I have a new hot-take: Jesus is a perfect definition of bittersweetness. This might leave some to continue scrolling down the page, but hang on. For me, I need to connect to my faith in a tangible and simple way. When you think of something like the Paschal Mystery, it’s a little daunting. To explain some more, let’s break down this little claim of mine and engage with the Paschal Mystery a bit. We know that Jesus’ Passion, death on the Cross, rising from the dead, and new life are all aspects of the core of what we believe as Catholics. The bittersweet aspect is that it was both sad and amazing at the same time. Recently, we saw how Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection, followed by his Ascension, made his disciples miss him. But, the Holy Spirit empowered them to do great things! At points of transition in our lives, even as natural as the change of seasons, we may find ourselves with feelings of similar bittersweetness.
As my life gets pretty chaotic this summer, I’m finding myself constantly split between being sad and happy or experiencing the closing and opening of chapters. I’ll be saying a fond farewell to an aspect of my career that feels like the sun setting, but there is hope of new and exciting horizons that lie ahead. As a parent, I’m grieving the baby phase that my two-and-a-half-year-old is through and gaze at his baby chub that was so squishy, when he couldn’t run fast. On the other hand, I’m loving the chatting and curiosity that his toddler age has brought to our lives and I can’t stop laughing and smiling with him lately! Also in my personal life, my husband and I are coming up on our 5th wedding anniversary this fall, and I cannot help but wonder how fast the time has flown by while loving how much we’ve grown and supported each other over these years. In all of these areas, the word I keep thinking is not bittersweet—that sounds like a tasty chocolate. It’s bittersweetness. The word for my summer is bittersweetness. I think I like the sound of it better than the type of chocolate because of the “sweetness” part. I like the sweetness in things, the joy and the happiness. I tend to skip right through the sad or longing because if I dwell on these too long, I’ll get that tightening in my throat and catch a tear in my eye. I don’t like goodbyes and I don’t like endings. I always think of the glass half-full. For example, I tell my students, “Jesus died, but three days later he rose from the dead and saved us all.” The bittersweetness of life for me always looks optimistic and emphasizes the sweetness, not the bitterness. But life is full of both, so I’m trying to push through and feel all the feels this time.
In this literal new season of summer and this transition of seasons in my life, I need this reminder to not skip the goodbyes and try to go straight to the good part. I think this summer will be hard for me in this season, so turning to prayer and God’s grace will ease that burden a bit. I’ve always found comfort in prayer, whether it is an intentional Mass or journaling some thoughts. I’m hoping to re-acclimate my heart for those things too. For at-my-fingertips-access though, I am also going to attempt to make the Revive and Rekindle App through the Catholic Apostolate Center a daily habit. I’ll first begin with the daily reflections and see what my heart needs next. I need to reflect and think about Christ, and I really enjoy doing so through the lens of Pallottine spirituality. I find comfort in the words of St. Vincet Pallotti: “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will find God always.” He reminds us to simply look for the Lord. I’m hoping this “seeking,” will bring some comfort for me and for you! Through Christ, this bittersweetness may open my eyes to new things or help me feel at peace with both emotions, embracing the bittersweetness together! Prayer will get me through. Lord, give me strength and understanding. Amen.
As we conclude this June, we will celebrate four saints over three days who were crucial during the early days of the Church. Yesterday we celebrated St. Cyril of Alexandria. Today we celebrate St. Irenaeus. Tomorrow we will celebrate Sts. Peter and Paul. All these saints were instrumental in the spreading of the Gospel and in the formation of the Church during its first few centuries. Even though they lived long ago, their lives carry many messages for us today.
St. Cyril of Alexandria
St. Cyril was the bishop of Alexandria in the beginning of the 400s when the city was powerful politically and intellectually. Throughout his life, St. Cyril of Alexandria faced many political conflicts with other bishops, the patriarch of Constantinople, and the Roman emperor. However, even through these challenging situations, he remained steadfast in his faith and was a proliferous theological writer. Today he is counted among the Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church. One of the teachings of St. Cyril of Alexandria that has always stuck with me is his defense of Mary under the title of “Theotokos.” Theotokos roughly translates to “Mother of God” or “God-bearer” and has been a title of Mary in the Church, especially in Eastern churches, since the time of St. Cyril. Some of my favorite icons of Mary represent her as Theotokos and have really helped me grasp St. Cyril of Alexandria’s teaching.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Irenaeus. St. Irenaeus was a bishop in the 2nd century known during his lifetime as one of the last living connections to the Apostles. Like St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Irenaeus was a prolific theologian who helped guide the Church through many theological controversies and heresies, most notably Gnosticism. For this theological impact on the Church, St. Iraneus was named a Doctor of the Church (just earlier this year by Pope Francis). If you like the nitty-gritty of theology, I encourage you to read more about St. Irenaeus. For me, the quote from St. Irenaeus that has had the biggest impact on my life is: “the glory of God is man fully alive.” I always found the word fully particularly inspiring. I connected this with John 10:10, “a thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I have come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Throughout our life, in both the big events and the mundane events of day-to-day life, Jesus is calling us to full, abundant life.
Sts. Peter and Paul
Tomorrow we will celebrate the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. Unlike a majority of saint’s feast days, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul is celebrated as a solemnity as a sign of their importance to the early days of the faith. While there are many elements of the lives of Sts. Peter and Paul that could be explored, I have always found it striking that they are celebrated on the same day. After St. Paul’s conversion, St. Peter was in a very challenging position that took strong leadership guided by the Holy Spirit to navigate welcoming Paul into the community he once sought to kill. Then, throughout their time working together, they frequently did not see eye to eye on the important issues they faced. Yet, through their disagreements they kept the greater good of the Church in mind and both ended up being martyred for the faith. In our day and age, I think we all can learn a lot from the leadership and collaboration guided by the Holy Spirit exemplified by Sts. Peter and Paul, even when we do not necessarily get along with the people we are working with.
Let us always pray for the intercession of St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Irenaeus, and Sts. Peter and Paul as we strive to learn from their example and bring Christ to those in our lives.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in June, and each month, click here.
God reveals Himself to us and carries out the work of our salvation through becoming a man. He takes on our human condition; He gives us His love and enables us to act with that same love. This is the infinite love that God Himself is.
The message Jesus gives to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a simple nun in late sixteenth-century France, follows this same story of God’s infinite love. That is, divine love comes to us through Christ, who takes on our own human flesh, and has a human heart. This love desires nothing short of our salvation and sanctification.
The humanity of Christ is necessary for our reception of God’s infinite love, and for our ability to live out that love in our own lives. Jesus and His Sacred Heart are the image of God, the infinite love.
Why does it matter that God becomes a man? First and foremost, because we are God’s living image. With the gift of human choice and freedom, God enables us to become a more perfect image of Himself (God, The Infinite Love, p. 91). Through the fall, humankind rejects, disobeys, and forsakes God–our creator and model. We are in need of salvation. So, God, in His infinite love, loves us so much and desires to save us–to restore us towards perfection as His living image–that He takes on our flesh, our human nature, and gives us the gift of a perfect living image of Himself.
The words of St. Vincent Pallotti remind us of the greatness of this gift: “Oh my God, my infinite and incomprehensible love, my eternal, infinite, immense and ineffable mercy, what moved You to grant me such a gift but your infinite love, infinitely merciful?” (God, The Infinite Love, p. 84).
The gift of God’s infinite love is poured forth through Jesus Christ. We know that for any human, the heart is the source of good and evil, love and unlove (Luke 6:45). So, for Christ, fully God and fully man, His Sacred Heart is the source of God’s infinite love for the whole world and all humankind.
The humanity of Jesus–especially the model of His Sacred Heart–changes our hearts and allows us to live our lives with the infinite love of God. Pallotti writes, “Jesus sanctifies, improves and enriches, with His infinite merits, all the words, thoughts and deeds of our life” (God, The Infinite Love 99).
God has revealed Himself to us and saved us, through sending Himself. Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh, models for us how to be living images of the infinite love that is God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In our daily lives, we are called to be conformed unto Christ, and to be the images of infinite love which we were created to be–for ourselves and for others. Let us do so through modeling our hearts, words, thoughts, deeds–and thus our whole lives–after Jesus Christ and His Sacred Heart.
St. Vincent Pallotti. God, The Infinite Love. Translated by Flavian Bonifazi, S.A.C. Baltimore, MD: Pallottine Heritage Center. 1967.
Part Three: Fully Initiated- Learning and Living our Faith through the Order of Christian Initiation of AdultsRead Now
In this third and final part to this Blog series (See Part One and Part Two), I will discuss the final stages of OCIA (Order of Christian Initiation of Adults) and how the shifted paradigm I’ve been describing has helped us foster a mentality of full initiation—initiation through the sacraments into the Parish Community and Universal Church—as the true goal of becoming Catholic. I also want to conclude with a heartbreaking but redemptive story of what this year leading our new Catholics into the Church has meant to me.
Stage Three: The Period of Purification and Enlightenment
The transition from Stage Two into Stage Three is marked by a special liturgy at the cathedral known as the Rite of Election. The candidates/catechumens are now referred to as “the Elect.” The Period of Purification and Enlightenment, the final preparatory phase leading up to the celebration of the Sacrament of Initiation at the Easter Vigil, coincides with the Lenten Season and focuses on penance—Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving—that provides the necessary spiritual and moral formation to worthily enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Recall that in Stage One (Evangelization/Precatechumenate) we met each week in class and in Stage Two (Catechumenate) we did not, and instead prescribed various active “missions” to be completed by the candidate/catechumen and their companion/mentor.
Our approach to the Period of Purification and Enlightenment is done as a combination of the previous two stages. That is, we begin to meet again each Monday evening to cover topics like 1) What is the Sacrament of Penance and Anointing? What is Catholic Morality? What is Catholic Social Teaching?, but I also give a new set of “Missions” for the candidate/sponsor as well. This year they included:
This year we had folks read things like C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Fulton Sheen’s The World’s First Love, Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness, Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, and then share an insight with the group. We also took another Lenten Pilgrimage Day (this time at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land and National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC).
By the end of Stage Three, participants have gotten a pretty good faith workout! They have experienced first-hand enough of the Catholic faith—its liturgy, prayer, sacred places, works of mercy and charity—to make a well-formed decision to enter into full communion at Easter. And it is with Easter joy that Mother Church receives them and we gain new brothers and sisters in Christ. The Easter Fire and Paschal Candle symbolizes the Great Light of Christ’s Resurrection, the light that each of us has received to bring His radiant joy and warmth into an often dark and cold world.
Stage Four: The Period of Mystagogy
We cannot forget the fourth and final stage of OCIA, the Period of Mystagogy, which does not signify an end but another beginning. Our Mystagogy sessions further introduce three themes: 1) Mystagogy, 2) Ministry, and 3) Mission. We look back (on the sacraments received) in order to look forward-- How does this grace send me forth to build up the Body of Christ (Ministry) and share the Good News (Mission)?
In other words, faith spreads and grows one way only, from Light to Light.
The last story I want to share is not a “success” story that somehow proves the effectiveness of a new strategy or paradigm. It simply tells the relentless love of Christ, the power and working of the Holy Spirit, and the beautiful communion of belonging the Church offers in the midst of the pain of our shared journey of faith. It’s not a story I would have hoped to tell, but it tells me there is always reason for hope.
During Stage Two (the Catechumenate), the candidate and their sponsor gradually read through the entire Gospel of Matthew. One day one of the sponsors, a young man named Kevin (we’re actually the same age), asked to come see me at the parish office. When he came in, he began to describe what can only be described as a great conversion in his life (he had a challenging past) as he read the Conversion of Matthew story (Matt 9:9-13). While he was supposedly being a mentor and guide for the catechumen, it was incredible to see how being a sponsor, which made him get back to coming to Mass each week and reading the Gospel himself, touched off something profound and life-changing. He met the Lord in a new way, returned to the sacraments, and set about his continued conversion. The Easter Vigil for him and his companion (and new Catholic) was an occasion for joy I won’t forget.
A couple weeks after the Easter Vigil there was an accident at Kevin’s work, a machinery explosion that resulted in him suffering extreme burns and internal trauma. Some other priests and I were able to offer the Anointing of the Sick in the hospital. For three weeks he fought for his life, undergoing multiple critical surgeries, until the Lord relieved him of his suffering and called him home.
I had the honor of presiding his funeral, the largest I’ve ever been involved in. I knew the “missions” he had done with his companion, that he went to Mass, read the Scriptures and the Screwtape Letters, prayed the Rosary, toured our cathedral, and more. For someone who had been through a lot in life already, it leaves me speechless still to witness how in that relatively short period of time leading up to a tragic event that no one could have predicted, this “modern-day St. Matthew” found reconciliation with the Lord and passed on his faith to another in the time he was given. I pray he has now moved on to that truly final “stage” of our Christian pilgrimage towards full communion in Christ, from this dim earthly light below to that blessed and eternal light of heaven. This is a story of belonging, what all of our ministries should be about.
“On the way of wisdom I direct you, I lead you on straightforward paths. When you walk, your step will not be impeded, and should you run, you will not stumble.” - Proverbs 4:11-12
Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are those with my dad. I grew up in Massachusetts, and I remember mulling around the Cape for a beach day, going into Boston to catch a game, or running to whatever sporting event I had that weekend. Being an only child, I was extremely close with both of my parents. We were a little trio, and did everything together. When I think of my dad, I not only think of all the fun memories we had, but I also think of all the life lessons I learned along the way—three of which I will go into detail about.
From a young age, I saw the work ethic and determination my father had and looked up to him for that. Being a CPA, he was always working late hours and working on weekends. We knew when tax season hit that he was at his busiest. Despite this, my dad never missed a school concert, a soccer game (or even a practice for that matter), or a dance recital. If it was important to me, it was just as important to him. I can still remember him saying to me sternly, “Never, never, never give up”. No matter what was going on in my life, how upset I may have been, or how frustrated I was, that phrase was said many, many times throughout my life and I still call upon it during moments of doubt. Through crying at the dinner table trying to complete math homework, going through a rough patch with friends, or struggling through college applications, my dad would always remind me to never give up, that the Lord would always show me what was right for me.
As I continue to reflect on phrases I learned from my dad, the other one that always pops into my mind is, “knowledge is power.” He used this phrase so much that he even has it engraved on a bookmark! While education and schooling were extremely important to my childhood, I knew he meant this phrase more broadly. We always talked through current events, explored new sections of the library, and tried to learn as much about anything and everything as possible. This allowed me to stay curious about the world around me, to never be satisfied with one answer, and to always search out the next. I think it’s also probably why I became a history major, as I have always loved to research. After a long week of work, my parents would wake up very early every Saturday morning and drive me an hour into the North End of Boston to take Italian language lessons. Thinking back on that now, I can see their commitment and self-sacrifice (instead of choosing to sleep in on a Saturday morning) to my global knowledge and taking every opportunity to learn something new.
Another large aspect of my childhood revolved around faith. I can remember being a young child and not enjoying going to Mass. I was too young to understand the importance of what was going on in the Mass. While most of my friends were not Catholic, I couldn’t understand why I had to go. Instead of making me sit there and pout, my family tried to make the weekly Mass have some “fun” aspects to it. Whether it be squeezing hands at the end of the Our Father, getting Dunkin Donuts’ together at the end of Mass, or having me put our weekly donation into the basket, these fun little moments allowed my four-year-old faith to begin to grow. A man of great faith, my dad made sure I never missed a weekly Mass or a CCD class and remained involved in our Church community. My dad remained positive through all facets of life - often reminding me that God always had a plan, a path for each of us, and to follow in His guidance.
Looking back, I am so grateful for the memories that I have made with my father over the years, and I am looking forward to the new memories that we will make now and in the future. I will always cherish the moments that we share together and will take his life lessons with me through every step of my life.
To learn more about different facets of fatherhood, we invite you to visit our Year of St. Joseph Resource Page.
Ah, summer. The sun is shining. The beach is calling. There’s much more time for leisure (which is so important! Read Pieper if you need convincing.). For me, more leisure means more time to read and write and consequently, more time to explore the beauty of our faith.
Here’s what I’m reading this summer:
2. Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
Speaking of works I will revisit for the rest of my life, I read Four Quartets multiple times a year, including every summer. I mentioned this genius work in a previous blog, and must bring it up again. This four-part poem from Eliot isn’t the lightest read, but there are plenty of commentaries out there for guidance. I recommend Dove Descending: A Journey into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Written after his conversion, Four Quartets can be read as a response to Eliot’s earlier, more famous and more despondent poem, The Wasteland. Whereas The Wasteland wonders whether a life of harmony and wholeness is possible in the modern world, The Four Quartets presents God’s plan for salvation history as not only possible, but ideal. And let me tell you, Eliot’s incredible verse is a spiritual game-changer.
3. Spiritual Writings by Flannery O’Connor, edited by Robert Ellsberg
Flannery O’Connor never wrote formal ‘spiritual writings’; rather, this is a collection of her letters and other works that touch on spiritual topics. Her writing style is sharp and punchy and will have you on the edge of your seat. The collection includes one of Flannery’s more famous letters wherein she recounts her argument with a writer about the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Flannery says to the writer who has just asserted that the Eucharist is mere symbol, “Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.” If you like literature of the American South, snappy comebacks, and/or want to join the Catholic hipster scene, Flan is your girl.
4. 40 Years with a Saint: Blessed Alvaro del Portillo on Saint Josemariá Escrivá by Cesare Cavalleri
Saint Josemariá is a twentieth century saint who founded Opus Dei, a personal prelature in the Catholic Church that focuses on finding and serving God through everyday life. Opus Dei runs the Catholic Information Center in Washington D.C., where many young professionals like myself attend talks and social gatherings. This book is the thoughts of one saint on another saint. That’s pretty awesome. There are also many awesome YouTube videos with footage of St. Josemariá which I encourage you to watch; it’s wild that we live in an age where we have footage of saints in action!
5. Pier Giorgio Frassati: A Hero for Our Times by Cristina Siccardi
Modern Catholic lore is full of epic stories about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. One of my favorites is that he used to go to the local pool hall and hustle the other players. When he won, he didn’t take his opponents’ money, but instead had them spend an hour with the Blessed Sacrament. I picked up this book to verify these stories and to learn more about the man who proclaimed, "Verso l ‘Alto!" (“To the heights!”) It’s not disappointing.
6. Meeting Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Word by Msgr. J Brian Bransfield
As Catholics, we tend to get a bad reputation for our lack of engagement with Scripture (even though every Sunday Mass is flooded with passages and references). This book helps us dive a bit deeper both familiar and more obscure Gospel passages. If you want to engage more with Scripture this summer, this book is a great place to start.
7. Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin
Everyone loves a good Russian novel and there are many (think Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov etc.). Laurus is a contemporary Russian novel about holiness. Laurus loses the love of his life when she dies giving birth, and the rest of the story is about how he comes to terms with his suffering and ultimately God. The book is extraordinary and the translation is superb. It’s also a great work of historical fiction, illustrating life in Russian during the Middle Ages.
Comment below with what you are reading this summer! And don’t forget to check out the many Catholic Apostolate Center eBooks by clicking here!
**This post was originally published on 7/16/2018**
Each year on the first Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, also known as Trinity Sunday. Although it wasn’t until 1334 that Pope John XXII officially established the feast for universal observance in the Western Church, the mystery of the Holy Trinity has been the pulse of the Church’s life since the very beginning. The Trinity is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life…[and is] the source of all the other mysteries of faith” (CCC 234). The whole of the Church’s life flows from the central belief that the one true God exists as three divine Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since the very beginning of time, God has gradually revealed and communicated the truth of who he is as Trinitarian through what he has done in salvation history (see CCC 53-67). Although God gradually revealed himself throughout different stages of the Old Testament period of salvation history, mankind had no way of knowing the full truth of God’s inner life of the Trinity before the time of Christ, since this mystery of our faith is “inaccessible to human reason alone…before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 237).
In his encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI poses a challenging question: “So now we must ask explicitly: is the Christian faith also for us today a life-changing and life-sustaining hope…which shapes our life in a new way, or is it just ‘information’” (Spe Salvi 10) that doesn’t change us? Furthermore, what difference does this central mystery of our faith make in our daily lives?
Trinity Sunday is an invitation to remember that “[being] Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est 1). In revealing himself as Trinitarian, God hasn’t merely shared impersonal facts about himself; rather, God has shared himself with us, and has invited us into his own inner life and communion of love, which alone is the origin, goal, and meaning of our life. As we read in the Catechism, “By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (CCC 221). On Trinity Sunday, the Church proclaims the truth about God—that God is love (1 John 4:8)—and the truth about us: we are made for this love. We eternally belong to God—we have an eternal home!
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity leads us more deeply into this reality by saying that “The Trinity—this is our dwelling, our ‘home,’ the Father’s house that we must never leave.” When speaking with his disciples before his Passion, Jesus directed the gaze of their hearts towards this truth: “In my Father’s house there are many rooms…and when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3). Jesus continued to reveal more of the Father’s loving plan: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you…If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:18, 23). Jesus reveals to his disciples the Father’s breathtaking desire. He desires not only that we be at home in him when we get to heaven in the future, but he desires us to be at home in him now—and so, he comes to us, he makes his home among us (c.f., John 1:14) in order to make his home in us. Thus, with the Feast of Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit, God fulfills his promise to never leave us orphans. This is why the Church celebrates Trinity Sunday the week after Pentecost: On Pentecost, “the Holy Trinity is fully revealed” (CCC 732).
“I will not leave you orphans!” If Jesus has promised to never leave us orphans, then that means we have a permanent home—we eternally belong to the Father as children of his heavenly household! This is the mystery into which the Church invites us more deeply on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Yet this truth is also the very gift that that we are invited to share with all whom God entrusts to us in our daily lives: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Every human heart longs for its eternal home. Today, we invite the Trinity to be more at home in our hearts in order to make them a more welcoming home for others—that through our smile, our gentleness, our availability of heart, everyone whom the Father entrusts to us may experience the Love that is their eternal home.
Question for Reflection: Today, will we allow our hearts to be touched and changed by the reality into which Trinity Sunday invites us more deeply?
**This post was originally published on 6/8/2017**
They bought into the lie—that nothing had changed, that their dreams were stifled, that death prevailed. The locked doors reflected their locked hearts. Like anyone, they were afraid, inconsolable, at the point of despair. Save one—a virgin. She continues to model to us today what it means to live faith, what it looks like to be a disciple.
The fear of the disciples in the upper room is understandable. They had abandoned the man whom they had left everything to follow for three years. The same man they had pledged to follow unto death had been tortured and killed as their backs were turned, as they cowered for their own lives. Their hopes of a restored Jewish kingdom, a glorious king from the line of David, freedom from Roman rule and the return of God’s presence to the Temple seemed to be nailed to a cross on Golgotha, laid in a tomb hewn from rock. They had yet to see God’s plan amidst the perceived failure. How could this be God’s plan? It was so unlike their own.
Their fear is our own. It is the fear of unmet desires, of unworthiness, of death, of uncertainty, of perceived silence. Like the disciples, we often fail to see God’s plan in our lives. We look around in despair and sense that He is silent. We live the reality of death, confusion and suffering and say, “nothing good can come from this.” But as the disciples quickly realized, our ways are not God’s ways. Our wills are not yet one. Much stands in the way: selfishness, greed, egoism, materialism, pride. All changes with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
What makes a law-abiding Jew abandon his persecution of Christians in favor of joining them and proclaiming the Christ to Jerusalem and Rome?
What makes uneducated fisherman leaders of the universal Church and martyrs for the faith?
What makes the son of a wealthy Italian merchant the begging founder of a religious order and a friend of the poor?
What makes a cloistered nun in Lisieux a Doctor of the Church?
What makes a German priest in Auschwitz volunteer to die in place of a father?
What makes a modern day Italian mother and doctor offer her life for that of her child?
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who is the game changer for the Church—what will now set the disciples apart from the whole world and what continues to set Christians apart today. The Holy Spirit is the active agent of conversion in man, the third person of the Trinity who opens up the Scriptures and sets our hearts on fire. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to live our mission. The Holy Spirit, God’s love, is the difference between the fearful men in the upper room and the on-fire disciples of Christ preaching the Gospel and converting thousands in a single day.
In the Gospel today, Jesus prays for his followers in the Garden of Gethsemane while also speaking directly to you and me. He prays for something seemingly impossible: “that they may all be one” as the Trinity is one. Christ speaks these words not to frustrate his followers but to call them to a perfection possible through God alone. He utters these precious words knowing he will be sending the Holy Spirit to enable man to do this. The goal is outward. This communion—the call to unity—must lead to mission: “that the world may know that you sent me and that you loved them.” God’s love is efficacious. It cannot be contained but must be proclaimed to the world. Only God could deign to give man so dignified and impossible a call. And only God could enable man to fulfill it.
This high priestly prayer of Jesus (which encompasses John 15-17) is one of my favorite parts of Scripture. It is so imbued with Christ’s love for us. The purpose of the Incarnation is about to be revealed. Christ is living his last moments and wants to remind his followers, you and me, why he came: to reveal the Father, to invite man to eternity with Him and to assure man of his lovable-ness in the eyes of God. This love of God is meant to abide in us and reach out from our hearts to the hearts of others. This is only possible through the Eucharist, which physically is Christ’s love present in us and which is made possible through the Holy Spirit. God himself calls us, but God himself equips us…with Himself. It is astounding to what we are called: to holiness, divine love. This is the Christian destiny, but not our inclination. Like the disciples, so quickly do we turn inward. So quickly do we lock the door in fear. God calls us to sanctity, which can only be achieved after an experience of the fire of God’s love. We call this Pentecost, the same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we receive in Baptism and Confirmation. The same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we receive every Sunday in the form of the Eucharist.
Are we being transformed by this grace or do we remain in the upper room? I challenge you to go back to your own story, your own moments of conversion. When did you fall in love with God? Have you? Only armed with the certainty of being loved will we be able to love others and live out the communion and mission Jesus calls us to. And so we call upon the Holy Spirit, the love of God Himself, who was breathed out upon the disciples at Pentecost in tongues of fire. We ask the Holy Spirit to breathe new life within us, within the Church. We ask the Holy Spirit to transform us with the fire of God’s love.
This results in unlocked doors, an empty room.
The disciples emerged, transfigured. Will you?
**This post was originally published on 5/21/2015**