Father Booth’s Weekly Reflection

Work of the Holy Spirit

Years ago, I was sent to a big youth conference attended by six thousand high schoolers. It was going to be a long, long weekend. I kept an open mind and hoped for the best until the conference began with ‘Christian rap music.’ The rap genre of music often promotes things contrary to the Gospel: misogyny, racism, hatred, violence, drugs, crime, etc. Baptizing rap with Christian lyrics doesn’t work because the medium carries its own message. Ever hear of Christian disco? Christian polka? There is a reason for this. Disco and polka are associated, for good or ill, with dancing, not the divine.

After about forty-five minutes of this terrible music, an event organizer asked if I would mind hearing confessions. Saved! My joy stemmed from being able to act as a priest as opposed to being a spectator at a musical train wreck. There were fifteen or so other priests and several hundred kids already lined up for confession. And the kids kept coming in droves. Over the course of that weekend, the available priests were tied up from morning to night in confession.

Somewhere between half and three quarters of those kids went to confession that weekend. As difficult as it is to get a teenager to clean his room, it can be even more difficult to encourage them to cleanse their souls by going to confession. But these kids did not need to be browbeaten or guilted into going to confess their sins. For some, this was their third confession, the first being before First Communion and the second preceding their confirmation. Others were frequent confessers while others had not been reconciled in over a year. Nevertheless, almost all gave very complete, well prepared, and sincere confessions. I don’t think I heard any of the kids give impossibly pious confessions. No, they gave true and honest confessions. Very few tried to mumble or rush past their worst sins. They wanted very much to be forgiven.

Some might say that the prospect of going to confession with an unknown priest motivated these kids to make good confessions. No, many went to their own priests. Some might say that these kids were not typical Catholic teens, products of parochial schools or home schooling. No, they were typical teens. Some might also say that the conference motivated them to confess. The conference might have been a factor, the availability of priests certainly was a factor, the desire of these young people to be right with God certainly was a factor, but it was the Holy Spirit that was the ultimate factor.

Just like on Pentecost, after Peter preaches the Gospel for the first time, the people “were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, ‘What are we to do, my brothers?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37-38). It was the Holy Spirit that cut the people to the heart at Pentecost, the same was true at that youth conference, and the same is true whenever someone is moved to repent and go to confession.

It is by the merits of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection that we have the sacrament of confession and it is by Jesus giving His Apostles the Holy Spirit that they can forgive sins in Jesus’ Name. On Easter Sunday Jesus says “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (Jn 20:21-23). Empowered and motivated by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles are sent to bring forgiveness.

So we must not see Pentecost as a mere historical event. It is an ongoing reality. That youth conference is a great example. That three to five thousand kids went to confession may not qualify as a bona-fide miracle, but it is certain that the rap music and the conference itself do not deserve the credit. Ultimately the Holy Spirit moved the hearts of the kids to repent and it was the Holy Spirit that empowered the priests to reconcile them with God.

So let us not ignore the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who was poured forth upon the Church for the sanctification, reconciliation, and salvation of the world. While the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting for us, He will not force us to repent against our will. We must be docile to the Holy Spirit and let Him lead us through Jesus Christ to the Father and life everlasting in heaven.

—Fr Booth