“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).
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“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.
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A second wind is often an unexpected gift. Whether it is discovered during a run, study session, or some other activity demanding intense focus and effort, what at first seems daunting and impossible to achieve suddenly becomes possible thanks to newfound strength and endurance. A second wind, while surely appreciated physically or mentally, can also be applied spiritually. As the Church celebrates her birthday on Pentecost Sunday, we can reflect on the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit who was sent by God Himself to provide the fledgling Christian faith a much needed second wind as apostles prepared to bring the Good News of Christ to the entire world.
One of the Gospel readings for Pentecost details our Lord’s promise to send the Holy Spirit to His disciples. In an earlier related chapter from John’s gospel, Christ Himself walks with the disciples and predicts His own Passion. He assures the disciples that they will not be abandoned as orphans, but will share in the very life of the Most Holy Trinity (John 14:15-31)! The consolation and comfort Jesus brought to those gathered in the Upper Room after His death and resurrection surely reminded them of this though He ordered them to not leave Jerusalem until “the promise of the Father” had been sent (John 20:19-23). It would not be until after Christ’s ascension, that the Holy Spirit would be sent upon the disciples and so enable them to carry out the Great Commission of our Lord, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” While Christ had sent out the disciples to evangelize before (see Luke 10:1-20, cf. Matthew 10), these efforts were limited to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Proselytizing the rest of the world would take place after the rejection of our Lord and would require grace to sustain the disciples through this incredible evangelical endeavor.
Today, the faithful are not only entrusted with this mission, but have also been baptized and confirmed with the same Holy Spirit as was promised to Christ’s first followers! The Holy Spirit is truly God and is inseparable from the Father and the Son. Though Christ is seen, it is the Spirit who reveals Him. Thus, both are on a “joint mission” to reveal the visible image of the invisible God (see CCC 689). The Holy Spirit invites us to better know the Father and Son. Each person of the Trinity more fully deepens our understanding of God. As the Catechism says:
Now God’s Spirit, who reveals God, makes known to us Christ, his Word, his living Utterance, but the Spirit does not speak of himself. The Spirit who “has spoken through the prophets” makes us hear the Father’s Word, but we do not hear the Spirit himself. We know him only in the movement by which he reveals the Word to us and disposes us to welcome him in faith. The Spirit of truth who “unveils” Christ to us “will not speak on his own.” (CCC 687)
The Holy Spirit continuously reveals Christ to us when we make an effort to listen. Similarly, when we recognize and cooperate with the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we are better able to contemplate Christ’s teachings and the great Mysteries of Faith. When we face discouragement or are unsure of a decision we must make, we are in similar circumstances to those waiting in the Upper Room. The gifts of the Holy Spirit strengthen our faith and helps us to judge our situations prudently. The courage to continue Christ’s mission and not be defeated by discouragement or rejection is not only an incredible witness to the Church, but also a recognition that the Holy Spirit continues to work among us wherever we are in our journey of faith! Just as the Holy Spirit descended upon our Lord at His baptism to start His mission on earth, so too did Christ send the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in the Upper Room as they began their ministry. Like the disciples, let us dare to be open to the Holy Spirit’s activity in our daily lives as a much needed second wind as we continue our Lord’s work so that at the end of our days, we may hear spoken to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant ... Come, share your master’s joy.”
Question for Reflection: Can you recall a moment when the Holy Spirit gave you the courage to continue through a difficult trial?