Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

Check out the revised edition of this exciting and unique prayer book, filled with prayers that are sure to nourish the soul as we undertake the New Evangelization.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Christ ascends into Heaven and sends the promised gift of the Spirit

On May 5th, the universal Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension.  Out of obedience, many of us celebrated the Mass of the Ascension on the nearest Sunday. 


I have become convinced, after much reflection, that the Holy Days of Obligation are an indispensable opportunity for the faithful to learn about and celebrate the faith beyond the Sunday obligation.  The Holy Days in the universal Church calendar honor our Lord (Christmas, Ascension and Corpus Christi), the Blessed Mother (Mother of God, Assumption and Immaculate Conception) and the Saints (Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, and All Saints).  It is reasonable that Corpus Christi be transferred to a Sunday since it is not tied to a specific day and a Solemnity of the Lord can pre-empt a Sunday celebration in the table of feasts.  However, because of the scriptural basis of the Ascension taking place 40 days after the Resurrection, transferring “Ascension Thursday” to the following Sunday makes no sense.  The uniqueness of the Ascension demands a unique celebration.  Accommodating convenience is a poor reason for making decisions about Church practice.  A better reason is facilitating a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  Taking time out of our routine to honor significant events and persons in the story of salvation is absolutely worth our time.  People today need more time with Jesus, not less; a more radical living out of their faith instead of minimalism.  Furthermore, in a world where healthy masculinity and virtuous fatherhood are lacking, we need to “Go to Joseph” for inspiration and intercession.  Therefore, I am convinced that the salvation of souls would be further enabled by a commitment on the part of our Church hierarchy to celebrating more Holy Days of Obligation and doing so with greater zeal.  Asking the baptized to commit to Mass on seven Holy Days throughout the year is not too much to ask, considering all the activities for which families today manage to find time.  These seven holy days should thus be celebrated as obligatory without exception: Immaculate Conception, Christmas, Mother of God, Saint Joseph, Ascension, Assumption, All Saints.  The circumstances under which one incurs the penalty of mortal sin for missing Mass on these days could be modified.  For example, work that is necessary to support the family could be a legitimate excuse to miss Mass.  The bottom line is to undertake a campaign of encouraging people to see the eternal spiritual benefit of celebrating these feasts with the Church community.


We recall this moment in which Jesus returned to the Father’s right hand because it signifies the end of His earthly ministry and opens the way for the spark of the Spirit of the Lord to ignite the kindling which was the early Church into flame – the fire prophesied by Joel, the fire Jesus came to cast on the earth and longed to see burning, the fire which spreads its light and warmth throughout the world as the Gospel is proclaimed.  Jesus told the Apostles that He had to leave them in order for the Spirit to come.  The Church could not hope to flourish without the Spirit.  In the meantime, Jesus tells the Apostles to stay put in Jerusalem, waiting and praying for the promise of the Father to come upon them.  With the power of the Spirit to encourage them, the Apostles would have the wisdom and courage, in fact all the gifts of the Spirit, they need in order to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.


Having ascended through the clouds, Jesus enters into the heavenly sanctuary accompanied by the blare of trumpets.  Each time we enter into the celebration of the Holy Mass, we are drawn up into the heavenly liturgy.  We sing with the angels and join in their unceasing worship of God.  On Calvary, Jesus offered the one perfect sacrifice for the salvation of the world.  Rising from the empty grave, He trampled the power of sin and death.  The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two when Jesus breathed His last, so there is no more daily sacrifices in the temple at Jerusalem.  The Lamb is the light of the heavenly Temple, the New Jerusalem.  The Spirit is the light of the earthly Jerusalem, where the Apostles suddenly discover they are given the power to speak the one faith in the language of all peoples.  The Church, she who was born from the saving tide of blood and water flowing from the side of Christ as He surrendered to death on the Cross, is christened at Pentecost with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  In the epicenter of the Upper Room an explosion of grace occurs whose shockwaves have been felt across the continents and down through the centuries. 


The moment of Pentecost – the driving wind and the tongues of fire – is often conceptualized in a pious manner, especially in sacred art.  The fact is that the Apostles were ordinary blue-collar men, who never expected to venture outside Galilee and Judea before they met Jesus.  All of a sudden their best friend rises from the dead, they are compelled by their love for Him to travel to the ends of the earth preaching the Gospel and they discover they can speak languages they have never even heard before.  So, the wind and fire of the Spirit shook them to the core.  The Apostles’ Baptism in the Spirit was as knock-your-socks-off powerful an experience then as it is for those who are prayed over in a charismatic retreat today.  Rather than little flames on the heads of iconic figures frozen in prayer, the Apostles were blown over by what they felt.  The story of Pentecost took place because the Mary and the Eleven were obedient to Jesus and gathered for nine days of intense prayer.  Jesus asks the same of us: enter into frequent and sincere contemplative prayer, seeking to experience a deeper indwelling of the Spirit.  Jesus desires to share an outpouring of the Spirit with every human person, in order that we all can become His witnesses. 


Saint Paul exhorts us in Romans and Galatians to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh, to exemplify the virtues of the Spirit rather than be held prisoner by the vices of the flesh.  Often these war within us in spiritual battle.  I am fond of this old Native American legend:


An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”


The world tells us to feed the flesh: to eat, drink, use, abuse and indulge as much as we want.  God tells us to nourish our spiritual life, through prayer, celebrating the sacraments, practicing the virtues and studying the teachings of the faith.  We need to choose every day, sometimes hour by hour, to starve the flesh and feed the soul. 


The Spirit offers us His gifts: the knowledge of the things of God, a deeper understanding that surpasses the world’s false values, wisdom to perceive life through the mind of Christ, counsel to make healthy choices and virtuous decisions, fortitude in the face of opposition to our faith, reverence for all that is sacred and a healthy fear of the Lord that compels us to be totally devoted to God.  These gifts form us into disciples, even saints – but only if we accept them and put them into action in our lives.  For this Jesus ascended into Heaven and sent the promised gift of the Father.  The same precious gift awaits us, too, whenever we sincerely knock at the treasury of grace. 


Come, Holy Spirit!  Fill us with all the gifts of your love that we need to nourish our spiritual life and be witnesses to Jesus in the world. 

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