Easter, Ascension & Pentecost: May 2010 Archives

Pope Benedict's homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost is quite insightful and spiritually challenging. Would that we all could be open to the call of the Spirit in truth and in action. Come Holy Spirit, come through Mary!

Pentecost Centro Aletti.jpgIn the solemn celebration of Pentecost we are invited to profess our faith in the presence and in the action of the Holy Spirit and to invoke his outpouring upon us, upon the Church and upon the whole world. Let us make our own, and with special intensity, the Church's invocation: "Veni, Sancte Spiritus!" 

It is such a simple and immediate invocation, but also extraordinarily profound, which came first of all from the heart of Christ. The Spirit, in fact, is the gift that Jesus asked and continually asks of his Father for his friends; the first and principal gift that he obtained for us through his Resurrection and Ascension in to heaven.

Today's Gospel passage, which has the Last Supper as its context, speaks to us of this prayer of Christ. The Lord Jesus said to his disciples: "If you love me, follow my commandments; and I will pray to the Father and he will give you another Paraclete who will remain with you forever" (John 14:15-16). 

Here the praying heart of Jesus is revealed to us, his filial and fraternal heart. This prayer reaches its apex and its fulfillment on the cross, where Christ's invocation is one with the total gift that he makes of himself, and thus his prayer becomes, so to speak, the very seal of his self-giving for love of the Father and humanity: Invocation and donation of the Spirit meet, they interpenetrate, they become one reality. "And I will pray to the Father and he will give you another Paraclete who will remain with you forever." In reality, Jesus' prayer -- that of the Last Supper and the prayer on the cross -- is a single prayer that continues even in heaven, where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus, in fact, always lives his priesthood of intercession on behalf of the people of God and humanity and so prays for all of us, asking the Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost Bologna.jpgThe account of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles -- we listened to it in the first reading (Acts 2:1-11) -- presents the "new course" of the work that God began with Christ's resurrection, a work that involves man, history and the cosmos. The Son of God, dead and risen and returned to the Father, now breathes with untold energy the divine breath upon humanity, the Holy Spirit. And what does this new and powerful self-communication of God produce? Where there are divisions and estrangement he creates unity and understanding. The Spirit triggers a process of reunification of the divided and dispersed parts of the human family; persons, often reduced to individuals in competition or in conflict with each other, reached by the Spirit of Christ, open themselves to the experience of communion, can involve them to such an extent as to make of them a new organism, a new subject: the Church. This is the effect of God's work: unity; thus unity is the sign of recognition, the "business card" of the Church in the course of her universal history. From the very beginning, from the day of Pentecost, she speaks all languages. The universal Church precedes the particular Churches, and the latter must always conform to the former according to a criterion of unity and universality. The Church never remains a prisoner within political, racial and cultural confines; she cannot be confused with states not with federations of states, because her unity is of a different type and aspires to transcend every human frontier.

From this, dear brothers, there derives a practical criterion of discernment for Christian life: When a person or a community, limits itself to its own way of thinking and acting, it is a sign that it has distanced itself from the Holy Spirit. The path of Christians and of the particular Churches must always confront itself with the path of the one and catholic Church, and harmonize with it. This does not mean that the unity created by the Holy Spirit is a kind of homogenization. On the contrary, that is rather the model of Babel, that is, the imposition of a culture of unity that we could call "technological." The Bible, in fact, tells us (cf. Genesis 11:1-9) that in Babel everyone spoke the same language. At Pentecost, however, the Apostles speak different languages in such a way that everyone understands the message in his own tongue. The unity of the Spirit is manifested in the plurality of understanding. The Church is one and multiple by her nature, destined as she is to live among all nations, all peoples, and in the most diverse social contexts. She responds to her vocation to be a sign and instrument of unity of the human race (cf. Lumen Gentium, 1) only if she remains free from every state and every particular culture. Always and in every place the Church must truly be catholic and universal, the house of all in which each one can find a place.

The account of the Acts of the Apostles offers us another very concrete indication. The universality of the Church is expressed by the list of peoples according to the ancient tradition: "We are Parthians, Medes, Elamites ...," etc. One may note that St. Luke goes beyond the number 12, which always expresses a universality. He looks beyond the horizons of Asia and northwest Africa, and adds three other elements: the "Romans," that is, the western world; the "Jews and proselytes," encompass in a new way the unity between Israel and the world; and finally "Cretans and Arabs," who represent the West and the East, islands and land. This opening of horizons subsequently confirms the newness of Christ in the human space, in the history of the nations: The Holy Spirit involves men and peoples and, through them, it overcomes walls and barriers.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit manifests himself as fire. His flame descended upon the assembled disciples, it was enkindled in them and gave them the new ardor of God. In this way what Jesus had previously said was realized: "I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I long that it already be burning!" (Luke 12:49). The Apostles, together with the faithful of different communities, carried this divine flame to the far corners of the earth; in this way they opened a path for humanity, a luminous path, and they worked with God, who wants to renew the face of the earth with his fire. How different this fire is from that of wars and bombs! How different is the fire of Christ, spread by the Church, compared with those lit by the dictators of every epoch, of last century too, who leave a scorched earth behind them. The fire of God, the fire of the Holy Spirit, is that of the bush that burned without being consumed (cf. Exodus 3:2). It is a flame that burns but does not destroy, that, in burning, brings forth the better and truer part of man, as in a fusion it makes his interior form emerge, his vocation to truth and to love.

A Father of the Church, Origen, in one of his homilies on Jeremiah, reports a saying attributed to Jesus, not contained in the sacred Scriptures but perhaps authentic, which he puts thus: "Whoever is near me, is near the fire" (Homilies on Jeremiah, L. I [III]). In Christ, in fact, there is the fullness of God, who in the Bible is compared to fire. We just observed that the flame of the Holy Spirit burns but does not destroy. And nevertheless it causes a transformation, and it must for this reason consume something in man, the waste that corrupts him and hinders his relations with God and neighbor. 

Ottonian Master Pentecost.jpgThis effect of the divine fire, however, frightens us, we are afraid of being "burned," we prefer to stay just as we are. This is because our life is often formed according to the logic of having, of possessing and not the logic of self-giving. Many people believe in God and admire the person of Jesus Christ, but when they are asked to lose something of themselves, then they retreat, they are afraid of the demands of faith. There is the fear of giving up something nice to which we are attached; the fear that following Christ deprives us of freedom, of certain experiences, of a part of ourselves. On one hand, we want to be with Jesus, follow him closely, and, on the other hand, we are afraid of the consequences that this brings with it.

Dear brothers and sisters, we always need to hear the Lord Jesus tell us what he often repeated to his friends: "Be not afraid." Like Simon Peter and the others we must allow his presence and his grace to transform our heart, which is always subject to human weakness. We must know how to recognize that losing something, indeed, losing ourselves for the true God, the God of love and of life, is in reality gaining ourselves, finding ourselves more fully. Whoever entrusts himself to Jesus already experiences in this life peace and joy of heart, which the world cannot give, and it cannot even take it away once God has given it to us. 

So it is worthwhile to let ourselves be touched by the fire of the Holy Spirit! The suffering that it causes us is necessary for our transformation. It is the reality of the cross: It is not for nothing that in the language of Jesus "fire" is above all a representation of the cross, without which Christianity does not exist. 

Thus enlightened and comforted by these words of life, let us lift up our invocation: Come, Holy Spirit! Enkindle in us the fire of your love! We know that this is a bold prayer, with which we ask to be touched by the flame of God; but we know above all that this flame -- and only it -- has the power to save us. We do not want, in defending our life, to lose the eternal life that God wants to give us. We need the fire of the Holy Spirit, because only Love redeems. Amen.

Happy Pentecost

| | Comments (0)

Pentecost arab icon.jpgOn May 9, 1897, Pope Leo XIII issued the first Encyclical Letter on the Holy Spirit. Of course from the days of the Acts of the Apostles the role of the Holy Spirit has been clearly taught.

Pope Leo XIII actually reminded the modern world of the question Saint Paul brought up in Acts 19:2 when he asked some disciples at Ephesus, "did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?" They replied "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." Pope Leo XIII went on to remind pastors and those with care of souls that they "should remember that it is their duty to instruct their people more diligently and more fully about the Holy Spirit."

Saint Benedict also clearly saw the importance of the Holy Spirit in his Rule for Monasteries. At the end of Chapter 7 on Humility, Saint Benedict wrote:

Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God, which being perfect, casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18). In virtue of this love all things which at first he observed not without fear, he will now begin to keep without any effort, and as it were, naturally by force of habit, no longer from the fear of hell, but from the love of Christ, from the very habit of good and the pleasure in virtue. May the Lord be pleased to manifest all this by His Holy Spirit in His laborer now cleansed from vice and sin.

In his Chapter 49 on Lent, Saint Benedict bids us: "During these days, therefore, let us add something to the usual amount of our service, special prayers, abstinence from food and drink, that each one offer to God "with the joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thes 1:6).

In his Encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Pope John Paul II referred to Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica when he said:

Man's intimate relationship with God in the Holy Spirit also enables him to understand himself, his own humanity, in a new way. Thus that image and likeness of God which man is from his very beginning is fully realized.

Ascension Gd'Arpo.jpg

What is the consistent, clear teaching of the Church, that is, what has been taught down through the ages, about the Ascension of the Lord? What does it mean for the Lord to "ascend" to the right hand of God the Father? Does he actually go up into the heavens? 

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus blessed his disciples and then "parted from them and was taken up to heaven." And the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the disciples witnessed the Lord's ascension. So, the Scripture relate to us that Jesus' ascension was a public act which we too, follow according the Father's will.

Let me be crystal clear about the teaching: the ascension of the Lord is not only concerned with Christ's humanity; the ascension of the Lord is also about our humanity ascension to God's right hand in glory.

You will want to read--NO, you must read and re-read Credo for Today by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) pp 90-94. It is the best of the Church's contemporary theological reflections on this point of our faith.

Pope Saint Leo the Great (+461) taught, "Truly it was a great and indescribable source of rejoicing when, in the sight of the heavenly multitudes, the nature of our human race ascended over the dignity of all heavenly creatures, to pass the angelic orders and to be raised beyond the heights of archangels. In its ascension it did not stop at any other height until this same nature was received at the seat of the eternal Father, to be associated on the throne of the glory of that One to whose nature it was joined in the Son" (from a homily on 1 June 444).

And just a year later Saint Leo says, "This Faith, reinforced by the Ascension of the Lord and strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, has not been terrified by chains, by prison, by exile, by hunger, by fire, by the mangling of wild beasts, nor by sharp suffering from the cruelty of persecutors. Throughout the world, not only men but also women, not just immature boys but also tender virgins, have struggled on behalf of this Faith even to the shedding of their blood. This Faith has cast out demons, driven away sicknesses, and raised the dead" (from a homily on 17 May 445).

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, "This final stage stays closely linked to the first, that is, to his descent from heaven in the Incarnation. Only the one who 'came from the Father' can return to the Father: Christ Jesus. 'No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.' Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the 'Father's house', to God's life and happiness. Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where he, our Head and our Source, has preceded us" (661).

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.



Humanities Blog Directory

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Easter, Ascension & Pentecost category from May 2010.

Easter, Ascension & Pentecost: April 2010 is the previous archive.

Easter, Ascension & Pentecost: April 2011 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.