Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 18:9-18  +  John 16:20-23
May 22, 2020

“But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”

Jesus uses the imagery of pregnancy to describe suffering in relation to joy, inasmuch as both pertain to Jesus’ Resurrection and the sending—by Him and His Father—of the Gift of the Holy Spirit.  While it’s a truism of our culture that any goal worth achieving demands hardship, the image of pregnancy is yet more pregnant with meaning.  The image of pregnancy connotes new life:  a life independent of—yet owing its existence to—the one who begot it.

How do we relate this to the Resurrection and Pentecost?  What is the new life that is begotten?  It is the life of the Church.  If you ask most people in the world—Christians and non-Christians alike—what the greatest Christian feast day is, they would likely reply “Christmas”.  That’s the correct answer if one asks the question in terms of money and energy spent preparing for and celebrating the day.  But liturgically, Easter Sunday is far more important than Christmas Day, a truth we can sum up with the saying that “The reason Jesus was born into this world was to die to this world.”

However, just as the meaning of Christmas points forward to Easter Sunday, so Easter Sunday points forward to Pentecost.  Pentecost is not more significant liturgically than Easter Sunday, but nonetheless Easter prepares us for Pentecost:  for the ‘birth’ of the Church, the Bride of Christ and the Mystical Body of Christ.

Easter 6-5 Pentecost

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

NOTA BENE:  Some dioceses will celebrate today the Ascension of the Lord.  For the reflection upon the Solemnity of the Ascension, click HERE.

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 18:1-8  +  John 16:16-20
May 21, 2020

“… you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”

Just as the earth has two poles, so the Season of Easter has two poles:  the Resurrection and Pentecost.  Both are solemnities of great joy for Christians.  Yet each is preceded by an event of loss, of “grieving” even.  The Resurrection is preceded by the Death of the Lord, and Pentecost is preceded by the Ascension of the same Lord.  But to use the word “preceded” here is a bit lacking.  The Death and Ascension of the Lord are the “events”—the sacred “mysteries”—that make the Resurrection and Pentecost possible.

Jesus refers to both sets of mysteries—the Death and Resurrection, and the Ascension and Pentecost—by His words in today’s Gospel passage:  “you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”  Today’s Gospel passage is from the sixteenth chapter of John:  part of Jesus’ Last Supper discourse.  In the short-term, then, He is speaking about His Death and Resurrection.  Yet in His divinity, Jesus also knew of His impending Ascension as well as the Descent of the Holy Spirit, so He is also speaking here about His Ascension and Pentecost.

Much of the world today celebrates the Ascension of the Lord.  Some dioceses will transfer the Ascension to this coming Sunday, and celebrate today as a weekday of Easter.  In either case, begin a novena today:  nine days of prayer, longing for the Holy Spirit to come into your life more powerfully, and to help you live more fully your vocation within the Mystical Body of Christ.


The Ascension of the Lord [A]

NOTA BENE:  In some dioceses, the Ascension is celebrated on the Thursday that is the fortieth day of Eastertide instead of being celebrated on the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

The Ascension of the Lord [A]
Acts 1:1-11  +  Ephesians 1:17-23  +  Matthew 28:16-20

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Solemnity by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 659-672, 697, 792, 965, 2795: the Ascension

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Eager Christians sometimes ask for spiritual direction.  But a common stumbling block to such direction going anywhere is the directee not being willing to practice authentic detachment.

Detachment is one of the chief truths to which the Lord’s Ascension points our attention:  detaching ourselves from everything except God.  Of course, this detachment is not an end in itself, but a means to something greater.  In terms of the detachment that Jesus demanded at His Ascension, that detachment was a means to the goal of Jesus preparing a place for them in Heaven with God the Father.

For the Christian who wants to practice detachment more seriously, the first step is to detach oneself from all things which one puts in place of God.  Secondly, one has to “cling” to God alone.

Being detached from all created things does not necessarily mean that we remove them from our lives.  Rather, being detached from created things means recognizing that the happiness that any created thing can bring us is less than we imagine.

We can detach ourselves from created things in several ways.  We might in fact need to remove certain created things from our lives altogether, especially if they prey on individual faults that we have.  We can also detach ourselves from created things through simple penance, or what the Church calls mortification.

We also have to detach ourselves from other human beings.  This, of course, is much more difficult.  Sooner or later we are, irrevocably, detached from others by death.  Often, the most difficult such detachment comes when two spouses who have been married for many years are separated by death.  At such a time, a spouse can feel as if the world has come to an end.  The mixture of faith and doubt in the lives of the apostles that we hear about in today’s Gospel Reading is similar to the faith and doubt that one faces upon separation from a loved one.

Perhaps the apostles asked after the Ascension of Our Lord:  “Whom are we to cling to now?”  This question would be answered in two ways.  First, the apostles had to wait for another divine Person to enter their lives.  God the Son was leaving them, but He promised that He and God the Father would send them God the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit to whom the apostles would have to cling.

The difficulty with this, of course, is that the Holy Spirit is “no more” than a Spirit:  He is the “Holy Ghost”, without flesh and blood like God the Son made man.  How can anyone cling, then, to a Spirit?  Grace is something that we can only cling to “in spirit”.  This means that only by our souls can we cling to the Holy Spirit.  If we live according to the flesh—according to material pleasure—then only what we can see and taste, touch and purchase can bring us joy.  But if we regularly practice penance—not only the Sacrament of Penance, but also giving up and denying ourselves things on a weekly basis, especially Fridays—we can continually detach ourselves from material things and thereby have a soul that seeks nothing other than God’s sheer grace.

As we prepare ourselves to celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, we hear of the apostles gathered together in that Upper Room, waiting in faith and in doubt.  When God the Father and God the Son sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles received the Spirit of Jesus not so that they could remember Jesus more fondly, but so that they might put that Spirit to work, to begin building the Church here on earth.  In whatever way God calls us, may we be ready and willing to serve our God by putting ourselves at the service of our brothers and sisters here on earth, and so for God’s glory.

Ascension - Right Hand of the Father

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 17:15,22—18:1  +  John 16:12-15
May 20, 2020

“… when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth.”

St. John Henry Newman, the nineteenth century convert to the Church from Anglicanism, is renowned for many theological works.  One of the more famous is about the process of the “development of doctrine”.  Newman had from boyhood been a keen student of history, and later in life he said that “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant”.

To make an analogy:  as fundamentalist Christians say that God created the universe, Earth, and mankind immediately (that is, within six days), so the same fundamentalists often say that God created the doctrines of the Church immediately.  If a phrase is not found in the Bible—they insist—it cannot be admitted into mind of a Christian.  Therefore, dogmas such as the “Immaculate Conception” and “papal infallibility” are clearly not Christian—they insist—because the apostles who composed the Bible never used these phrases, or spoke about these topics.

However, if beliefs cannot be accepted by Christians if they are not mentioned in the Bible, then these same people cannot profess a belief in the “Trinity”, since this word never appears in the Bible.  “But,” these fundamentalists might argue, “the belief in the Trinity is in the Bible.  It’s the word “Trinity” that came later, in order to dispel false interpretations of the Bible….”  Yet such a defense supports Cardinal Newman’s teaching, which itself is simply an unpacking of Jesus’ words today:  “when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth.”

Easter 6-3 Holy Spirit

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 16:22-34  +  John 16:5-11
May 19, 2020

“But if I go, I will send Him to you.”

In addition to their divinity, the divine Persons of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were both sent by God the Father into this world, filled as it is by sin and death.  Their missions differ, yet their missions converge as God’s Providential Will unfolds within salvation history.

Of course, before considering the Son’s and the Holy Spirit’s missions within salvation history, we ought to reflect on their work “in the beginning”.   God the Father created everything in the universe, visible and invisible, through His divine Word, and through the Power of the Holy Spirit.  The creation narratives in Genesis are more suggestive than telling.  Nonetheless, they point us towards contrasts that we ought to reflect upon as we approach Pentecost:  contrasts, that is, between God’s work of creation “in the beginning”, and God’s work of redemption in the fullness of time.

Perhaps the most significant contrast between the missions of the Son and Spirit in creation, and then again their missions in the work of redemption, is that in the latter they manifest themselves incarnately.  Their missions converge within the Mystical Body of Christ.  “In the beginning”, the Word remained the Word.  But in the fullness of time, “the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us”.  “In the beginning”, the Spirit hovered silently over the face of the deep.  But in the fullness of time, He is the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ, animating that Body’s members, so that the Christ’s saving work is carried out “unto the end of the age.”

Easter 6-2

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 16:11-15  +  John 15:26—16:4
May 18, 2020

“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify to me.”

Today Jesus—still addressing us from the Cenacle, at the Last Supper—proclaims the coming of the Holy Spirit. We note from Jesus’ words that—as we profess in the Church’s Creed—the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the God the Father and God the Son.  Jesus Himself describes God the Holy Spirit as the One “whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father”.

In the Creed of the First Council of Constantinople (in A.D. 431), the first ecumenical council to describe at any length the nature of God the Holy Spirit, the council Fathers stated that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the Giver of Life [and] proceeds from the Father….”  This council did not state that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  The phrase “and the Son” (in Latin, filioque) was added by the Church to the Creed later.  Controversy continues to this day as to the propriety of this addition.

Christians of the West accept the dogma of the Holy Spirit’s procession from both the Father and the Son.  We see in the doctrine an expression of the closeness of the Father and the Son, while maintaining their distinction as divine Persons.  God the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son because the Holy Spirit is the Love of the Father and the Son both for each other (not merely the love of one for the other).  Saint Augustine explores the meaning of this great teaching in his very long, profound, and difficult work “On the Trinity” (De Trinitate).  Pray for the Holy Spirit to enter your life more fully, and towards this end, plan to begin a novena to God the Holy Spirit this Thursday.

Easter 6-1 Holy Spirit

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 16:1-10  +  John 15:18-21
May 16, 2020

“I have chosen you out of the world ….”

In this Easter season, we continue to hear in the First Reading about the flurry of apostolic activity that spread through the world following the first Christian Pentecost.  But what of Mary, the lowly Virgin, mother of the child who grew in this world in order to offer His life in sacrifice for our sins?  What about the mother of Him who is the Good News that the apostles spread throughout the world?  Where is Mary at Pentecost?

We might forget that she is the Mother of God, the Mother of Him through whom all things were made.  We might forget that she, too, was present in that upper room.  Why is she there?  She surely had no need to receive that fullness of the Holy Spirit who descended at Pentecost.  Her Pentecost—her Confirmation, so to speak—took place at the Annunciation.  At that moment, the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowed her who had been sinless from the moment of her conception in the womb of Saint Anne.

At the Annunciation of the Good News, God became man:  Christ’s Body began forming within Mary’s womb.  Here in the upper room at Pentecost, that same Holy Spirit descends again, to overshadow the apostles.  Here in the upper room, Christ had offered the first celebration of the Sacrifice of the Eucharist.  There the Church—the Body of Christ—was born, that the apostles might go forth into the world to preach the Gospel and offer their lives in sacrifice for Christ.

Easter 5-6 Mary Trinity

The Sixth Sunday of Easter [A]

The Sixth Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 8:5-8,14-17  +  1 Peter 3:15-18  +  John 14:15-21

“… the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot accept ….”

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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 2746-2751: Christ’s prayer at the Last Supper
CCC 243, 388, 692, 729, 1433, 1848: the Holy Spirit as Advocate/Consoler
CCC 1083, 2670-2672: invoking the Holy Spirit

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As the weeks of the Easter Season draw on, we hear more and more in the Scriptures at Holy Mass about God the Holy Spirit. We hear less and less about Jesus, or so it seems.

In the forty days between His Resurrection and His Ascension to Heaven, Jesus is—so to speak—weaning His disciples.  He’s helping them realize that He’s not going to be with them in the same way anymore.  He will be with them:  He’ll be with them always, “unto the end of the age.”  But He will not be with them physically as He was during the three years of His public ministry.  He will not be at their sides to point the way or for them to talk with face-to-face.

Yet God the Holy Spirit will make Jesus Christ present in a new way.  In a sense, that’s what the Easter Season is designed by God to lead us to.  Pentecost Sunday is not just the fiftieth of fifty days celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection.  Pentecost is the culmination of the Season of Easter.  As such, Pentecost is the celebraton of God the Holy Spirit making Jesus present in this world in a new way:  that is, the Church.

We hear about this new way in the midst of the Third Eucharistic Prayer at Holy Mass.  Almost the whole second half of the Eucharistic Prayer—following the consecration—is about the Church.  The priest prays one petition after another on behalf of the Church.  In the Third Eucharistic Prayer, in the second petition following the consecration, the priest prays:  “… grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son, and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.”  This unity in Christ is what the Easter Season leads us towards, and is the heart of the mystery of Pentecost.

This is one reason why the Church calls all of us—her children—together on the Lord’s Day:  not only to be united with God through Holy Communion, but also to be united more strongly with each other.  The Mass—like the whole Christian life—is not just about me and Jesus.  Coming together through the Mass is the greatest way that God has to unite us poor, fallen sinners into the one body of the Church.  The Holy Spirit is the One who helps us see why and how this is.

The Holy Spirit, like the ligaments that hold parts of our physical bodies together, binds us together to make us one body in Christ.  Even when we are separated from our loved ones by great distances, or even by death itself, the Holy Spirit sustains our relationships.  The Body of Christ cannot be diminished or destroyed by distance or death.  Indeed, the Church is not limited to those among her children living on earth (called the Church Militant).  She is also made up of those in Purgatory (the Church Suffering) and in Heaven (the Church Triumphant).

Even more challenging than the barriers of distance and death is that of division.  The Holy Spirit helps us love others even when it is difficult to do so.  The Power of the Holy Spirit helps us love others as God the Father loves them, part of which love is beckoning them into His embrace in Heaven.  If you were to die, only to find your worst enemy at the Pearly Gates as the welcoming committee, would you refuse to enter?  Is your lack of love for your enemy stronger than your love to be with God?

Likewise, the Power of the Holy Spirit helps us love others as God the Son loves them.  More specifically, the Holy Spirit helps us love others as the Son loved them on Good Friday during those hours when He was fixed by nails to the Cross.  In His divine intellect, Jesus at the hour of His death could see every human sinner in history, the future, and that solemn hour.  Not only could Jesus see them, however.  He loved them by offering His life for theirs.

Everyone around us is an important part of our spiritual life, whether we want them to be or not.  Everyone plays a part in our journey on the Way of Christ Jesus.  Sometimes that Way is narrow.  Sometimes it demands reconciliation.  The Holy Spirit is not interested in “cheap love”.  The Holy Spirit leads us into the sort of love that led Jesus to Calvary:  the sort of love which allowed Christ to embrace the Cross as His Father’s gift.

Easter 6-0A Holy Spirit

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 15:22-31  +  John 15:12-17
May 15, 2020

“This is my commandment:  love one another as I love you.”

Today’s Gospel passage is often proclaimed at Nuptial Masses.  It speaks to the reality of love.  It gives some concrete form to love.  This concreteness is necessary when one lives—as you and I do—in a culture which equates love with warm, fuzzy feelings.

Today’s Gospel passage was written by St. John the Evangelist, who in one of his epistles tells us that “God is love” [1 John 4:8].  Today John quotes Jesus so as to give shape to the definition of God as love.  In terms of the divine Person of Jesus, John quotes Christ Himself.  The evangelist explains that “no one has greater love than… to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  The setting of today’s Gospel passage is the Last Supper.  As He spoke these words, Jesus knew that He would give the ultimate example of such love the next day.

But the Church proclaims today’s Gospel passage during the midst of Easter.  The reason for this is that Christ doesn’t want His disciples simply to admire His sacrifice, but to enter into it.  To do what our Savior commands, we need the power of the Holy Spirit, whom the Father and Son will send at Pentecost.  In the Spirit of the Father and the Son, you can find the strength to love your neighbor as Jesus has loved you.

Easter 5-5 Trinity Botticelli