The Great and Glorious Feast of Pentecost
Sunday May 20, 2018
In our last blog, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension.
After Jesus left the disciples and ascended into heaven, they were cowering behind locked doors,
despondent, worried, fearful, bewildered, devastated.
“[Then] suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire which parted
and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim (Acts 2:1-21.)
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”
“When the day of Pentecost came it found the brethren gathered in one place. Suddenly from up in the sky there was a noise like a strong driving wind.”
The Holy Spirit is associated with that wind. The wind that blows where it wills. The wind that stirs things up and gets them moving.
The word for “wind” in Hebrew is “Ruah” — the same as the word for “breath.”
Often at night as Im sitting in my chair I just pay attention to my breathing for a while. I imagine that the Holy Spirit is the breath entering me, and when I exhale, I’m breathing out the Holy Spirit as well.
What a wonderful image is breath. Breath is life itself. No breath, no life in the body.
The mighty wind of Pentecost stirred things up and the church was born. The apostles and the others who were part of their company, including the women, were given enthusiasm. No longer afraid, they courageously preached the message that Jesus established a new order for people’s lives. They began gathering the church. The Acts of the Apostles is in effect the gospel of the Holy Spirit.
In the beginning of scripture, there is a story about the tower of Babel, a story that tries to explain why there are so many different languages on the earth that we cannot understand each other, so much discord, so much disharmony.
The story has God confusing the languages of people at Babel (Gen. 11: 1-9) and from that day onward they were scattered.
On the day of Pentecost the opposite happened. People were gathered together. Parthians and Medes and Elamites; people from Cappodacia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia and Egypt — all heard the apostles speaking to them in their own languages.
On the day of my ordination, I was filled with enthusiasm. It was day before Pentecost, May 24, 1969.
I was reminded of this prophecy of Joel:
“I will pour out my spirit upon all humankind.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
your young men shall see visions.
Even upon the servants and handmaids,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28, 29)
Those were the days immediately following the Second Vatican Council. There was a lot of enthusiasm all over the Church. Those of us who were young, had wonderful opportunities to serve.
The enthusiasm that poured onto me and into me lasted the first full three years of my priesthood. The Spirit really touched my ministry, as he did with another priest who was ordained the same day as me.
Nine years later, the opposite happened. My life crashed in upon me. And I was reminded of still another scripture about the Spirit — the prophecy of the dry bones.
“Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord: “See I will bring spirit into you that you may come to life again. Breathe into these slain, O Spirit, that they may come to life.” (Ezekiel 37: 1)
That’s what Pope Francis is trying to do. Breathe new life into the Church that the Holy Spirit will draw the church together in a new way.
There is still something else to note from the Pentecost story. A tongue of fire rested individually on the heads of each person. The Spirit of God has a special relationship with each of us, just as the Father and the Son do. The Spirit will enliven us according to the gifts and talents of each one of us.
So this Holy Spirit does wondrous things for us!
The Spirit is the source of inspiration for all who would design and create.
“There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries, but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in every one. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
The body is one and has many members, many though they are, are one body; and so it is with Christ. It was in one Spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into the one body. All of us have been given to drink of the one Spirit.” I Cor. 12
In the seminary I learned to pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit before each class. And for me it was a powerful devotion. I realized that the work I produced was more than the sum of its parts. I realize that is still true some 49 years later. If we seek and cooperate with God’s grace, wonderful things can and will happen that are so far beyond what we ever imagine!
But I must realize that there were also times in my priesthood when I experienced a great deal of powerlessness. I felt like Samson who had lost his strength. My soul had become like the valley of dry bones. I didn’t like my own mediocrity.
It is clear that I needed to bring the Holy Spirit to the foreground of my life again and again. I would like to have a vibrant and vital relationship with the Holy Spirit from moment to moment. In each moment of my life I hope that I will discern and follow the Spirit’s lead.
And so, an important role of the Holy Spirit is to encourage gifts. To invite risk. To reach out beyond safe boundaries, as Pope Francis is encouraging his priests to do. To make connections. To unite. To celebrate diversity. The story of Pentecost states that the Spirit of God is uncontrollable – by us. It comes as a “strong driving wind’ and “tongues [on] fire! Or in “Trekkie” language, to go “where no one has gone before.”
The greatest saints did just that! Catherine of Siena (a woman religious!) chastised the pope. Francis Xavier undauntedly stepped off the boat in Japan into a culture very foreign to him. A peasant girl named Joan rallied the French army to victory and was burned at the stake because of it. Katharine Drexel stepped beyond boundaries to treat Blacks and Native Americans as persons. And a supposed “care-taker pope” John XXIII shocked everyone by calling a solemn Council of the Church.
They improvised! They pushed the boundaries of the established ways of doing things! They were not afraid to do things differently. They were bold and convicted in the confidence they received from the Spirit of God – just like at Pentecost. They were the innovators, the Reformers. The ones who led and changed the Church. They listened to the Holy Spirit who prompted /disturbed / prodded / led them/ inspired them / and who became their “Defense Attorney” or Advocate, i.e. “Paraclete.” They simply learned to trust that they were tuned into God from moment to moment who would guide them in what to say and do at the appropriate time.
Our world, our our country desperately needs people with that kind of enthusiasm and conviction today. I pray that as I enter my fiftieth year of holy priesthood this week, I may still have some of that enthusiasm and joy and conviction to serve God’s holy people! Please pray for that for me!
And may we celebrate today the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the Church, in our world and in, indeed, all of creation!
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,
and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
and You shall renew the face of the earth.
May it be so. May it be so.
Now, here’s the ancient Sequence for the Feast ~ or if you will, a poem that occurs within the Mass . . .
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
And before you go, here is the Australian group Hilsong singing Come Holy Spirit. It’s a young people’s group filled with love of the Lord. (A little different than “Come Holy Ghost” for a change.) Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.
And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.
The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord ~ May 13, 2018
The feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery. First is the resurrection in which Jesus conquers death for us and reveals that life for us will never end.
Then there is the ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand.
And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind.
All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality. The Scriptures separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the one Easter mystery.
Now, let’s look at today’s feast, the Ascension.
At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (the first reading ~ Acts 1:1-11), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience . . . .
Then Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to “wait for the promise of the Father of which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
He, of course, was referring to Pentecost.
. . . Then he said,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you
AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth.”
Then Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.
They stood there, awestruck, spellbound .
Then two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and said,
“Men of Galilee, why are standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
This feast is about heaven, but also about earth.
Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where sits at the Father’s right hand.
And the second reading from Ephesians states that. . . .
God the Father “put all things beneath Christ’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” (Ephesians 1:23)
Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology. The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin talked about “Christogenesis” – the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love. When Chardin was far away from bread or wine and could not celebrate Mass, he talked fervently and passionately about the “Mass on the world” – that the whole planet was the body of Christ.
So we think about Jesus as Lord of the Universe, and we pray that people on earth would somehow find ways to stop the violence and inhumanity toward each other.
And so the feast of Ascension is also about earth.
The angels ask the disciples — Why are you standing there looking up in the sky? You and I have work to do!
YOU MUST BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
A witness is one who knows with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place.
A witness is one who has filtered through one’s own senses what their account of the truth is.
I consider myself a witness to the resurrection. I have had enough experiences of risen life, even of mystical experience that I am convinced that Jesus is real, that he lives and reigns, that he empowers us through his Spirit. Throughout my life I have found myself immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I know this also, because Jesus has allowed me the ability to share his life with others, and they with me. Many others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through me.
Let’s look at today’s gospel, which is from St. Mark. Barclay tells us that another writer appended a second ending to Mark’s gospel that included mention of the ascension. It has a different writing style than the rest of the text. Its great interest is the picture of the duty of the church it gives to us.
The church has a preaching task—and therefore the duty of every Christian to tell the story of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard it, Barclay suggests.
The church has a healing task. Jesus wished to bring health to the body and the soul and so the church has an interest in healing.
The church is never left alone to do its work. Christ always works with it and in it and through it. And so the gospels end with the message that the Christian life is lived in the presence and the power of him who was crucified and rose again!
So Jesus, gone to heaven, gives authority to his apostles and disciples on earth.
Brothers and sisters, we have work to do. We are put on notice in the scriptures of today’s feast.
Next Sunday we will attend to the third aspect of the Easter mystery ~ Pentecost ~ the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all humankind.
During the coming week may we pray that the Holy Spirit would renew each of us individually, the whole Church of God and indeed the whole world.
But before we go, I have a couple of notes for you. First, Bishop Robert Barron reminds us in the Magnificat liturgical magazine that we tend to be misled by the metaphors in the poetic images we use for heaven such as clouds and sky and cute pink cherubs flying around that are meant to signal how heaven transcends our world. But heaven isn’t a geographical place or space far away. The Risen and ascended Jesus acts as Lord of the church.
And secondly, I would be entirely remiss If I failed to remind us that today (Sunday May 13th) is Mother’s Day.
And so today we honor our mothers.
Our godmothers and grandmothers. And foster mothers
We honor expectant mothers and those who would like to be mothers.
We honor mothers who have lost a child.
And as we honor Mary, the mother of us all.
we pray that God bless each and every one.
Christ is Risen!
Now, before you go, here’s the beautiful hymn especially for this feast day, “Alleluia Sing to Jesus.” I invite you to pray along with the lyrics; they’re truly beautiful and thrilling. And be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
The selection from the gospel of St. John today is taken from the wonderful Last Discourse of Jesus as he is reflecting with his disciples in the Upper Room at the Last Supper in the final hours before his Passion.
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you, remain in my love.” (15:9)
We can take it that each day we ought to reaffirm our choice to abide in our love of Jesus, rather than in our own ideas, ambitions, and preconceptions or our own self-reliance. Father Cornelius a Lapide, S.J. (+1637) tells us in this regard, Jesus says, “Show me your modicum of love, and you shall experience my greater love for you.”
Then Jesus goes on to say, “I have told you this so that my joy will be in you and your joy may be complete.” (15:11)
We are chosen for joy. However hard the Christian life is for any of us, it is, both in the day by day plodding and in the goal, as Pope Francis is fond of reminding us it’s all a way of joy! There is always joy in doing the right thing. It is true that we are sinners, but we are redeemed sinners, and in that, there is joy.
“This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” (15:12)
We are chosen for love. We are sent into the world to love one another. On the contrary we sometimes live as if we were out to compete with one another or to dispute with one another or even to quarrel with one another.
“No greater love is there than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”(15:13-14)
This assurance was clearly and firmly given in Jesus’ gift of himself on the cross. Throughout his public ministry, Jesus had made countless overtures of love—curing a paralytic, giving sight to a man born blind, forgiving a woman caught in adultery, reaching out to people everywhere, not just to the Jews, calling little children to himself, raising to a widow’s son to life, teaching the crowds, touching the lepers.
All these and so many other loving overtures reached a climactic crescendo on the cross. Thereupon, Jesus accomplished the ultimate act of love by forgiving and healing and making whole all who were and are wounded and broken.
“I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father (15:15).
William Barclay points out that the word doulos (slave) as a servant of God was no title of shame, but one of highest honor. Moses was the doulos of God, as was Joshua and David. Paul loved to attribute the word to himself. And Jesus is saying, “I have something greater for you yet, you are no longer slaves, but friends.” Christ offers an intimacy with God that not even the greatest men knew before he came into the world.
“It was not you who chose me but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in my name he will give you (15:16).
This reminds us of God’s command in the Garden of Eden: “Be fruitful.” What does it mean? Jean Vanier offers an answer: “To bear fruit is to bring people to life. Not to judge, not to condemn, but to forgive. It is to remove our neighbor’s burden.”
“This is I command you: love one another (15:17).
My own personal relationship with Christ was not very strong in the early days of my priesthood. My faith was more intellectual back then; it was on the outside of me ~until I made a retreat in my third year. And then I hit a rocky patch for many years of lukewarm faith. Until I read Father Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain and I found myself in copious tears and suddenly a renewed and deeper relationship with Christ.
One of the major themes of this blog is The Jesus I know and Love. There really is nothing I desire from my writings more than to share my deep love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with you,my readers and somehow have you share in, and delight in, Jesus’ love for you.
Now here’s my prayer inspired by Jesus’ awesome words to us today . . . .
I praise and thank you for your love for me, for each of us.
You say you call us your friends.
What an awesome thing to behold, dear Lord!
Please allow me, to allow us, the grace to remain faithful to you always.
You ask that my life be fruitful in loving.
I’m getting up in years now, Jesus,
and I’m not sure how fruitful my life has been,
but I offer what I can, a little bit of writing,
my daily prayer ~ that’s about all ~ these days.
All I know is I love you. I am forever grateful for yours.
And I ask your blessing upon my readers today, Jesus.
Allow them to know the intimacy of your friendship too;
draw them close and keep them safe,
and answer whatever prayers they raise up to you today.
Thank you, dearest Lord!
CHRIST IS RISEN!