew 16:16 “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
It was then that he received the blessing of Christ and the keys of the papacy in the Church:
Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:17-19)
Peter was called, along with Saint Paul, to be one of the first great evangelists of the early Church. Christ personally trained him for three years, and once Christ had died, risen and ascended into heaven, it was time for him to send the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire.
Acts 2:3 “And there appeared to them tongues like fire, pouring out and resting on each one of them.”
And, these men who had previously been weak, fearful and fickle, were now lions to the faith. Peter preached his first two sermons and 5,000 people joined the Church. If only we had a number even a fraction of today’s!
Peter still made mistakes, but it was the abundant life of the Spirit that brought him back to true and clear thought and finally gave him the courage to witness to his faith through his martyrdom.
We must want an abundant life
We are not the apostles, so how do we get that abundant life that motivated Peter and the others to go out and convert the world? We must want it with all our heart. We must ask it as Jesus teaches us in the Gospel of Luke:
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given unto you; Seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and it will be opened to him who knocks. Which father among you, if his son asks for a fish, instead of a fish will give him a snake; or if he asks for an egg, will he give him a scorpion? If, therefore, you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:9-13)
We must want the Holy Spirit. We must ask, seek and knock for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives in a powerful way. We will receive his mercy, his love and his power. When we do, then we are “baptized in the Holy Spirit.”
Fire, power, purpose, love, joy and peace are the essence of a Christian’s life. When you have this, you can expect and experience miracles. The Catechism concludes:
“Because the Holy Spirit is the anointing of Christ, it is Christ who, as Head of the Body, pours out the Spirit among his members to nourish, heal and organize them in their mutual functions, their give life, send them to bear witness and associate them with his offering to the Father and his intercession for the whole world… these “powerful works of God”, offered to believers in the sacraments of the Church, bear fruit in the new life in Christ according to the Spirit (739-740)
The Mighty Works of God
Thus, we must bear fruit in the new life of Christ according to the Spirit. We have the sacraments to help us, especially the two that we can receive frequently, Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. In reconciliation we experience God’s mercy, and in the Eucharist he gives us spiritual nourishment for our life journey.
So let us be grateful to God for the gift of our baptism and the beginning of the life of the Spirit in us. If we have lost this gift through a serious sin, let’s make a good confession and start over. Let us also be like Peter, letting the Holy Spirit transform us little by little in the love of Christ. And finally, use the sacraments regularly as a way to increase the presence and influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.