"This encouragement to holiness is renewed and takes on particular resonance – we love to repeat it – in this year of the Council, it highlights the note of holiness and apostolate of the church."
– Pope St. John XXIII, Homily during the canonization of St. Vincent Pallotti, Rome 1963
For a city that has seen the rise and fall of emperors, dictators, generals, politicians, popes, saints, and sinners over the millennia, it's hard to imagine that a humble priest from the peasant-filled mountains of Bergamo, Italy could make such a difference in the world. On a moonlit night in October 1962, Pope St. John XXIII stood on his balcony in Rome and addressed the people below:
I hear your voices. Mine is only a single voice. But what resounds here is the voice of the whole world; here all the world is represented. One might even say that the moon rushed here this evening. Look at her high up there to behold the spectacle. This is how we close a great day of peace. Glory to God and peace to men of goodwill. (Discorso della Luna)
And so began the Discorso della Luna, or “Moonlight Speech” by Pope St. John XXIII. Earlier that day, he opened the Second Vatican Council. Knowing he needed inspiration, this humble Bishop of Rome looked to another simple priest of Rome, St. Vincent Pallotti.
A year later, Pope St. John XXIII declared Vincent Pallotti a saint. During the canonization, he called on the intercession of Saint Vincent Pallotti for himself, priests, laity, and the council and actually went to the body of St. Vincent Pallotti to pray before him. Before the election of St. John XXIII, popes rarely left the confines of the Vatican. Pope St. John XXIII himself made few official outside trips and only did so under great consideration. Because of this, one can only imagine the gravity of a visit from the Pope to pray before the body of St. Vincent. At St. Vincent Pallotti’s canonization, Pope St. John XXIII once again implored the crowd to follow this new saint’s example both in life and indeed. One month later, while visiting the Pontifical Major Roman Seminary (the seminary of the diocese of Rome) he also begged the students to follow St. Vincent Pallotti. The pope went as far as to call him his own "choicest guide". He called St. Vincent a wise custodian 'of pastoral spirit' and a source 'of teaching and encouragement for all times!'
The spirit of Saint Vincent Pallotti can be seen throughout the Council and the work of the council. Pope St. John XXIII shared St. Vincent's vision that we are all called to holiness – that the universal call to holiness is open to the laity too, not just priests and bishops. He had a vision that Christ’s love needs to be accessible to all believers. Pope St. John XXIII demanded that the Church teach that Christ came for all! The concept of the universal call to holiness was written into multiple documents of the council, such as Lumen Gentium.
Though Pope St. John XXIII did not live to see the completion of this important council, his spirit and the spirit of St. Vincent Pallotti helped to guide its direction. One of the key documents of the council was Apostolicam Actuositatem, or, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. It emphasized the role of the laity within the Church:
They should not cease to develop earnestly the qualities and talents bestowed on them in accord with these conditions of life, and they should make use of the gifts which they have received from the Holy Spirit ... They should also hold in high esteem professional skill, family and civic spirit, and the virtues relating to social customs, namely, honesty, justice, sincerity, kindness, and courage, without which no true Christian life can exist. The perfect example of this type of spiritual and apostolic life is the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles. (Apostolicam Actuositatem)
The title “Mary, Queen of Apostles” was one that was revived by St. Vincent Pallotti. This was an ancient title that had fallen out of use. During his ministry, St. Vincent Pallotti invoked this title to demonstrate that all were in the Upper Room, not just the twelve apostles. He had a portrait commissioned showing the number of woman and men at the moment of Pentecost. Like the symbolism behind the painting suggests, Apostolicam Actuositatem forever enshrined the notion that all people are called to be apostles of Christ. This document had two main writers: Fr. William Mohler, S.A.C. Rector General of the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers and the youngest bishop in attendance, Karol Wojtyla. Fr. Mohler and the future Pope St. John Paul II wrote into this document the shared vision of two humble priests John XXIII and Vincent Pallotti. We must follow these examples in our lives. Let us strive to bring the gospel to all, just as St. John XXIII and St. Vincent Pallotti did.
This time of the New Evangelization in the Church is beautiful: all the faithful are called to spread the love of Christ to the hearts of modern men and women. While the term New Evangelization, though beautiful, has become almost overused, common jargon within the Church, we are called to the radical joy and love the New Evangelization promotes.
The task seems lofty at first glance. With controversies of all sorts in society today, the charge to love like Christ is even greater. However, the Body of Christ has been in trying times throughout the ages, and it’s the ability of holy men and women to magnanimously love that makes a difference in society.
Today, the Church celebrates a saint that is a perfect example for the faithful of living out the call of the New Evangelization: St. Philip Neri, the Apostle of Joy. St. Philip Neri, a radical saint of the 16th Century, was known for his humility, obscure and hilarious means of mortification, pastoral care, humor, and charm. The legend and stories of St. Philip Neri are plentiful and cannot all be spoken of in this short post, but his charity is worth mentioning for those who are attempting to live out the call of the New Evangelization.
Philip was known to have a strong devotion to the Holy Spirit. At the age of 29, before the feast of Pentecost, Philip was praying for a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit when he saw a globe of fire enter his mouth, move down his chest, and travel to his heart. At that moment, Philip experienced an immense amount of joy, as if his heart had expanded. The saint had been filled with the love of God!
Throughout the rest of his life, when Philip was ministering to people in the confessional, celebrating Mass, or performing acts of charity, his heart would violently palpitate. Oftentimes, Philip would embrace his penitents and hold them close to his chest. The faithful would receive an immense amount of consolation from the embrace and this practice became known as “the most effective way of being delivered from temptation.”
St. Philip Neri was known as the Apostle of Joy because his aim was love, and the Holy Spirit, the Flame of Love, was the driver in his mission. Philip died at the age of 80, dedicating his entire life to mercy, love, and joy. The many stories that follow him affirm that claim. He was dedicated to the Sacrament of Confession and would be available for Confession at all hours. Dispensing the mercy of Christ, Philip spent his last day on this side of heaven hearing confessions from the people he served and loved. Those he ministered to claim they could not be sorrowful or depressed around Philip; he exuded a constant flow of Christ’s joy. During an evaluation to determine Philip’s cause of death, the examiner found Philip’s heart to be twice the size of an average heart, causing the ribs around the heart to break and curve out. The love of God had been made manifest physically within him.
Today could you imagine a Church with followers whose hearts, like Philip’s, are enlarged with love for neighbor? This is the call of the New Evangelization—to spread Christ’s fragrance of love everywhere, “for we are the aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15). The Church is in a unique time. Our intellectual arguments often mean little, but our actions and witness of love are powerful. The New Evangelization calls us to be little Apostles of Joy. Wherever we are and wherever we go, we are to love.
Cardinal Ratzinger explained that evangelization is teaching people the path to happiness. “To evangelize means: to show this path—to teach the art of living,” he said (Address to Catechists and Religion Teachers, 12 December 2000). St. Philip Neri taught those around him the art of living a joyful, humble life, motivated by the love of Christ. To live the New Evangelization, we are to have a heart like his, witnessing and walking with others and teaching the art of living.
The Body of Christ must be propelled by the love of God. Today, let us invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts in a deeper way so we might gain a greater capacity to love like our joyful friend, St. Philip Neri. May we be a people of love with enlarged hearts for Christ, spreading joy to all.
“The love of God makes us do great things.” –St. Philip Neri
For more resources on the New Evangelization, click here.
I recently watched a movie that’s been on my Hulu queue for some time--a 1966, mostly black and white film by the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky on the 15th century medieval Russian artist named Andrei Rublev. Sound exciting? Maybe not to all… but it was on the Vatican’s recommended Best Films list, so I thought it was one probably worth seeing.
Of all the magnificent works of Christian art and architecture, I believe the Russian monk and artist Andrei Rublev’s (c. ~1360–1430) icon of the Holy Trinity still stands out. For how influential the icon has been for generations of artists and theologians, it doesn’t look like much. You may have seen the icon but never heard of the Russian monk and artist, Rublev, of whom little information is known (especially after he took his vow of silence!). Those who have seen the icon may never have recognized the Trinity present in the domestic scene of three people sitting around a table. Rublev’s icon is both simple and complex.
Even though the Catechism tells us the, “mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234), we may still find it difficult to imagine what difference the Trinity makes in our daily life and actions.
The Sunday after Pentecost (this May 22) celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, or Trinity Sunday for short. I’m not giving a movie review or a systematic take on the Trinity, but Andrei Rublev did serve as a reminder of the great mystery and gift of God revealed in the three persons of the Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Rublev’s work is not simply a masterpiece of medieval Russian iconography, but also represents one of the most profound and concise theological reflections on the Trinity in history. Known by most non-Western Christians as The Hospitality of Abraham, the three persons seated around a table depicts the Old Testament scene of three angels visiting Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-15) that Christian tradition sees prefiguring the Trinity fully revealed at the coming of Christ and the sending the Holy Spirit.
Andrei Tarkovsky produced Andrei Rublev and loosely based it on the life of the artist and his conviction of “Christianity as an axiom of Russia’s historical identity.” Tarkovsky’s hauntingly beautiful film, set in 15th century Russia, is not really a biography, but an exploration of the human longing for transcendence and freedom in God through faith and art in a world often characterized by the chaos and violence of sin. When first released, various scenes were censored or cut out entirely by government officials of the atheistic and authoritarian Soviet Union, whose oppressive ideology the film subtly criticized. Tarkovsky believed his Trinitarian faith led him to take risks for truth, not remain comfortably passive. It was for this reason that he produced such a compelling film.
For Rublev and Tarkovsky, the Trinity wasn’t just an abstract idea, but a power and a presence at work in the world and in every human heart. Their work highlights their belief that when we suppress God in our lives, we are cut off from the source of true freedom, beauty, creativity, and peace. Instead, the Trinitarian character of our faith should empower us to bring these qualities into every aspect of our lives- from art to politics, medicine and healthcare, business, and everything else.
Maybe the most “practical” truth about our belief in the Trinity is how it changes the way we look at things, especially our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. Tarkovsky’s movie is in black and white… until towards the end when it shows Rublev’s icons. The Trinity icon is the last, and it stands out in vivid color. Artists like Rublev and Tarkovsky don’t show us what God actually looks like, but they do depict the realities of everyday as they look like through the eyes of faith.
The community of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a model of mutual affection and other-centeredness that we can apply to our relationships with friends, family members, and those we encounter. For example, in our political views, are we seeking power and influence over others, or striving for cooperation in achieving the common good? The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in their respective functions of creating, redeeming, and sanctifying the world. Do our actions and lifestyles imitate this self-giving? By contemplating Trinitarian works of art like those of Rublev and Tarkovsky, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity helps our everyday thoughts and actions beautify and bless the world around us.
What do we imagine when we think of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps we envision tongues of fire, as the Apostles experienced in the Upper Room during Pentecost. Perhaps we think of a dove, as we read in the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River. Maybe we think of wind, a ghostly figure, or even a loud gathering of people speaking in tongues or falling to the ground.
Many within the Catholic Church are unfamiliar with, afraid of, or simply unaware of the Holy Spirit and His role within our Church. This is perhaps because the Holy Spirit is the least “safe,” “personal,” or “containable” person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit was not sent to earth in the form of a person who healed, preached, and died for our sins, as Jesus was. The Holy Spirit is not called “Abba, Father,” and was not the primary face of God in the Old Testament. Though the Holy Spirit has existed since the beginning, cited in Scripture at creation as the spirit of God hovering over the waters, and is referenced throughout the Old and New Testaments through Pentecost and beyond, many find it difficult to define, connect to, or have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
My own relationship with the Holy Spirit did not begin until my third year of college. Recent events in my life had left me profoundly grateful, so I began to spend five to ten minutes each morning simply giving thanks to God and invoking the Holy Spirit. It started with thanksgiving for the more obvious things: a roof over my head, food on the table, family. As I continued, I grew in my perception to see the little moments of grace in each day. I would thank God for a chance conversation with a friend, the insightful part of a particular lecture, or the flower that had blossomed in my neighbor’s yard. I invited the Holy Spirit into my life, and spent the morning in thanksgiving and praise rather than petition.
As a result, I started experiencing a profound, unshakeable joy. It was as though I was seeing the world with new eyes—the eyes of gratitude and grace, the eyes of God. I was becoming more Christ-like without really trying, because my heart was filled with the love of God, the presence of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has been called the manifestation of the love between the Father and the Son. As the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit reveals the Father to humanity and enables us to become like Christ. It was the Holy Spirit who was beginning to transform me into a disciple and instilling joy in my heart. We often miss the work of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit “does not speak of Himself…[but] makes us hear the Father's Word”—which is Christ (CCC 687). As Christ himself said to the Apostles, the Spirit “will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears” (John 16:13).
The Holy Spirit is also consubstantial with the Father and the Son—meaning that the three persons of the Trinity are inseparable while being distinct in their roles. The role of the Holy Spirit is the building up of the Church and her people. The Spirit of Truth guides us to truth (cf John 16:13). He is the person of the Trinity sent by Christ to be most present in the world today—our Advocate. Because of the work of the Spirit, Christ can say, “I am with you, even to the end of time” (Mt. 28:20).
How can we come to know the Holy Spirit? In prayer, the liturgy, the sacraments, Scripture, Church teaching, the witness of holy men and women, and in many other ways (cf CCC 688). As we celebrate Pentecost, I invite you to start spending a few minutes each day with the Holy Spirit. Invite the Spirit into your Scripture reading, asking Him to reveal His wisdom and help you apply it to your own life. Call upon the Spirit in prayer and thanksgiving throughout your day. Learn more about the sacraments, which reveal the inner life of the Trinity, and participate more deeply in them. Read the lives of the saints, men and women who are examples of the holiness made possible by the Spirit.
May these practices lead to a Pentecost and renewal of the Spirit in our own lives. Together, let us say, “Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit!” (CCC 2670-72). May His fire purify our hearts, leaving only the love of God, so that we may in turn set the world on fire.
If you attended an Easter Vigil Mass this year, then you participated in what St. Augustine called the “mother of all holy Vigils”(Sermo 219)—the day the Church receives many new Catholics through the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation.
The newly baptized, or “neophytes,” (a Greek word meaning “new plant”) begin a fourth and final period of formation called mystagogy, which lasts the Easter Season until Pentecost. If you haven’t personally participated in the formal process of becoming Catholic as an adult (called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA, in parishes), chances are you haven’t heard this word recently… or maybe ever.
What is Mystagogy?
Our faith needs mystagogy first and foremost because of one simple reason: we celebrate and proclaim a mystery.
As evangelists and catechists, I think it is important to recognize that for some people, the idea of religious “mystery” prima facie, conjures up images of a Da Vinci Code-esque Church shrouded in secrecy, New Age spiritualism, or even a pre-scientific belief in “magic.” But the sacraments do not initiate us into a special club or secret society. Through them, we are made participants in the life of Jesus Christ.
Faith begins and ends in mystery, most especially the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, “the central mystery of Christian faith and life . . . the source of all other mysteries of faith” (CCC 234). In the scriptures, liturgy, and sacraments, we truly encounter and participate in the Triune life of God. But no matter how intelligent or insightful we are, we will never fully wrap our minds around God’s glory or totally experience it with our five senses.
Mystagogy comes from the Greek word meaning, “to lead through the mysteries.” The Catechism describes mystagogy as a “liturgical catechesis that aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ” (CCC 1075). Mystagogy leads us from the external signs and rituals of the liturgy to the inner, spiritual meaning of the divine life they signify. Mystagogy is the form of catechesis that helps us unpack and explore the spiritual treasures contained in the sacraments by continuously reflecting on their meaning and significance in our personal lives of faith.
Mystagogy was the way the early Church Fathers embraced and trained new Christians in the practices and beliefs of the faith. Perhaps the most well known teacher of mystagogy was St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386 CE), who delivered a famous series of sermons, known as “mystagogic catecheses,” during the time of Lent through the Easter Octave. After the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church revitalized this ancient practice, especially in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. But mystagogy isn’t just for the newly baptized; it is the way every Catholic can continually deepen their relationship with Christ by daily drawing on the grace of the sacraments.
Significance for our New Evangelization
Just as Catholics are rediscovering the importance of the “kerygma” (Greek for “proclamation”) for evangelization, mystagogy is incredibly important in our approach to catechesis in the New Evangelization. John Paul II wrote, “Through catechesis the Gospel kerygma is gradually deepened . . . . and channeled toward Christian practice in the Church and the world” (Catechesi Tradendae, n. 25), specifically the form of mystagogy. Additionally, mystagogy serves as a trustworthy guide when reflecting on ways to improve our catechetical methods.
Living the Mystery Daily
Ongoing mystagogy is important because our relationship with the sacraments change as we grow and mature as individuals and meet new life challenges and circumstances. In turn, the sacraments really change us. Pope Benedict XVI said, “The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one's life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries being celebrated” (Sacramentum Caritatis n. 64). By reflecting regularly on the sacraments, we access an incredible strength for our daily tasks.
Developing a practice of Eucharistic mystagogy can combat the routinization that often sets in to our receiving communion. For those who are married, or preparing for marriage, there is a mystagogy of marriage. With ongoing mystagogic reflection, you may discover new fruits of that sacrament in every season of life.
Studying theology and the Bible is often an undervalued way of developing our spiritual life. Learning about someone or something is a sign of love, and we truly become what we behold (cf 2 Cor. 3:18). Reading the great books and sermons of Catholic authors and theologians greatly expands our hearts and minds to experience the truth and depth of our faith.
The great Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel is attributed as stating, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” Mystagogy is the path leading Christians to learn to live the mystery of our faith. I encourage you to follow the path trod by St. Cyril up through popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis, in making this incredible tradition and gift called “mystagogy” a part of your life.
To learn more about Catechesis, please consider reading the General Directory for Catechesis or the National Directory for Catechesis.
For more resources on Prayer and Catechesis, click here.
Let’s face it, trudging along in our daily lives can be dull sometimes. One must try, even if the thought is just a curious leap of the soul, to remove oneself from the business of the world and to look up at the sky. We must look up in the sky toward a marvelous sight, the light that propels life on this earth, the face of the creation, and the Creator of beauty.
In all areas of darkness, light abounds brighter than ever. In all things, we exist and share in our lives with our Creator. Everything we do is profound in its own small way. Everything that happens, happens with and for a purpose, with and for a cause, ever meaningful and ever present in our lives. Our lives are living, never truly dying. We will always have the light to look toward. The hope that always lets us know we are never truly alone in anything we do.
We must rise into the light in this very moment. This is what the fires of Pentecost are about. We must remember to put action into the journey of the disciple in sharing the truth and love of God in the world. It is waiting for the passions of our own lives to pass and form into one focus of love, pure and true. We are waiting for love, preparing for love, being there for love, attending to love, sacrificing for love, yet we must always remember that we ARE Love. We, as beautiful reflections of the heart of God can illuminate the darkness not only in our own lives, but in others as well. We can be beacons of light, shining bright for others to see.
Light is what draws us to the Heavens on a day with a clear sky. It is what makes us wonder at the millions of stars bursting in radiance in the night. It is what can illuminate any darkness no matter how small the flame may be. The light we see in the Sacraments passing from Christ into His people is nothing short of a miracle. The light we witness on the Cross, expelling all sin and darkness from our twisted up hearts, brings us closer to the very nature of love, the deepest kind of love, the love of Christ. In Him I see my guiding Light and my strength to carry on each and every day of my life. He is my starlight in the dark of the sky, letting me gaze of his majesty.
In everything, there is light. It is truly present infinitely in our universe. There is a place for us in the skies with the Father, for we, in this world, will rise a stronger people, ready to take up the mission of light, the mission of love, and the mission of hope for all who are searching for something, anything that can fulfill a restless heart.
William Clemens is an Undergraduate Student of Theology & Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Be sure to check out Pope Francis' latest encyclical, Laudauto Si, and visit the Catholic Apostolate Center's Laudato Si Resource Page!
“Wherever I shall be, I intend to imagine myself to be together with all the creatures in the Cenacle in Jerusalem where the Apostles received the Holy Spirit. I shall remind myself to renew this desire often. As the Apostles were there with Mary, so will I be in spirit with the most beloved Mother and Jesus. As they are my special intercessors, I am confident that they will help me and all other creatures to receive the abundance of the Holy Spirit” – St. Vincent Pallotti (OOCC X, 86).
One of the signature moments of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year was the Mass that he celebrated in the Cenacle or Upper Room in Jerusalem. Tradition holds the Cenacle as the location of the Last Supper and the place where Mary, the Apostles, and the other disciples spent time in prayer and community prior to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We have just celebrated this past weekend the Feast of Mary, Queen of Apostles on Saturday and Pentecost on Sunday. These celebrations invite us to dwell in the Cenacle as a place of encounter with one another and with the Holy Spirit. The Cenacle is not a place where one stays, though. We are sent forth out into the world that needs to encounter Jesus Christ, a world in need of transformation. Pope Francis in his homily in the Cenacle reminds us of this mission of which all of us are called to be a part:
“From here the Church goes forth, impelled by the life-giving breath of the Spirit. Gathered in prayer with the Mother of Jesus, the Church lives in constant expectation of a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth (cf. Ps 104:30)!”
Reflecting on the Cenacle, St. Vincent Pallotti came to believe that all are called to take up the mission of Jesus Christ and live as apostles, sent forth to preach the Good News and bring healing to a broken and suffering world.
We are not alone in this task. Mary, Queen of Apostles intercedes for us, witnesses discipleship of Christ for us, and gives us a mother’s care. The Holy Spirit permeates all that we do and calls us back to the Cenacle, to the table of the Lord in the Eucharist, to worship and fellowship with the community of faith, in order to be sent forth once again. Instituted in the Cenacle of Jerusalem, the Eucharist sustains us, nourishes us, and moves us out into the world “glorifying the Lord” by our lives (“Dismissal”, Roman Missal).
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on May 27th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
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?
Kate Flannery is pursuing a Master's degree in Leadership for the New Evangelization at the Augustine Institute in Denver and graduates in May.
“The fire of the Holy Spirit was sent down upon the Apostles at Pentecost in answer to their fervent prayer; ardent prayer in the Spirit must always be the soul of new evangelization and the heart of our lives as Christians.”
– Pope Francis (General Audience, May 22, 2013)
Prayer. Sometimes we make it so difficult. I am not sure why. Maybe we think it needs to be very formal or formulaic? I know that I thought that for a very long time. There is certainly a place for formal prayer, be it communal, such as during the Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours or even private, such when use a formal written prayer. In fact, we Catholics have a love affair with our prayer cards, books, and other sacramentals, including candles, statutes, and icons. This is an excellent thing because “they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1670). They are, though, simply means, not ends in themselves. Means to a conversation with God or maybe more precisely, a dialogue. We might not consider it a dialogue. Fervent prayer, ardent prayer, in the way that Pope Francis is calling for is an on-going dialogue with God throughout our day, an awareness of the action and activity of the Holy Spirit permeating our lives. It is a seeking for God and finding God in all things, in every moment and in every place. St. Teresa of Avila encourages us to be seekers of God and St. Ignatius of Loyola calls us to “find God in all things.” St. Vincent Pallotti puts the two aspects together, as was often his way, and challenges us to:
“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 always find God.”
We certainly need to take time to be in communal prayer like those in the Cenacle or Upper Room at Pentecost. We also need to be in private prayer, setting aside time to go to our “inner room, close the door, and pray to [our] Father in secret” (Matthew 6:6). The Holy Spirit, though, is active and alive everywhere, if we but open our eyes to see and our ears to hear.
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
This blog post was first published on October 26th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
On September 14th, we celebrate the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life from one's friends” (John 15:13). That love is never more evident than our Lord's passion and death on the Cross. By that Holy Cross, we have been redeemed. Jesus Christ foretold his Passion to the Apostles, instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and fulfilled God's plan for human salvation at Calvary upon that Holy Cross. This, my friends, is the greatest love ever known to humankind; by the grace of God, we will come to know the fullness of God's love in eternity. The promise of eternal salvation was made possible upon that Cross and we, as Catholics, are called to pick up our cross and follow Christ daily. This is a very hard thing to accomplish in today's world.
Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to guide and strengthen us while following his commands. Paul tells us: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Philippians 4:13). Jesus Christ empowers us with the Holy Spirit today just as he did with the Apostles. It is exactly that God-given power that we need in today’s often secular world to preach Christ crucified and “fight the good fight,” as St. Paul says. For if we profess Christ without recognizing and living his sacrifice on the Cross, we cannot be disciples of the Lord. Peter found that out when Jesus admonished him after the foretelling of his passion and death. I keep written on my desk calendar in my office and in my daily liturgical calendar, a Latin phrase that I think summarizes this idea: Lex orandi, Lex credendi, Lex vivendi - As we worship, So we believe, So we live.
As we worship, so we believe, so we live. We must, through worship and prayer, “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). We must believe all that Jesus has taught us, that he is our Lord and Savior, and that he suffered and died so that we may live. We must live out our faith in what Jesus has called us to do by spreading the good news and picking up our cross and following our Lord. This is not an easy task. It isn't easy being a Christian. Christ never said it would be easy. Being a Christian is not just being a member of a religion, it is our way of life. We live the faith Christ gave to us. When we struggle with this, when we get lazy or complacent with our prayer time, or if we need a reminder of just how much we are loved and what our calling is, we need only to gaze upon the Holy Cross.
We can also reflect on the Prophet Isaiah, when he told us exactly what Christ has done for us and for the salvation of man: "Yet it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured. We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted, but he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.” Remember, worship, believe, and live in the glory of Christ crucified!
Mark A. Straub Sr. is a member of the Knights of Columbus and president of the parish council of Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Woodhaven, Michigan.
We celebrate Pentecost on June 8th, 50 days after Easter, to commemorate the Holy Spirit’s descent on Christ’s disciples after His Ascension. We are, in many ways, celebrating the birthday [E1] of the Church and our individual commitments to God.
The Holy Spirit empowers us to share our faith, to have the ability to open our hearts in understanding one another and God’s message. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord), we become fully alive in our personal relationship with God so we can give better witness to His message. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “…the Church is sent to announce, bear witness, make present, and spread the mystery of the communion of the Holy Trinity” (CCC 738).
We can use Pentecost as an opportunity to make our faith our own while sharing God’s word. By utilizing our individual talents and volunteering in some aspect of our church, we strengthen our faith and build community.
I remember wanting to be an altar server after receiving my first Holy Communion in second grade. I began altar serving and continued to do so until I received Confirmation. Serving during the Mass allowed me, as a young girl, to better understand my Catholic faith. My parents remember me saying how I enjoyed altar serving because I had to pay attention (and stay awake) during 8 a.m. Sunday Mass. Assisting the priest on the altar, I began to fully understand and celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist every Sunday. I attended Catholic school and was able to make connections between Religion class and weekly Mass by serving during church service. Once confirmed, I continued to volunteer in my church as a lector as well as taught religion education to grade school children. Actively participating in my church allowed me to fully engage in my Catholic faith and grow spiritually.
No matter our age, the Catholic Church encourages us to be active participants in Mass and in our Church. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can come to discover where the Church needs us and how we can best share the time, talent, and treasure God has given us. My parish hosts a ministry fair each year, which gives parishioners an opportunity to see other ministries within the Church and where we can best serve God and our community.
Pentecost allows us to renew ourselves to the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis asks us in his daily Mass homily on May 19th this year to question ourselves: “What kind of heart do we have? … Is my heart fixed upon everyday gods or is it a heart fixed on the Holy Spirit?” It is easy for us to get wrapped up in life’s habitual tasks at home, work, with family, colleagues, etc. Pope Francis encourages us that the Holy Spirit “gives us strength, gives us the steadiness to be able to move forward in life in the midst of many events.”
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
“He said to them: ‘… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:7-11).
Forty days ago, we celebrated the miraculous Resurrection of Jesus from the dead and joyful the start of the Easter season. Finally, after millennia of prophecies and expectation, the promise that humanity would be redeemed and restored in its relationship with God was fulfilled. Now Christ had risen in glory and conquered death by His Passion, allowing humanity to once again be united with its loving Creator (c.f. 2 Peter 1:4). This reunification of the disciples and their beloved Teacher was indeed a cause for celebration! What intense feelings of love and wonder must have resounded in the apostles’ hearts after their Master, Teacher, and Savior had been cruelly put to death only a few days ago. They believed that Jesus’ return meant that He would now “restore the kingdom to Israel” to finish His earthly ministry (Acts 1:6).
“Not so, not yet,” Jesus corrects them (c.f. CCC 672). Instead, it was now time for Him to join the Father in Heaven since He had accomplished the Mission of atonement that He had been sent to earth for on the Cross (c.f. John 19:30). With that, Jesus was taken up before His followers into Glory. While they were still watching, whether out of wonder, awe, confusion, or fear as what to do next (perceptibly without Jesus), two heavenly messengers appear and urge the disciples not to stand there, looking up. Jesus would come again, they promised. Meanwhile, there was a mission to undertake; they were to go and wait for the Spirit, Who would help them take the next steps towards completing Jesus’ final instructions, which were, as St. Pope John Paul II put it, “the faithful expression of the Father’s will.”
Before He was taken up, Jesus said to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go 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 I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). Christ was planning something bigger than establishing a temporal kingdom on earth, as the Jews commonly thought their awaited Messiah would bring.
The Apostles, moreover, were instructed to teach— to proclaim the Good News to the whole world. And they were to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Like Jesus, they were to speak explicitly about the Kingdom of God and about salvation. The Apostles were to give witness to Christ to the ends of the earth. The early Church clearly understood these instructions and the missionary era began. And everybody knew that this missionary era could never end until the same Jesus, who went up to heaven, would come back again. (St. John Paul II, “Homily on the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord,” May 24, 1979)
We, too, in a sense, can stand with the apostles, looking heavenward to that place where our Lord ascended. We, too, can experience that intense wonder deep within each of us which transforms fear and tragedy, insecurity and tension into a peaceful certainty that floods the heart with loving warmth from God. From this, the same question posed to the disciples nearly two thousand years ago is asked of each of us even today: why do you stand looking up? The Church’s mission has always been that of the Great Commission, to spread the glorious, joyful, and redemptive news of Christ’s rising from the dead (c.f. John 3:16). As Saint Augustine testified, we are the Church and are commanded to accept this mission and not stand idly by in either amazement or apathy!
Certainly, Holy Mother Church’s evangelization has endured obstacles, dogmatic disputes, and other setbacks over the centuries in bringing the Good News to the ends of the earth. No matter the challenge, the Church always pulls through since she has been founded by Christ Himself with the promise that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). As the disciples and the Blessed Mother would experience on Pentecost Sunday, it is the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Father, Who is the source of the Church’s strength. It is He Who guides the Church in the way of Truth in the spreading of the Gospel, doing so through the power of God and not by means of the imperfect wisdom or strength of man.
After having undergone the humiliation of His passion and death, Jesus took His place at the right-hand of God; He took His place with His eternal Father. But He also entered heaven as our Head whereupon, in the expression of Leo the Great, the glory of the Head became the hope of the body… our nature is with God in Christ. And as man, the Lord Jesus lives forever to intercede for us with Father. At the same time, from His throne of glory, Jesus sends out to the whole Church a message of hope and a call to holiness. Because of Christ’s merits, because of His intercession with the Father, we are able to attain justice and holiness of life, in him… The power of the glorified Christ, the beloved Son of the eternal Father, is superabundant, to sustain each of us and all of us in the fidelity of our dedication to God’s Kingdom.
The efficacy of Christ’s Ascension touches all us in the concrete reality of our daily lives. Because of this mystery it is the vocation of the whole Church to wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. (St. John Paul II, “Homily on the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord,” May 24, 1979)
As part of the “New Evangelization,” we are reminded of this command to reveal the Truth of our resurrected Lord through our words and actions in accordance with how we are called to live as Christians, that is, with love (c.f. John 13:34-35). Like the evangelizers before us, we can expect face challenges when spreading the Gospel message, namely persecution (c.f. John 15:18, Romans 8:35-39, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Peter 4:16-19). Ah, but what a price to pay for the glory of God!
Remember, too, that Christ promised that He would always be with us in our ministry (c.f. Matthew 28:20, Galatians 2:19-20)! As Pope Francis noted during his fourth general audience, Jesus is no longer “in a definite place in the world as He was before the Ascension… He is now in the lordship of God, present in all space and time, next to each of us.” We can always turn to Him in prayer; He, in turn, will sustain us with strength, grace, and Love. Given the difficulty of our task (often requiring great sacrifice on our part), this is indeed a great comfort! In addition, it is Christ as both God and man Who brings our humanity before God to intercede for us. Finally, the Ascension of the Lord is also our Feast because we have ascended with the Lord! The Feast presents an opportunity to reflect upon the relationship between our profession of faith and our daily life. It is the start of the evangelization of the world by Christ’s disciples and the call for us to do that same Work, started nearly two millennia ago, in joyful witness to the Redeemer of the world.
The Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension must also fill us with serenity and enthusiasm, just as it did the Apostles who set out again from the Mount of Olives “with great joy” (Luke 24:52). Like them, we too, accepting the invitation of the “two men in dazzling apparel”, must not stay gazing up at the sky, but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit must go everywhere and proclaim the saving message of Christ’s death and Resurrection. His very words, with which the Gospel according to St Matthew ends, accompany and comfort us: “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20). (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Homily of His Holiness During the Pastoral Visit to Cassino and Monte Cassino,” May 24, 2009)
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate at The Catholic University of America, currently studying abroad in Rome, Italy.
The following is a portion of Blessed John Paul II’s address to the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers on
October 6, 1998, speaking to them about their work in reviving faith, rekindling charity and forming apostles.
…To live the faith means to share in Christ's life. In Jesus we can discover our true nature and fully appreciate our personal dignity. Proclaiming Christ so that the image of God may be restored to each person in all its fullness is the ultimate goal of the “new evangelization”. You, called in a particular way by your charism to revive faith and rekindle love in every situation, should be very clearly aware of the preferential option for the “image of God” that is waiting to be revealed in the life of every brother and sister. Recognize Christ’s face in everyone, appreciating every human being regardless of his condition or status.
This is what St Vincent Pallotti did, whose sole concern was the interior renewal of human beings for the sake of their sanctification. To imitate his apostolic zeal, you must first strive for personal holiness. Only in this way will you be able to foster it in others, by remembering the universal call to holiness clearly made by the Second Vatican Council. It is this awareness that must motivate your contribution to the work of the new evangelization. In this way you will be effectively prepared to enter the new millennium and will actively co-operate in fulfilling the mission that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to the entire ecclesial community.
The commitment to personal holiness must be lived within your communities in the various parts of the world: work in unity and harmony to be authentic witnesses to the Gospel for those you meet in your daily ministry. In the Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata I wrote: “The Church entrusts to communities of consecrated life the particular task of spreading the spirituality of communion, first of all in their internal life and then in the ecclesial community, and even beyond its boundaries, by opening or continuing a dialogue in charity, especially where today’s world is torn apart by ethnic hatred or senseless violence” (n. 51). It is by witnessing to the fraternal life, understood as a life shared in love, that you become an eloquent sign of ecclesial communion (cf. ibid., n. 42).
This deep understanding among yourselves will help you live your “unity in Christ” and make you ready and willing to respond to each person’s spiritual and material needs. In this regard your founder loved to say over and over that “the gift of cooperating in the salvation of souls is one of the most divine” (Opere complete XI, p. 257). This gift should be shared with lay people, your daily co-workers in the apostolate, as well as within your institute. Involve them and welcome them into your life of communion. “Today”, I wrote in the above-mentioned Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata “many institutes have come to the conclusion that their charism can be shared with the laity” (n. 54). “The participation of the laity often brings unexpected and rich insights into certain aspects of the charism, leading to a more spiritual interpretation of it and helping to draw from it directions for new activities in the apostolate” (n. 55). In this way, the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, conceived and founded by St Vincent Pallotti, will allow you not only to co-ordinate the different resources of your communities, but also to be at the very heart of the Church’s apostolic mission in today's world.
May you find help in Mary, faithful and obedient handmaid of the Lord and an excellent example of fidelity to the apostolate. United in prayer with the disciples in the Upper Room of Jerusalem while awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit, she offers you the example of constant prayer, willingness and active commitment to the Church’s mission. May God renew the marvels of Pentecost in you and in your institute through her motherly intercession…
There’s a line from Coldplay’s “The Scientist” that pops in my head from time to time. Nothing seems to prompt it. The line just comes: “Questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart.”
As I sit with the words now, I notice why they speak to me. A lover of math and physics, questions of science have engaged me from the very beginning. At first it was dinosaurs, fossils, rocks, mountains, stars, planets – big, physical, earthy things. As I grew and learned through the complicated processes of science, the whole world became an infinitely complicated, continuously unfolding window into God’s creative mind. From the quantum entanglement of paired photon particles to the unimaginably long process of creation through evolution that could selectively form the creatures of this mysterious and complicated world, I stand in complete, utter fascination.
Yet, as captivated as I am by science, its questions are not enough. For me, asking the probing questions of science isn’t about head knowledge, it’s about heart knowledge. The created world and all its mysteries, when uncovered and understood, stir in me deeper mysteries, mysteries of a different category and question. At some point I moved beyond asking what and how to asking why and what does it mean.
As we celebrated Pentecost, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded that the gifts we have been given are of both head knowledge and heart knowledge. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, strength, piety, and fear of the Lord – these challenge and equip us to probe deeper, scientifically and metaphysically, into the mystery of being.
Of all the gifts, fear of the Lord might sound the most antiquated, but it may also be the most relevant for today’s ongoing conversation with secularism. Understood as “wonder and awe”, rather than fear, this gift certainly explains my shift in focus from science to faith. And, I’m certain, explains the drive of so much scientific research today.
Wonder is the starting point for two difficult conversations – one between science and fundamentalism and the second between faith and active secularism. Both the agnostic physicist and the pious mystic share the gift of a profound wonder and awe at the created world, whether or not they both believe the world had a creator.
As we celebrate the gift of Pentecost, and as we give thanks for the Holy Spirit’s continued work, let us take time to wonder with someone about the intricacies of creation – whether it be through the eyes of science or the eyes of faith – and let us hope that this gift of wonder can begin a creative conversation of a different sort.
Mark Bartholet is the Pastoral Associate for Faith Formation at St. Peter Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC.