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I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Our gifts from the Holy Spirit are to build up the Church

The readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time demonstrate for us that God's call of mankind is truly transformative. The first reading begins: "The Lord said to me: you are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory."

Scripture scholars aren't certain of the identity of the servant. It may be Isaiah, or it may be Israel. We know that God has called Isaiah to be His servant, as He also called Israel to be His servant. However, isn't it true that He has called us also to be His servants?

"Now the Lord has spoken, who formed me as His servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to Him and Israel gathered to Him...." Beginning with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God has called the patriarchs to be servants. He has also called the nations that have descended from them to be His servants. Finally, He calls us similarly.

He continues: "It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant ... I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." He calls us to be a light to the nations, be it in our families, in our communities, in our parishes or in the workplace. When we respond to His call, He extends this call to others through us because they are attracted to Him by the fruits they see in our lives.

Those who are attracted to the goodness they see in our lives know that we cannot be the authors of that goodness. The good they see in us moves them to search for the source of the same goodness for their lives.

The second reading is a concrete demonstration of the nature of this call. Paul tells us that he has been "called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God." It wasn't Paul's idea to give up persecuting the Church. It was Christ who asked: "Why are you persecuting me?" Christ called him away from persecuting His Church to be a great evangelizer of nations.

Certainly, the John the Baptist depicted in the Gospel was called from his mother's womb to be the forerunner of our Savior. "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, 'A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'"

John the Baptist was called by God to prepare the way for our savior. "I did not know Him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that He might be made known to Israel." John the Baptist, through his fasting and preaching prepared the way for Jesus and foretold that this Jesus would "baptize with the Holy Spirit."

John acknowledges there is something greater than his water baptism. The baptism of Jesus confers the fullness of the Holy Spirit. That by no means states that when one is baptized, the fullness of the Holy Spirit has been activated in that person. The actual experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit may come much later in life, and it may come with charismatic manifestations.

At the present time there are over 100 million Catholics who have had the spiritual experience of the charisms that flow from the baptism of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost Sunday in 2008, Pope Benedict said, "Today I would like to extend this invitation to everyone: Let us rediscover, dear brothers and sisters, the beauty of being baptized in the Holy Spirit."

Since we are all called from our mother's womb to become baptized followers of Jesus Christ, and since He sends us out to proclaim the good news of salvation, does it not behoove us to ask Him how we can best carry out his wish? Isn't it His desire to inundate us with the best gifts He has?

There is no one living on the face of the earth who is incapable of receiving more gifts from the Holy Spirit. It was the charismatic gifts that inflamed and energized Peter and the Apostles after Pentecost. It was the charismatic gifts that attracted so many people to become Christians in the early Church.

These gifts are not given for an individual's personal good, but rather to build up the Church. The more we open ourselves up to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the more we want to pray, the more we want to read the Scriptures, the more we want to reach out to share the Gospel's joy with others.

Who, on the face of the earth today, perhaps radiates more joy than anyone else? Is it not Pope Francis? Look at his lifestyle. He is constantly joyous, encouraging everyone to reach out to the fringes of society to share our hope, love and joy with them. Why is Pope Francis being criticized so much? It goes with the territory. Was not Jesus also criticized for eating with tax collectors and drunkards?

Perhaps, too, His very lifestyle bothers some critics. If you want to see the source of Pope Francis' joy, then read his Joy of the Gospel. Recently a good friend of Pope Francis, the cardinal from Brazil, asked Pope Francis why he speaks out so much more today than when he was in Buenos Aires, and Pope Francis replied, "It is the Holy Spirit!"

Implicitly, this Gospel reading exhorts us to receive from Jesus the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is a gift from Jesus. Ask Him for it. He wants to change our lives. 

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