Setting Captives Free

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How saddened the disciples were that Jesus would not be with them much longer in the way they had imagined He would be.  While their encounter with the Living Word-made-Flesh had turned their lives completely upside down, journeying with Him during the years of His public ministry, they still did not understand the full picture.  In the Gospel today, Jesus sees the grief that fills their hearts in this moment, knowing still the grief yet to come at His Crucifixion, but also knowing the complete joy of His Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It is the deep reception of the Holy Spirit in their inmost beings that set the Apostles on fire after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, they can be faithful to their mission of baptizing the world in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, no matter where they go or what they endure.

In the first reading, we see Paul and Silas stripped, beaten severely and thrown into jail.  Yet even there the kingdom of God reigns.  Though they are prisoners in every outward sense—put in the “innermost cell” with their feet secured to a stake—they are set free in their innermost selves by Christ and able to be instruments of God’s grace, singing His praises and praying in the dark of night.

Imagine being one of the prisoners nearby, overhearing their love for God spilling forth.  Would you scoff at them?  Might your own heart be stirred to whisper a small prayer of thanksgiving?

Either way, you’d definitely be most attentive the moment you felt the earthquake shake the very foundations of the jail!  What a dramatic revelation of God’s glory!  Each prisoner being set free from bondage—chains broken, doors blown open, light piercing their own hearts.  This freedom is not just physical, but spiritual—freedom from sin.  This outward manifestation of God’s power seems small compared to the inner transformation of the jailer, much like the instance where Jesus healed the paralytic, saying first “Your sins are forgiven,” and then performing a physical miracle to account for our poor human blindness (Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26).

For the jailer and his family to have received the Holy Spirit so as to know the truth of Jesus Christ is a true miracle and a cause for great rejoicing indeed!

And what about us?  How is it that we live in the light and joy of this truth, no matter how dark our present situation may seem?  And do we allow the Holy Spirit to inspire us so as to be ministers of joy and truth to others in our lives who may themselves feel imprisoned by doubts, sadness or trouble? 

By virtue of the Sacraments and living in a state of grace, we have the Holy Spirit! We too are set free!  Jesus promised His disciples, as He promises us, that He will complete the good work He has begun in us.  And what a mighty work He has done!  No matter if we were born into the Faith or converted later (or find ourselves on the path of conversion!), it is a gift that by His Light we know Light. 

Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
~Ps. 138:7-8

What a grace it is to be transformed in the waters of baptism, confirmed in the Faith, brought freedom from our sins in reconciliation, and to receive JESUS Himself in the Holy Eucharist! The Lord has a plan for our lives. We must trust Him every step of the way and bear the crosses He allows us to carry for our sanctification, for even in the darkest night He is the Light we need.

We still have some days of Easter left, before arriving to the great Feast of Pentecost.  Prepare your hearts and souls to grow closer to the Holy Spirit. Receive a new outpouring of the Spirit by praying a Pentecost Novena, learning the Veni, Creator Spiritus prayer (which St. JPII prayed every day!) and shedding any chains of bondage to sin in the confessional.

God awaits to do marvelous things in your soul. Let Him in ever more! And let us cry as one with the whole Church, Come, Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Thy well-beloved Spouse!

The King of Glory and the Pink Bunny

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come.
Give glory to your Son, so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him —John 17:1-2

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I have two distinct memories of our second grade Christmas pageant.  The first is of the lyrics to The King of Glory which we sang with such joyful exuberance that we were marched through the hallway to the upper grade classrooms in hopes that they would catch some of our enthusiasm and volume.  “Who is this King of Glory, How shall we call Him?….Open the gates before Him, lift up your voices!”

The second was that I was forced, against my will, to wear in public a pink bunny costume for our tableau of Noah’s ark.  I had volunteered to be a bunny, imagining appearing soft, white, furry and adorable.  When my mother pulled out the entirely pink costume, I was aghast.  Bunnies are not supposed to be pink!  I would not, could not appear in something so obviously what a bunny should not look like.  It didn’t matter that I otherwise loved pink; it mattered that it was not a suitable color for a bunny.

I decided instead to wear a white turtleneck and tan pants, appropriate bunny colors, and to affix a cotton ball to my posterior to look like a real bunny.  My mother broke the rules and came to our classroom, where she conspired with my teacher to cover up my authentic costume with the horrific, fake, pink abomination.  I don’t think I even sang The King of Glory that night, my eyes filled with tears at the terrible humiliation and shame of wearing something that so obviously wasn’t right.

If I am amused as an adult at my youthful squeamishness and perfectionism, I have also come to realize that so much of Christmas is in fact neither fitting nor right.  That the King of Glory should be a helpless baby, confined by swaddling bands in a trough from which animals ate, is of course more incongruous than an oddly hued rabbit.

In his (highly, highly recommended) new book The Word Made Flesh: Foretold, Fulfilled, Forever, Father Richard Veras tells of the awe of the angels that see God in this tiny human baby.  “Who is this King of Glory?” they wonder, marveling that God would appear in a place and form so horribly beneath Him, so at odds with His power and glory.  But this awe is not just for Christmas he notes.

We focus so much on the descent of God, the humble lowering of Himself as He comes to earth with a full human nature.  We sometimes forget how much the angels must likewise marvel when human flesh ascends into heaven!

How surprised would seven-year-old-me have been to read Father Veras and learn that Psalm 24:7-10 (see full text below), on which our Christmas song The King of Glory was based, was believed by Church Fathers to be in fact about the Ascension.  Writes Father Veras:

The image proposed by these Fathers is that the angels ascending with Jesus are telling the angels in heaven to open the gates to the King of Glory.  But the angels guarding heaven’s gates question them.  For the ascending angels are accompanying a man of flesh and blood who bears wounds in his body.  That a man, that a human nature could be approaching the very throne of God causes the angels at the gates to ask again, “Who is this?” And the ascending angels, with great rejoicing, repeat their proclamation and verify that this man is indeed the King of Glory.1 [emphasis added]

Jesus is glorified not when He “finishes” His human life and returns to one that is purely divine.  Rather, He is glorified when in His human nature He is raised from the dead and then ascends into heaven.  Forever, the human and the divine are linked; humanity is now infused with unimaginable glory into eternity.  Fr. Veras quotes Jean Danielou, noting that:

 …the mystery of the Ascension is not that [the angels] are to adore the eternal Word—that is already the object of the liturgy—but rather that they are to adore the Word Incarnate; and that overturns all of heaven, just as the Incarnation revolutionized all of earth.” 2 [emphasis added]

C.S. Lewis believed that heaven and hell were not merely conditions of the afterlife, but conditions that begin in this life.  One can see a glimpse of this in the joy of the saints, or the horror and misery of great sinners.  Similarly, our own glorification, our union with the divine, begins with a transformation in this life, when with the power of the Holy Spirit we are changed to be more like Christ.  While we can wonder when merely human beings are given the power to heal, or speak in or interpret foreign tongues, or to prophesy, it is an even greater wonder when merely human beings can love like God, forgive like God, humble themselves like God.

At the beginning of the time the Opposition Voice told Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit they would “be like God.”  Since then our image of God has been backwards, as have our attempts to imitate Him.  When we say of someone “he thinks he’s god” we are generally implying one who is arrogant, bossy, even tyrannical.  How unlike this image is the baby in Bethlehem, the gentle healer riding on an ass, the man who lets Himself be nailed by His hands and feet to the Cross.

As we continue in this space between the Feasts of the Ascensions and Pentecost, let us pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that God may be glorified through what we become, beginning now to be completed in eternity.

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I highly recommend that you read the entire book by Father Veras.  You can buy the kindle version on Amazon here or a paperback version through Magnifcat here.


Citations:

1 Veras, Richard. The Word Made Flesh. (New York: Magnicat Inc.,2017) pp. 174-5

2 In the second quotation from page 175, Father Veras quotes Jean Danielou:

Jean Danielou, The Angels and Their Mission According to the Fathers of the Church, tr. David Heimman.  (Allen, Tex.:Thomas More Publishing, 1987), 34.

Psalm 24:7-10

Lift up your heads, O gates:

rise up, you ancient portals,

that the king of glory may enter.

Who is this king of glory?

              The Lord, a mighty warrior

              the Lord, mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O gates:

              rise up, you ancient portals.

              that the king of glory may enter.

Who is this king of glory?

              The Lord the hosts is the king of glory.