My sister asked this question in a letter to me back when she prepared for Confirmation twenty-four years ago. The question seized my imagination, but I knew my own experience to be insufficient as an answer. Writing my parents, my aunts and uncles and friends, we assembled over fifteen answers to the question, all of which boiled down to the means by which God taps on the heart and invites us to engage the world.
It can be by speaking out against an injustice, or by serving someone in need. If we look to the Acts of the Apostles, they brimmed with enthusiasm to share with anyone who would listen, the Christ they knew. The acts of the apostles, healing, casting out demons, these visible signs were secondary to telling people about Jesus and inviting them into relationship with God. An experience with the Holy Spirit involves inviting others into relationship with God, via secondary acts.
How do we know when the Holy Spirit speaks to us? We can know by the acts themselves and the fruits. If what we do brings wisdom, knowledge, inspires courage, encourages fortitude, invokes awe of the Lord, provides good counsel or aids in right judgment, it is from the Holy Spirit. If the effects of our actions bring about truth, healing, hope, peace, mercy, justice or joy, we’ve been directed by the Paraclete.
If we look again at the Acts of the Apostles, we can see the gifts and the fruits on vivid display, as “a sense of awe came over everyone, and the apostles performed many wonders and signs. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they shared with anyone who was in need…” (Acts 2:44). Imagine a world on fire with people filled, brimming with the Holy Spirit. It’s not an imaginary construct, it’s a potential holy reality. One we’ve been given at our own experience of Pentecost, via the sacrament of Confirmation. We are Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Jesus wishes were already ablaze.
So how do we go about fulfilling Christ’s cry for us? I go back to that question time and again — what is an experience with the Holy Spirit? Call out and ask the Holy Spirit to “Come and fill the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle their hearts with your love” and let ourselves be tapped on the heart by the third person of the Trinity.