Archive for the ‘Pentecost’ Category

Captain America, St. Thomas More, & the Spirit of Truth

May 14, 2016

In the new blockbuster movie Captain America: Civil War the titular hero is discerning an important decision when he hears this message in a church:

“Compromise where you can. And where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right, even if the whole world is telling you to move. It is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say, no. You move.”

Captain America - No, You MoveAs I watched in the movie theater, that bit about the tree struck me as odd. Trees bend and can be cut down, but pillars of iron or stone mountains don’t budge. I later discovered that these movie lines were adapted from a famous comic book speech Captain America once addressed to Spider-Man:

“When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — ‘No, you move.’”

Did you spot the difference? “Plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth.” That’s not only more beautiful, it’s also an allusion to Old Testament imagery. Psalm 1:3 says:

“[The Just Man] is like a tree planted near streams of water that yields its fruit in due season, whose leaves do not wither, and whatever he does prospers.”

And Jeremiah 17:8 says:

“[Those who trust in the Lord] are like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It does not fear heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still produces fruit.”

These verses teach that the just man who is rooted in the Law (or the Truth) of God prospers, and that those who trust in the Lord prevail against adversity.

I wish that Hollywood had included the fuller quote in the new Captain America movie—not only because it’s better writing, not only because it echoes Sacred Scripture, but because it better reflects the truth about where Truth comes from. My all-time favorite film disappoints me in a similar way.

A Man for All Seasons - St. Thomas More at TrialA Man for All Season won the 1966 Academy Award for Best Picture, but its depiction of its hero, St. Thomas More, falls short of perfection. In the movie, as in real life, Thomas More suffers unjust imprisonment for refusing to swear an oath recognizing King Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Catholic Church in England. The movie’s screenwriter, the agnostic Robert Bolt, drew on More’s own writings to craft some fantastic dialogues, but Bolt somewhat misrepresents the saint’s true motivations.

In one scene, Thomas More’s friend, the Duke of Norfolk, asks why he won’t just “give in.” Thomas answers, “I will not give in because I oppose it — I do — not my pride, not my spleen, nor any of my appetites, but I do — I!” The real St. Thomas More’s motivations are portrayed more accurately in the scene at his trial. He tells the court:

“The indictment [against me] is grounded in an act of Parliament which is directly repugnant to the law of God, and his Holy Church, the Supreme Government of which no temporal person may by any law presume to take upon [himself.] This was granted by the mouth of our Savior, Christ himself, to Saint Peter and the Bishops of Rome whilst He lived and was personally present here on earth. It is, therefore, insufficient in law to charge any Christian to obey it.”

The real St. Thomas More refused to sign the King’s oath because he saw in it a denial of Christ. He preferred to die rather than lose Heaven; and he did go on to die, thereby gaining Heaven. But Robert Bolt has his Thomas More conclude his courtroom speech like this:

“Nevertheless, it is not for [refusing the King’s] Supremacy that you have sought my blood, but because I would not bend to the [King’s re-marriage]!” (In other words, “No one is going to make me act contrary to my own self-will!”)

The real St. Thomas More was not standing up against the world for individually-chosen truth. (More opposed heretics when he served as King Henry’s High Chancellor.) He knew that Truth and right and wrong are not things we create for ourselves. We receive them, as water from a river. They do not flow from us as their source. The real St. Thomas More was a champion for the Truth which comes from God.

So how can we be faithful to the Truth which comes from God? How can we be planted like trees beside the River of Truth that flows from God? By prayerfully welcoming the Holy Spirit.

At his interrogation before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, Jesus says: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (In the Holy Trinity, the Father is the Speaker, Jesus is the Word, and the Holy Spirit is the Voice) But Pilate refuses to listen. He retorts to Jesus, “What is truth?” He rejects the Spirit of Truth and walks away.

Later, at his Ascension, Jesus instructs his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high with the Spirit of Truth who will teach them everything and remind them of all he has told them. Unlike Pilate, the disciples listen to Jesus and obey him. Some 120 persons (including the apostles, the Virgin Mary, some women, and some male relatives of Jesus) gather together and all devote themselves to prayer. They pray for nine days—the Church’s first novena, and on the tenth day, on the Jewish feast of first fruits called Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, comes and fills them.

St. Peter PreachingOnce the Spirit’s fire touches their heads, the disciples know what to say and they are unafraid to say it. Previously they had been hiding behind locked doors, but now they go out into Jerusalem’s crowded streets praising and preaching Jesus. This new-found wisdom and courage are gifts from the Holy Spirit, who empowers them to begin reaping the Church’s first fruits from the world. Observe well what the disciples do, for we are called to do the same: they listen to Jesus and obey him, they gather together and pray, they receive the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and gifts, and then they go forth to speak and act powerfully in the world.

In the Gospel of John, on the last and greatest day of one of the Jewish feasts, Jesus stands up in the temple area and exclaims, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’” Here the Gospel writer adds: “He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive.”

The Holy Spirit is our River of Living Water. As trees planted beside him we will prosper, and by being rooted in him we will prevail against adversity. In Holy Mass let us pray to receive the Spirit wholeheartedly and to be clothed with his power. And then, filled with the Spirit of Truth, even if the whole world tells us to move, we will have the words and courage to stand our ground. By the Holy Spirit, we can be heroes for this world in desperate need of heroes, in the likeness of Captain America, St. Thomas More, and the apostles after Pentecost.

A Holy Spirit Novena

May 14, 2015

All novenas are inspired by the nine days during which Mary, the apostles, and the other disciples prayed in the upper room for the coming of the Spirit with power. To pray a novena to the Holy Spirit preceding this Pentecost yourself, begin this Friday, May 15th. Many Pentecost novenas are available online, but your daily prayer could simply be this:

 “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit & they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.”

The Pentecost Project — Pentecost—Year C

May 18, 2013

Before Pentecost was a Christian celebration, it was an ancient Jewish observance. In the Old Covenant, in the Law of Moses, God commanded his people to bring some of the first grain harvested from their fields to Jerusalem be sacrificed as a burnt offering. This is the reason why Jews from so many distant countries were gathered in Jerusalem on this fiftieth day after Passover. Each Pentecost, the world’s first fruits were gathered and consecrated to the Lord. On one unique Pentecost, the Pentecost seven weeks after Jesus’ resurrection, Jews from every land were gathered by the Holy Spirit, and consecrated to God the Father, through Jesus Christ. By the end of Old Testament era, God had scattered the seeds of his chosen people across the world. On this Pentecost, the first fruits of his harvest are brought into his barn, the Church.

Pentecost can be seen as the beginning of the end of God’s project of salvation because we are now living in the world’s final era. And yet, Pentecost can also be seen as the start of a new divine project that will perdure forever. At the Tower of Babel, mankind endeavors to build a city reaching all the way to heaven. In other words, they attempt to become as gods while rejecting God. The Lord knows that this recurring human tendency leads to self-destruction, for both individuals and societies, so he thwarts their project by confusing their language. On Pentecost, God undoes Babel by allowing all peoples to understand the Apostles’ words, uniting and ennobling them. On this day, God begins in earnest to build up the Church, a new great city in communion with God that reaches all the way to heaven. Though heaven and earth pass away, this city of God, the Church, shall continue forever.

Why did the Holy Spirit come down in the form of fire? God the Holy Spirit, like the angels, is pure spirit and has no physical body. To be seen by human beings they must assume an appearance. Why did the Holy Spirit appear in the likeness of flames? Consider a different question: How many matches does it take to burn down a forest? The fire from just one small match is enough. As the small fire spreads, while remaining itself, it transforms everything around it. The holy fire that descended on Pentecost did not harm or destroy like natural fire would. The apostles may have been alarmed to see flames sailing towards their heads, but they were not burnt. The fire of the Holy Spirit is like the fire of the burning bush that Moses beheld in Exodus. Divine fire does not consume, but glorifies its hosts. Jesus once declared, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49) On Pentecost, a fire is lit in Jerusalem that spreads and transforms the world. This fire is the Holy Spirit at work.

All of salvation history was a preparation for Jesus Christ and Pentecost. Now we live in the last age of the world, the age of the Church, the city of God which shall last forever. Each of us is called to play an active part in this project of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, just as important as the gift of tongues given to the apostles was the Holy Spirit’s gift of fearless joy. Even after they had seen Jesus resurrected, the apostles timidly hid behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” But the reception of the Holy Spirit gave them a happy courage that allowed them to talk about Jesus in public to anyone who would listen. We have received the Holy Spirit also. Then why are we so timid? Why are we shy to introduce others to Jesus, our friend?  Why are we hesitant to welcome others to the Church, our community?  It seems that the Holy Spirit declines to act with power within us until we give him our free consent. Like he waited upon Mary’s response at the Annunciation, so the Holy Spirit awaits our invitation. Open yourself to the Holy Spirit’s will.  Ask him to give you new, powerful gifts. Give him permission to utilize you in the great project of salvation. And then, let us watch what he does through us.

Antes de Pentecostés era una fiesta cristiana, fue una celebración judía antigua. En el Antiguo Testamento, en la Ley de Moisés, Dios ordenó a su pueblo para llevar a algunos de los primeros granos cosechados de sus campos a Jerusalén ser sacrificado como ofrenda quemada. Esta es la razón Judios de muchos países lejanos se reunieron en Jerusalén en este quincuagésimo día después de la Pascua. Cada Pentecostés, las primicias del mundo se reunieron y se consagraron al Señor. Por un Pentecostés especial, siete semanas después de la resurrección de Jesús, Judios de todos los países se reunieron por el Espíritu Santo, y se consagraron a Dios Padre por medio de Jesucristo. Para el final de la época de del Antiguo Testamento, Dios había esparcido las semillas de su pueblo elegido a través del mundo. En este Pentecostés, los primeros frutos de su mies se llevan a su granero, la Iglesia.

Pentecostés se puede considerar como el comienzo del fin del proyecto de salvación de Dios porque estamos ahora viviendo en la época final del mundo. Y, sin embargo, Pentecostés se puede también ser visto como el comienzo de un nuevo divino proyecto que va a perdurar para siempre. A la Torre de Babel, la humanidad se esfuerza por construir una ciudad llegar al cielo. En otras palabras, ellos intentan convertirse en dioses mientras que rechazando a Dios. El Señor sabe que esta tendencia humana recurrente conduce a la auto-destrucción, tanto para los individuos y las sociedades. Por lo tanto, Dios frustra su proyecto a través de confundir su idioma. En Pentecostés, Dios deshace Babel a través de permitir que todos los pueblos a comprender las palabras de los apóstoles. Dios une a las gente y les ennoblece. En este día, Dios comienza en serio la edificación de la Iglesia, una nueva gran ciudad en comunión con Dios, que llega a todo el camino al cielo. Aunque el cielo y la tierra pueden pasar, esta ciudad de Dios, la Iglesia, continuará para siempre.

¿Por qué el Espíritu Santo descendió en forma de fuego? Dios el Espíritu Santo, como los ángeles, es espíritu puro y no tiene cuerpo físico. Para ser visto por los seres humanos deben asumir una apariencia. ¿Por qué el Espíritu Santo aparece en la imagen de las llamas? Considere una pregunta diferente: ¿Cuántas fósforos se necesitan para quemar un bosque? El fuego de un solo fósforo es suficiente. Como los pequeños fuego se extiende, sin dejar de ser ella misma, se transforma todo a su alrededor. El fuego sagrado que descendió en Pentecostés no dañar o destruir como el fuego natural. Los apóstoles pueden haber sentido la ansiedad a ver las llamas que vuelan hacia sus cabezas, pero no fueron quemados. El fuego del Espíritu Santo es como el fuego de la zarza ardiente que vio Moisés en Éxodo. Fuego divino no consume, pero glorifica a su moradas. Jesús una vez declaró: “Yo he venido a traer fuego sobre la tierra y ¡cuánto desearía que ya estuviera ardiendo!” (Lucas 12:49) En el día de Pentecostés, el fuego se enciende en Jerusalén, se extiende y transforma el mundo. Este fuego es el Espíritu Santo en el trabajo.

Toda la historia de la salvación fue una preparación para Cristo y Pentecostés. Ahora vivimos en la última época del mundo, la era de la Iglesia, la ciudad de Dios que durará para siempre. Cada uno de nosotros está llamado a desempeñar un papel activo en este proyecto delEspíritu Santo. En el día de Pentecostés, tan importante como el don de lenguas dadas a los apóstoles fue el don del Espíritu Santo de la alegría sin miedo. Aun después de que habían visto a Jesús resucitado, los apóstoles se escondían tímidamente detrás de puertas cerradas “por miedo de los Judios”. Sin embargo, la recepción delEspíritu Santo les dio un coraje feliz que les permitió hablar de Jesús en público a cualquier persona que escucharía. Hemos recibido el Espíritu Santo también. Entonces ¿por qué estamos tan tímido? ¿Por qué evitamos introducir a otros a Jesús, nuestro amigo? ¿Por qué estamos renuentes a dar la bienvenida a otros a nuestra Iglesia, nuestra comunidad? Parece que el Espíritu Santo se niega a actuar con el poder dentro de nosotros hasta que le demos nuestro consentimiento libre. Como él esperó a la respuesta de María en la Anunciación, del mismo modo el Espíritu Santo espera nuestra invitación. Ábrase a la voluntad delEspíritu Santo. Pídele que le dará nuevos, poderosos dones. Dará el Espíritu Santo permiso usarte más en su gran proyecto de salvación. Y luego, velemos lo que hace a través de nosotros.

The Glorious Mysteries, Meditations with the Saints

October 27, 2010

The 1st Glorious Mystery:
The Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead

St. John Bosco, an Italian priest, founded a famous school for boys in the mid-1800’s and is the patron saint of students. He is known to have worked many miracles, but one from 1849 stands out. Returning from a journey, he learned that Charles, a 15 year old student, had died. He went immediately to the teenager’s home where the family informed him that Charles had been dead for over 10 hours. The body was laid out in the living room, already dressed for burial.

Fr. Bosco asked everyone to leave except the mother and the aunt. After some time in silent prayer, he cried out: “Charles, rise!” Charles emitted a long sigh, stirred, opened his eyes, stared at his mother and asked, “Why did you dress me like this?” Then, realizing Fr. Bosco was present, he told him how he had cried out for him and how he had been waiting for him. He exclaimed, “Father, I should be in hell!” He told of how a few weeks before he had fallen into serious sin. Then he said he had a “dream” of being on the edge of a huge fiery furnace, and as he was about to be thrown into the flames, a beautiful lady appeared and prevented it. She said, “There is still hope for you, Charles. You have not yet been judged.” Then he heard the voice of Fr. Bosco calling him back.

Charles asked Fr. Bosco to hear his confession. After his confession, the mourners filled the room again, and Fr. Bosco said, “Charles, now that the gates of heaven lie wide open for you, would you rather go there or stay here with us?” A profound silence filled the room. Charles, with tears in his eyes said, “I’d rather go to heaven.” Then he leaned back on the pillows, closed his eyes and breathed his last.

Unless Jesus’ Second Coming happens first, each of us here will die, and rise. As we meditate on Jesus’ resurrection, let us consider how ready we are to meet Him.

The 2nd Glorious Mystery:
The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.

St. Padre Pio is another Italian priest from not so long ago who also worked remarkable miracles. During WWII, Allied planes flew bombing raids over Italy. Almost all of the centers of the region were subjected to repeated bombardment, but no bombs ravaged the town of San Giovanni Rotondo. Every time the aviators approached that place, they saw a monk flying in the air who prevented them from dropping their bombs. Understandably, reports of this flying friar did not amuse the superior offices.

Bernardo Rosini, a general of the Italian Air Force, recounts this story: “One day, an American commander wanted to lead a squadron of bombers himself to destroy the German arms depository of war material that was located at San Giovanni Rotondo. The commander related that as he approached the target, he and his pilots saw rising in the sky the figure of a friar with his hands held outward. The bombs released of their own accord, falling in the woods, and the planes completely reversed course without any intervention by the pilots.”  

Someone told the commanding general that in a convent at this town, there lived a saintly man. At war’s end, the general wanted to go meet this person. “He was accompanied by several pilots… He went to the convent of the Capuchins. As soon as he crossed the threshold of the sacristy, he found himself in front of several friars, among whom he immediately recognized the one who had ‘stopped’ his planes. Padre Pio went forward to meet him, and putting his hand on his shoulder, he said, `So, you’re the one who wanted to get rid of us all!’”

As we meditate on the Ascension of Jesus, to the right hand of the Father in Heaven, let us pray that He would establish justice and peace, in this country and the whole world, in our time.

The 3rd Glorious Mystery:
The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

We usually don’t associate India with Christianity, but that nation has over 24 million Christians.  That’s about as many people as live in Texas, our second largest state. If you were to ask them how the faith reached their land they would point to St. Thomas the Apostle.

What led St. Thomas, who at first refused to even believe in the Good News, to travel over 2,500 miles to bring them the Gospel? It was not merely seeing the risen Christ. Jesus knew His disciples would need more to strengthen them then merely their memories of Him. St. Thomas journeyed because the Lord had sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to fill them with gifts, like wisdom, courage, and zeal.

If we are in the state of grace, God the Holy Spirit dwells in us too, and He wants to empower us with His gifts. As we meditate on the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, let us pray for whatever spiritual gift that we need the most.

The 4th Glorious Mystery:
The Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

No Church, in the East or the West, claims to contain the body of St. Mary. This is because “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This is because Jesus would not suffer Mary, His sinless, faithful beloved, to undergo corruption.

Death is a consequence of human sin, and without human intervention, as in embalming or mummification, our dead bodies will ordinarily experience its corruption. But, sometimes, the Lord preserves the dead bodies of his saints, to give a sign of their holiness, and to show that death is not all that awaits us.

Among the numerous saints whose incorrupt bodies you can still see today are:  St. John Bosco, St. John Vianney, St. Catherine Laboure (the visionary of the Miraculous Medal), St. Bernadette Soubirous (the visionary of Lourdes), and St. Maria Goretti.

As we meditate on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, let us pray for purity in our lives.

The 5th Glorious Mystery:
The Coronation of Mary as the Queen of Heaven and Earth

Once, when St. Maximillian Kolbe was a boy, his behavior began trying his mother’s patience. She said in exasperation, “Maximillian, what will become of you?” As St. Maximillian writes, “Later, that night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.” St. Maximillian would receive both crowns, as a holy Franciscan brother, and as a victim of the Nazis at Auschwitz, were he took the place of another innocent man who was condemned to die.

Jesus crowns his holy ones. He wills that those who share in His sacrifice should also share in His glory. As we meditate on the Coronation of Mary, let us pray to accept whatever crowns of burden and glory the Lord wants to give to us.

Relating to God Personally — Pentecost Sunday

May 23, 2010

In the Old Testament, the truth that God is a unity of three persons, that God is triune, that God is a Trinity, was only obscurely presented. The knowledge that God consists Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, only became clear to us through Jesus Christ. Our one true God has always been three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Now the Father is not Jesus Christ. Jesus is not the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is not our Father. They are distinct persons. Yet, at the same time, each possesses the fullness of divinity: perfect goodness, perfect beauty, perfect knowledge, and perfect power, perfect mercy, and perfect love. We do not worship three gods, but three eternal persons who comprise one God. There is no God apart from these divine persons.

Sometimes we say we are “praying to God,” and that is well and good. But when we are “praying to God” we should not imagine that we are speaking to some fourth person, to some divine abstraction above or beyond the three. If you don’t know which divine person you have been praying to at such times, you have been praying to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. (Notice how the prayers in the Mass are always addressed to particular divine persons; usually the Father, but sometimes the Son.)

If you have been a Christian who has always directed your prayers some abstract Christian divinity, who is neither Father, Son, nor Spirit, I trust that your prayers have still been heard within the Trinity. And if you have never related to the Holy Spirit as a real person who knows and wills and loves, but only as some abstract force, I am confident that He has blessed you with His gifts and produced His fruits in you even without your asking. But Christianity is all about loving communion with  persons. Not forces, not abstractions, but persons: persons human, angelic, and divine.

Do you have a personal relationship with each of the persons of the Trinity; with Jesus Christ, with our heavenly Father, and with the Holy Spirit? If not, then it’s important that you begin to cultivate these relationships in prayer, for we are called to love God, and only persons can be truly loved.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we recall the gift of the person of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Holy Spirit does not begrudge it when we ask Him for good things, for ourselves and for others; no, He is pleased when we ask and pleased to give. Gift is who the Holy Spirit is. But today and henceforth let us always speak to Him and the other divine persons in a personal way with a great personal love.