Today the Church celebrates the great feast of Pentecost, which commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. Pentecost is all about the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. This presence is the chief source of continuity between Jesus and his Church. The early followers of Jesus expected the second coming of Jesus to happen shortly after the resurrection. When the interim grew longer and longer and the authoritative eyewitnesses of Jesus were dying off, the Holy Spirit assured the young Church of the abiding and authentic presence of the Risen Lord.
One of the observable proofs of this powerful presence of the Spirit in the Church was the remarkable, radical transformation that had occurred among he followers of Jesus. When Jesus was arrested, they all took off in fear and hid in a room. They were scared to death and seemingly useless when Jesus left them. Yet, a few weeks later, these same people were boldly preaching about the crucified and risen Savior to the same people they had feared and run from earlier. They were afraid no longer. They were now ready to die for Jesus and, in fact, all but John finally did so.
What was it that caused such a radical change in them? Some said it was too much new wine! Others concocted other reasons for the miraculous change. St.Luke, however, in his Gospel, makes it very clear that it was the Spirit that caused this change. This same Holy Spirit is required for any radical, complete change in us. If we are unaware of this, we are not going to do much changing. The 12 Steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous Program realized this truth quickly in the Second Step: Came to believe that a Power Greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Francis of Assisi finally realized this in his words to Jesus during the Apulia experience: Lord, what is it you want me to do? If you would like to stop smoking, drinking too much, eating too much, gambling too much, using bad language too much or whatever it is you would like to change and have not been able to do so, you have been putting the Holy Spirit on the back burner.
There are two basic requirements for making radical changes in ourselves: first, we must be entirely ready to change, and secondly, we must humbly ask the Holy Spirit to remove the character defect. Note that it is the Holy Spirit that removes the defect, not us. We call this change a spiritual awakening, a personality change. This is how I got relief from the defects of drinking too much and smoking; I was ready to have them removed, and I humbly asked the Holy Spirit to remove them and he did.
So you see, the Holy Spirit is not pie in the sky. He is a vital, necessary force in our world. The gift of the Holy Spirit by Jesus to his people on Pentecost should not be regarded as a single, unique incident, relegated to a particular time, place, or group of people. Rather, the gift of the Spirit is a never-ending, continuous gift relevant yet today and for all time.
MONDAY of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time
The great feast of Pentecost that was celebrated yesterday has no octave. On this Monday following Pentecost Sunday, we return immediately to Ordinary Time, the eighth week of the Liturgical Year. Today, in the United States, is also Memorial Day.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. Waterloo, N.Y., was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lynden Johnson in May 1966. But it is more likely it had many separate beginnings in many towns in honor of the war dead in the 1860s. It is not really important who was the very first. Memorial Day is not a day of division; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.
Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day. Some think it is a day for honoring any and all dead, and not just for those who have died serving our country. To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution, passed in December 2000, asks that at 3:00 PM, local time, all Americans “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘taps.'” This is a step in the right direction to returning the meaning back to the day. We may also observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and placing flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes, or by flying the flag at half-mast till noon.
It is good to remember those who died to preserve our great nation. Let us honor them in some way today.
TUESDAY of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time
Peter asks a legitimate question of the Lord in today’s Gospel selection: “We have given up everything and followed you.” It seems that the Lord knew what else Peter was going to ask and interrupts him before he could say it: “What’s in it for us?” This is not an impertinent question and Jesus didn’t treat it as such. He gave it a rather lengthy answer. I imagine some of us wonder the same thing sometimes. “I am trying my best to follow Jesus even though at times it gets a bit difficult. What’s in all of this for me?”
I believe I have been blessed to find out what’s in it for me: a lot of painful pruning along the way and then almost unbelievable serenity, joy and happiness. I hope your answer is the same as mine. And over and above it all, Jesus tells us that the best is yet to come. How blessed we all are, and half the time we fail to realize this.
Jesus, thank you for all your way brings to me.
WEDNESDAY of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time
“They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” — “Behold, we are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples the realistic details of what is going to happen to him. They become afraid. If he is going to have to suffer for what he is preaching, for who he is, maybe they will have to suffer too. Not too pleasant a scenario. So they seemingly change the subject. Two of them ask, “May we sit one at your right and the other at your left?” Jesus leads this request to the conclusion that being great means to serve. We can also link this response to the fact that we as disciples must drink from the chalice of suffering too — and this includes serving others. Serving others can and often does cause pain and suffering. After all, Jesus was serving us with his death on the cross!
We are called, then, as disciples to lay down our lives for others. And this laying down of our lives, for the most part, takes the form of serving others. Am I laying down my life for my neighbor by serving her/him?
THURSDAY of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time
“And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
A little child spends a lot of time being frightened. The whole world is so new to us as a child. There is so much we don’t understand, so much to learn, and it can become very frightening. And one place I went for refuge when I was a frightened child was to Mom. Somehow, everything seemed OK and just fine when she was around. I remember the first time she took me with her when she went shopping at the big department stores in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. The ride on the streetcar, lunch in a restaurant, the huge buildings and skyscrapers, the crowds of people, were all very frightening to a 4 year old. But Mom would hold my hand and it was all OK.
On this feast of the Visitation, let us remember that Mary is our Mother too. Let us go to her whenever we are frightened or confused. She will take us by the hand and lead us in the way of her Son and everything will be OK.
FRIDAY of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Justin Martyr
Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Justin Martyr, one of the martyrs and Fathers of the very early Church. Justin was born around the year 100 and as a youth was given an excellent liberal education. His main area of study was philosophy, mainly through Aristotle and Plato. One day he was walking along a lonely stretch of beach trying to picture what God was really like. As he was walking, he met an elderly man who told him that if he wished to know more about the nature of God, he must read the Hebrew Prophets whose prophecies had been fulfilled in their own time by Jesus Christ.
Justin became a Christian around the year 130 and spent the rest of his life teaching and writing about the Christian faith. Justin was firmly convinced that there were many who would embrace Christianity if it were properly explained to them. Justin founded a school in Rome and it wasn’t long before he came to the attention of the Roman Senate which he condemned for persecuting the Christians. He was arrested, condemned to be scourged and beheaded about the year 165.
We honor Justin today as both a martyr and a Father of the Church. He was the first to defend the faith against non-Christians and enemies of the Church.
St. Justin Martyr, pray for us.
SATURDAY of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time
“By what authority are you doing these things?”
Authority is the power to influence or command thought, opinion or behavior. We submit to authority for the truth. It is a convincing force. To accept the authority of Jesus is to submit to him with trust and obedience. Jesus was his own authority. And why not? He is God! But the chief priests and scribes didn’t dig this. They tried to trap him. If he were to say his authority was divine, they would charge him with blasphemy. If he said he was doing it on his own authority, they would arrest him as a rebel. But Jesus escaped their trap as usual.
Do we occasionally question Jesus’ authority, especially when it goes against our own opinions? Isn’t that rather silly when you come right down to it, especially if we believe Jesus is the Son of God?