Why do we begin the school year with the Mass of the Holy Spirit? My answer is simple: education is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Through the inspiration and aid of the Holy Spirit, we are able to learn, teach and inspire others in school. Every one is given the power to participate in this specific mission of education. We become God’s instrument for what St. Ignatius called, the work to “save souls.”
To explain this thesis, let me relate the seven spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit to the five “Cs” of the mission and vision of the Ateneo High School (Don’t worry, my dear blog readers who are not from AHS, this article remains relevant.).
There are seven spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit, namely, wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.
The first three are about our intellectual life: Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge.
Wisdom is about knowing where we want to go in our lives and what to do with it. It is usually called our life’s Vision. Wisdom enables us to articulate our vision, and to judge our actions whether or not we are moving towards that end. Wisdom helps us see our personal vision in the light of the end of our journey — the Beatific Vision which is the time we finally meet God face to face.
St. Ignatius has always been very clear with the purpose of our lives. He wrote it in the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises. He said:
We are “created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means, to save [our] souls. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for [us] and that they may help [us] in prosecuting the end for which [we are] created.”
The Mission-Vision statement of the Ateneo High School says,
It “forms young persons who have an intimate and faithful relationship with Christ. It develops in its students competence in every aspect, compassion for others, a conscience to discern right from wrong, and a commitment to serve the country and the global community.”
With these two goals in mind, wisdom helps us judge which activities to keep and which activities to discard.
Understanding is the means to reach the above goals. We cannot reach these goals unless we have a mental grasp of things around us. We cannot judge a particular action vis-à-vis our vision unless we are able to comprehend relations between particulars. Through understanding the specific laws of science and mathematics and comprehending the principles of art, religion and literature, we are able to draw crucial conclusions that affect lives.
Knowledge is an awareness or understanding of someone or something. Examples are facts and figures, information and skills. It can be practical and/or theoretical. Thus, our knowledge of ourselves can help us glean God’s purposes in our lives. For example, my self-knowledge (gifts and challenges, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, etc.) can help me choose which courses in college suit me, and which courses do not.
Let’s bring the three together concretely. For example, we know the nature of the West Valley Fault. We know that it is one of the two fault segments of the Valley Fault System that runs through the cities of Marikina, Pasig and Muntinlupa. We know that this fault is capable of producing large-scale earthquakes with a magnitude of 7 and above. Understanding the nature of an earthquake and where it usually strikes, we have decided to fortify our former buildings, namely, David, Pacquing and Fermin Halls. These structures are closest to the faultline, especially David Hall which is around 17 meters away. Thus, we have decided to evacuate all of the Junior High School community to the Bellarmine Hall. Understanding the relationship between snippets of knowledge (eg. faults, earthquakes, etc.), we are able to make decisions for our safety. We are able to “save souls.”
Thus these three gifts of the Holy Spirit make us competent in whatever we do in relation to Christ’s call for us to “save souls.”
Learning therefore is the work of the Holy Spirit. Education is the Holy Spirit helping us understand the world around us so that we can respond accordingly to God’s invitation to serve others and the world.
The next gifts are about how we live our lives according to how God relates with us.
Counsel helps us judge how best to act in any given situation. The Holy Spirit enables us to acquire a sense of what is right and what is wrong. It aids us to pursue what is right and just. The gift of counsel feeds and forms our conscience.
Fortitude enables us to act on what is right. To follow through our commitments, we need courage. To differentiate courage from fortitude, Scott P. Richert wrote,
“While fortitude is sometimes called courage, it goes beyond what we normally think of as courage. Fortitude is the virtue of the martyrs that allows them to suffer death rather than to renounce the Christian Faith.”
Fortitude then is the greatER courage required in following Christ, even to the point of death.
For the Atenean who has undergone immersion programs, these two gifts become very important. Having compassion for the poor and a well-formed conscience, Ateneans will now commit themselves to the work of justice and peace.
The two last two gifts are about our love for God. These gifts of the Holy Spirit conform us to Christ. They make Christ the center of our lives, thus forming us to become like Christ in the world today.
Piety is the “willingness to worship and to serve God” (Richert). Practices of popular piety, which includes traditional prayer, processions and liturgy, are external expressions of this willingness to worship and serve God. Piety takes that willingness beyond the sense of duty, so that we desire to worship God and to serve Him, not out of fear, but out of love, like the way we honor and obey our parents.
Fear of the Lord
Fear of the Lord is always misunderstood. It is not a fear that is unpleasant. It is this kind of fear: that we are afraid to offend God who loves us. It is the same thing when we truly love our parents: we are afraid to offend them because they love us. It is this gift that nurtures the desire NOT to offend God in any way, after all that He has done for us. Thus the ‘fear of the Lord’ is borne of gratitude.
Romans 8:26 tells us that prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit: “In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”
The Ateneo Basic Education envisions its graduates to “have been formed to contribute positively and concretely to nation-building, as change catalyst, strategic thinker and culture shaper… and to see himself/herself as a steward of creation, sensitive to different cultures and people, and ready to engage the globalized community.”
If this is so, then we all need the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to fulfill this noble mission of education.
Education is noble because it is of God.
Note: This homily also appears in my other blog because it is about the work of formation which I do at the Ateneo High School.