On Pentecost we celebrate the gifting of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles in the Upper Room. For nine days past they have been hiding in fear, awaiting this gift, the Advocate. The Holy Spirit descends upon the Church in an outpouring of love, and with Mary as their guide, the disciple’s mission begins: proclaiming the Kingdom, outpouring their gifts, and healing the world.
The Apostles were filled with fear up to this point. They had witnessed the Risen Lord’s Ascension into Heaven, and still their purpose was not yet realized. The liturgical calendar enables the faithful to reflect on our own lives, hearts, and mission. We are called to place ourselves in the very heart of the story, to participate as if this very event is happening today. And so Pentecost beckons the questions: “In what ways am I in the Upper Room, unsure of how the Lord is calling me to serve?” “What brings my heart to fear?” “In what ways am I holding onto lies, listening to a voice that is not the Lord’s?”
Jesus Christ chose men and women who, like you and me, struggled with human fears, human sin, and human misunderstanding. We can resonate with their experience in the Upper Room, awaiting guidance and courage. The moment the Holy Spirit descends on those in the Upper Room, everything changes and their hearts are transformed. The Apostles baptized 3,000 people that very day. The mission of the Church begins, and the Apostles are equipped with what is needed to live out that mission.
From Pentecost onward, the Gospel was shared and people were baptized from as far as India to Spain; miracles and healings took place in Jesus’ name! Now in 2021, we have the same Spirit, and this brings our hearts great hope. This is the very Spirit given to us in our Baptism and Confirmation! We have the power to spread the love and message of Jesus’ life and Resurrection to others because we are equipped with all that is necessary. It is easy to read of the Early Christians who bravely faced martyrdom and changed the world and to just dismiss it, as if the Spirit within them has diminished over time and no longer carries the same power. No, the call of the Christian is to open our hearts to this very same Spirit and ask Him to show us the path to love. The same Spirit that transformed the world through the Apostles can transform our world today.
In our ordinary lives there can be extraordinary love, sacrifice, and renewal in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Today we are called to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit’s transformative love, asking Him to show us the path to mission. In what ways is He calling you outside of yourself to love those around you? How can you let go of fear and open your heart to the burning fire of His love for you and the whole world?
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7
“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is how I begin all of my prayers; and it comes from a long tradition in Christianity. As Catholics, we usually accompany these words by making the Sign of the Cross with our hand. Why is this so important to our faith and to me personally? To begin, I suggest revisiting and praying the Nicene Creed as it is proclaimed at every Catholic Mass. This is our profession of faith. The Holy Trinity – three persons in one – is a mystery we mere mortals can scarcely understand, but it explains our identity as children of God.
We are taught from the Old Testament that God the Father is the Creator, and He sustains all of the world. In the New Testament we are instructed that God the Son is our Savior, Jesus Christ – both divine and human in nature and whose behavior we strive to model. At Pentecost, as told in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, we are shown that the Holy Spirit is imparted to each of us as the presence of God in us who gives us wisdom and boldness to act as we are taught by Jesus. The unity of these three divine beings in one God is a profound gift I believe in complete faith, and it helps me understand who I am in His Kingdom. I am a child of the Father who loved me into being together with my earthly mom and dad, I am redeemed by the body and blood poured out by Jesus His Son for all my failings, and I am aided constantly by the Holy Spirit to live and profess the Christian life in joy and exuberance! I like to think of myself as being a flesh and bone human with supernatural assistance (as long as I cooperate with the will of God)! That is a pretty amazing disposition to live out of. We read in the Old Testament’s books of the prophets that God promised a Messiah to save His people, and then in Matthew 1:2-16 the genealogy of Jesus is recorded and spiritually comes to include each of us, who through our baptism become sons and daughters of God. This is an earthly and divine bond like no other in all of creation.
There is so much more to us human beings than our earthly bodies and this temporary space we inhabit. We are walking, talking, living, breathing messengers of God the Almighty, commissioned to share love and mercy to every other living being around us. We are flesh and bone, but we are also spirit and intellect. When in right relationship with our Lord, we are the dwelling place for God to move and work in and through us. Understanding our identity and praying for guidance to live it out in what we do and say is imperative to being a member of the Kingdom of Heaven. This knowledge and the grace and virtues that flow from accepting our mission gives us the power to bring life and healing and hope and joy to a hurting, confused, and broken world.
So, if you are ready to accept the mission, be prepared to be filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit and be equipped with all that is necessary to be a present day apostle! Several years ago, one of our young sons made a simple but beautiful bookmark for my husband as a gift. It was brightly colored and had the words: WORK FOR GOD! down the middle. This summarizes exactly what we are called to do and continues to be a great reminder as it sits in my husband’s Bible. The Holy Trinity is the foundation of all our Christian beliefs and it gives me great comfort knowing who I come from and who I belong to for time and eternity, even when I do not fully comprehend it. We can sing from the rooftops: “Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name Thee; while in essence only one, undivided God we claim Thee; and adoring bend the knee, while we own the mystery” (Holy God, We Praise Thy Name by Ignace Franz).
To learn more about living as a missionary disciple, please click here.
We are in the time of the Upper Room, the Cenacle. The days between the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost are liturgically the time when the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and the disciples were together in prayer, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. They did not really know what to expect. In fire and wind, the Holy Spirit came, and their lives were transformed forever. The world is also transformed and is transforming. The mission continues in the name of Jesus Christ! We are sent as apostles, as missionary disciples, out into the world. Hiding in a room, in our homes, even in a church is not our call. Instead, we go forth, going where the Holy Spirit moves us to go.
We can do amazing things in the name of Jesus Christ. There is no need to wait until someone invites us. No, if we are baptized, and especially if we are confirmed, then we can go forth! We need to recognize, though, that we do not send ourselves. We are sent by Christ, in and through his Church. The community of faith that we call Church is where we go forth from and to which we return. The Church teaches us, forms us, heals and nourishes us through the Sacraments, and sends us on mission. The mission is not ours; it is Christ’s. We, as members of Christ’s Faithful, are called to live his mission until he comes again, just as the Apostles were told to do.
In all of this, Mary, Queen of Apostles, is with us as our Mother and Queen. Her feast day is the day before Pentecost. She was the perfect disciple of Christ. St. Vincent Pallotti said of her: “We have most holy Mary, after Jesus Christ, the most perfect model of true apostolic zeal, and of perfect love” (OOCC I, 7). The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity of the Second Vatican Council echoes this sentiment of Pallotti:
“The perfect example of this type of spiritual and apostolic life is the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, who while leading the life common to all here on earth, one filled with family concerns and labors, was always intimately united with her Son and in an entirely unique way cooperated in the work of the Savior… All should devoutly venerate her and commend their life and apostolate to her maternal care” (4).
Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
To learn more about Mary, Queen of Apostles, please click here.
“Why are you standing there?”
The angels who spoke these words to the astounded disciples now turn to ask us this question today. Perhaps, like the disciples after the Ascension, we too have been stuck looking up at the sky, wondering where Christ is.
Our answers to the angels’ question are probably very legitimate. “I am standing here because of the pandemic, because I lost my job, because of isolation, because of sickness, because of racial discord, because of people’s differences, because I don’t know what else to do.”
In this passage from today’s Gospel reading, which is the same as this upcoming Sunday’s, I remind myself that at least the disciples were looking up. They at least had their eyes fixed on Christ. That, in and of itself, is a good thing. But what God wants to convey through the angels after Jesus’ Ascension is that just seeing Christ or believing in him is not enough. A relationship with Christ results not in paralysis, but in action.
“You will be my witnesses,” Jesus tells his disciples moments before he ascends to the Father.
And it is by living out our relationship with Christ as witnesses that the world comes to know him and that our faith comes alive. Witnessing to our faith and accompanying others on their faith journeys shake us out of our paralysis and help us overcome our fear. Jesus is not conveying that hardship, suffering, or unrest will be absent from our lives, but that these no longer have the power to paralyze and trap us. His Resurrection has changed the narrative. And as the Easter season comes to a close, Jesus is calling us not only to believe in him, but to act— to have our lives transformed by the knowledge of the Resurrection and to live boldly and faithfully as a result.
At this point, however, the disciples are still focused on earthly things. Just before Jesus’ Ascension, they ask him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Many of us have similar questions.
“Lord, at this time will I get my job promotion? As this time, will my addiction be healed? At this time, will the pandemic end? At this time, will our family be reconciled?”
These are valid, important questions of the human heart. Questions that long for answers, for resolutions, for miracles.
Jesus’ response seems mystifying and even unrelated:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.”
While the disciples are still caught focusing on the restoration of Israel and victory over their oppressors, Christ promises more. So much more, in fact, that they are unable to grasp it without the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate on the Feast of Pentecost on May 23rd.
It is why Jesus chose to ascend at this time. He had spent 40 days teaching and opening the Scriptures to his disciples after his Resurrection, but they still could only fathom human goals and objectives. Jesus knows his ministry has come to an end and that a new chapter of the Church will begin with the promised Advocate, the Holy Spirit.
After he answers them, Jesus compels his disciples to look up to the heavens as he begins to ascend to the Father. He is physically showing them the needed disposition of their hearts and minds in order to receive the Holy Spirit: they should be considering heavenly things and a heavenly goal.
But then, moments later, they are startled to hear: “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
It can be tempting at times to separate ourselves from the reality of the here and now by over-spiritualizing things or being preoccupied with the past or future. The disciples are left looking up (very understandably), but this looking up and clinging to Jesus in his physical form distracts them from the action to which he has called and chosen them: to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
This balance between living in the world but not of it can be difficult to grasp and practice.
It’s important first to consider where you find yourself today. Are you asking the Lord to restore the kingdom to Israel? Are you standing looking at the sky? Many of us are somewhere in between.
Below are 6 practices that help ground me in Christ and deepen my ability to witness to his love:
By considering these practices, it is my hope that, renewed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we will enter into Ordinary Time ready to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. Christ calls us each to so much more than simply remain standing.
For more resources on living as missionary disciples, please click here.
During the spring of 2008, I was a freshman at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I was nearing the end of my first year of school, preparing to enter into finals, and attempting to figure out what my plans were for the summer. A few months prior, it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI would be visiting the D.C. during his US Papal visit. Furthermore, he would be speaking at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America in subsequent days. To say I was a little excited for my first Papal Visit is a bit of an understatement. I remember vividly watching him ride in the Popemobile in front of the Basilica on the Wednesday of his arrival, the next day participating in the celebration of the Mass with Pope Benedict XVI in Nationals Park, and finally, seeing him drive near the Catholic University Law School lawn before his talk on the importance of Catholic Education. He greeted the crowds that came to see him. The people present were excited simply to be a part of that moment in history.
As I write this on Sept 15th, Pope Francis will be arriving in the United States in less than a week. That same excitement fills the air of our nations’ capital. That same excitement fills my heart as much as it did over seven years ago. Why is it that we should be excited for his arrival? In the age of computers, smartphones, and the 24/7 news media cycle, everyone can be a witness to Pope Francis and his message all the time. The excitement that I feel about his visiting the United States comes from a sense of honor and pride. Of all the countries in which Catholics live (and there are many), the choice of the Pontiff to visit our country brings a sense of pride to be a member of the nation that is experiencing history. As a note, this is not only Pope Francis’ first visit as pontiff to our country, it is also his first time ever visiting our country.
When Pope Francis arrives at Joint Base Andrews, United States Catholics around the country will watch, participate, and attend the events that Pope Francis will be a part of in Washington, D.C., New York City, NY, and Philadelphia, PA. Throughout six days, Catholics around the country have the opportunity to join in welcoming Pope Francis to our country. Whether through attending, participating, watching, or praying, all US Catholics can join in a celebration of the Pope’s visit and (hopefully) pride in understanding the momentous occasion of the event. It will hopefully renew that most perfect love, the love between God and man. In many ways, this visit from September 22-27 will be a great event and moment of potential evangelization.
What will we do on September 28? Will we simply go back to our lives as if this event never happened? This thought leads me back to my spring experience in 2008 because that is exactly what I did after Pope Benedict traveled back to Rome. As important and great as is the visit of a pope to your country, the words and actions of the pope during his visit are what should ultimately serve as a stepping off point in our evangelization journey. It doesn’t have to be something grandiose and over the top. Simple, sustainable acts of charity and prayer are enough to carry on the message of the Pope that was espoused when Francis was here. Fortunately for us, Pope Francis gave us a simple direction in his Apostolic Mission message: Love. Love is our primary mission as Catholics in the United States, and while this can be difficult to do, it is an important mission to carry forth when we watch Pope Francis leave from Philadelphia.
Next Tuesday at approximately 4:00 pm, Pope Francis will touch down at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County, Maryland. This Apostolic Journey to the United States of America includes visits to three important American cities: Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia.
I am excited to return next week to the campus of my alma mater, The Catholic University of America, where Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This Mass will make history, as it is the first canonization Mass to take place on U.S. soil and the first papal Mass to take place on a U.S. university campus.
As a seminarian, I will join thousands of my brother seminarians and those in religious formation in the Great Upper Church of the National Shrine for the Mass of Canonization. Although details are sparse, it is expected that Pope Francis will be greeted on the front steps of the National Shrine and then proceed down the center aisle before celebrating Mass on the steps of the National Shrine overlooking Catholic University.
The Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis has been described as an "encounter," not simply a trip. The secular media has focused on his address to Congress, the security concerns related to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and the associated merchandise. (I must admit that I'll be on the lookout for some fun Papal Visit trinkets as souvenirs!) I think there is something to be said, however, about this apostolic journey as an "encounter."
During an audience with seminarians and novices in July 2013, Pope Francis addressed them with these words, which are certainly applicable to us all:
I would like to tell you: come out of yourselves to proclaim the Gospel, but to do this you must come out of yourselves to encounter Jesus. There are two ways out: one towards the encounter with Jesus, towards transcendence; the other towards others in order to proclaim Jesus. These two go hand in hand. If you only take one of them, that is no good!
Encountering the Holy Father is a way to both deepen our faith and evangelize. This has been actualized in the "Walk with Francis" movement, which encourages people to join the Holy Father in prayer and service. The Holy Father has encouraged us to join in prayer not only for his Apostolic Journey to the United States, but also that his message of peace, mercy, discipleship, and love might touch the hearts of both believers and non-believers alike.
The theme of the Apostolic Journey, "Love is Our Mission," seems to indicate what it is that the Holy Father wishes to convey to us during his first visit to the United States. His words on love and mercy are poignant:
May a powerful gust of holiness sweep through all the Americas... We ask the Risen Jesus, Lord of all ages, that the life of our American continent may be rooted ever more deeply in the Gospel it has received; that Christ may be ever more present in the lives of individuals, families, peoples and nations, for the greater glory of God. We pray, too, that this glory may be manifested in the culture of life, brotherhood, solidarity, peace and justice, with a preferential and concrete love for the poor, through the witness of Christians of various confessions and communities, together with believers of other religious traditions, and people of upright conscience and good will. Lord Jesus, we are merely your missionary disciples, your humble co-workers so that your Kingdom may come!
We look forward to welcoming you to the United States, Holy Father, and we join in walking with you in prayer and service that we might become witnesses to love and ministers of God's mercy. Pope Francis told the young people gathered at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro that "evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness, it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did." By serving others and witnessing to the love of God, may we be inspired to encounter the Lord in our sisters and brothers. May this encounter with Pope Francis in the United States inspire us all to answer the Holy Father's call to evangelize.
For more information on Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to the United States, please visit our Papal Visit Portal.
Our Church breathes through the two lungs of Scripture and Tradition, and as members of the Church we are called to do the same to live a flourishing life. The Catechism of our Church explains the importance of Scripture saying, "And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life" (CCC 131). In order to inspire a life of apostolic vocation with strength and vigor, we begin today our first installment of the "Scripture to Life" series. Through the intercession and example of Our Lady, Mother of God and Queen of Apostles, we hope that the Word of God may be enfleshed by you.
Throughout my spiritual journey I have always struggled with pinpointing the virtue of humility in my life. I don’t think this is due to any lack of desire for the virtue, (it usually isn’t) but rather a lack of true understanding of the virtue. In the Gospel passage of John 13, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and as he approached, Peter asked, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Whenever I read this passage, I always anticipate what Peter says next: “You will never wash my feet!”
For some reason, I am always drawn to Peter’s stark rejection of Jesus’ perfect example of humility. If you have practiced lectio divina before, you know that when a part of Scripture confuses the heck out of you, that is exactly the point where you must stop reading, close your eyes, and listen.; It is specifically in this moment that God seeks to transform you through the power of his living word.
My meditation on this passage continues with reflecting on exactly what was going through Peter’s mind and heart at the moment of his objection: confusion and feelings of extreme discomfort. It is as if Peter, like many of us who strive for, yet lack the fullness of this most necessary virtue of humility, is saying: WAIT! I don’t understand! Why are you asking me to go this far outside of my “comfort zone” in order to be your disciple?
One of the ways I ask my students to relate to Peter’s level of discomfort is by asking them to consider allowing me to wash their feet in front of their friends. As they all cringe and shout “that’s disgusting”, I simply say, multiply your level of discomfort by ten and that is probably how the apostles felt when Jesus began to wash their feet.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ invitation to his apostles to accept this teaching is vital to their emerging role in the building up the Kingdom of God and one of extreme importance to his mission of salvation. His disciples must go beyond all levels of comfort in order to serve Him and to create His Kingdom on earth. Likewise, this invitation is extended to us, who are called to be apostles of Christ by joining in the Church’s mission of evangelization.
However, like Peter (as well as my students and myself) most Christians in today’s world, cringe when Jesus invites them to serve in ways that take them beyond their comfort zone. Jesus is saying that it is precisely in the moments that lead us beyond ourselves, our fears and our assumptions, that we can do the greatest good in witnessing to the New Evangelization and building up the Kingdom.
The great missionary and witness to the New Evangelization, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Always take the more difficult road.” To me, there is no path more difficult than the path of humility and yet none more fulfilling. I have felt extremely uncomfortable at times when discerning the call of the Holy Spirit! Nevertheless, like Peter, I am immediately reassured with the words of Jesus’ gentle response: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”
Our task then, like Peter’s, is learning to respond with true understanding and true humility; for this is essential to our Christ-filled witness in the New Evangelization. Jesus, in this paradigm, testifies that when we reject the sin of self-absorption and are ready to serve selflessly we pave the way for God’s people to enter into the Kingdom of God: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Lk 14:11
Bart Zavaletta received a B.S. in Kinesiology from the University of Houston and a M.A. in Theology from the Oblate School of Theology, and currently teaches Theology at Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, Nebraska.
When the word “Vocation” is mentioned, most often people equate it to Godly calls to the priesthood or consecrated religious life. Some think of their own conceptions of God’s calling to this life while others, having ruled themselves out of the running for religious life, may consider their vocation decision already made. Still, others consider “Vocation” to mean any of the “Big V” or apostolic vocations – marriage, religious or the consecrated single life.
Now, instead consider the phrase “Personal Vocation”. This may not bring much to mind, as it’s not typically a widely used term, but it is one that applies to everyone.
So what is it? According to Germain Grisez and Russell Shaw in their book “Personal Vocation”, it is the realization of what God is calling you to at this very moment. For example, the vocation of a student doesn’t begin once he or she graduates with a certain degree, rather, that time spent studying should be used to discern how one could be the student God has called him or her to be.
Grisez and Shaw propose that the same is true for discerning our apostolic vocations. From the time we are young, if the only emphasis is about deciding the state of life that God has called us to, then once we commit ourselves to marriage or religious life, we are left asking “What now?” Any married couple, priest or religious brother or sister would probably tell you that just making those vows doesn’t make life a cake walk, and in fact, each day brings a renewed commitment to the promises they made. If each day we approach our apostolic vocation as a means to fulfill our personal vocation, we will always find ourselves – no matter our state of life – continually working to fulfill God’s plan for our lives, the ultimate goal. As Blessed John Henry Newman once said:
“For in truth we are not called once only, but many times; all through our life Christ is calling us. He called us first in Baptism; but afterwards also; whether we obey His voice or not, He graciously calls us still…He calls us again and again, in order to justify us again and again, and again and again, and more, to sanctify and glorify us.”
A personal vocation is not about allowing past decisions to deter us from the glory that God calls each of us to, even if we may have previously neglected Him. Our previous decisions and actions, good or bad, have all been in preparation for this very moment in which God can use each of us.
If we just take the time to listen for His voice we will hear His call. How is he calling you?
David Burkey is the Communications Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.