Because We Need Faith

Dear fellow pilgrims,

Today in Mass, I continued to ponder the answer to the Lord’s assertion that “it is better for you that I go” amidst a day of celebrating my completed PhD at NYU in Developmental Psychology (AMDG—all glory to God, y’all). I had never thought of the answer within a view of my own discipline…thinking about us as children, and having the disciples, the Church, needing to learn what it’s like to not always have Jesus, their ultimate caregiver, around. After all, in the development of a child’s life, they eventually have to be able to function without the constant help of a caregiver as they get older and more responsibilities are given to them.

In other words, it’s easier to have faith in Jesus when He is in front of you doing miracles and you are physically encountering Him than it is when you are believing without seeing. (But, just for the record, even believing when He was on earth was still a challenge!) And what is Jesus constantly about in our lives? Seeing that we grow further and further into deeper trust and faith in Him. While Jesus was on earth, He subjected himself to being in one place at one time, and in a way, gave up the ability to be present to everyone everywhere in the same way that He can be now, post-Ascension and post-Pentecost.

He left us because you can’t have a deep faith without embracing a space of unknowing. Thomas rejected that space, demanded concrete evidence, and even though our Lord was gracious to meet him where he was, He also acknowledged the superiority of “believing without seeing” over believing because you saw.

Thinking about this dynamic more, I realized that the way I typically have thought of the Ascension (i.e. Jesus itching to ascend and FINALLY get back home, just waving bye-bye to the disciples as they all stare as He ascends slooooowly up towards the clouds) might not have been so one-sided on the angst part. Being a parent and learning to let go is HARD (and my kid is only 15 months old!), so it occurred to me today that Jesus was probably not so unaffected by the disciples pleading. The tone of “it is better for you that I go,” is one straight from a loving Father’s mouth, trying to show that He is doing something that upsets his children only because it is ultimately for their good they could not find from following another way. Saying goodbye to His disciples was probably very challenging, even though He was also intensely joyful to return to Heaven!

The priest today at Mass recalled the words of some saints who have mentioned similar pleas to their loved ones on their deathbeds: It is better for me to intercede for you in Heaven than it is for me to be with you here. Getting to Heaven means joining with the Source of all life and love and holiness, and the Holy Spirit is like the electrical current that flows from that source (going with Grace’s power analogy from Tuesday). It’s like Jesus had to draw the circuit board of salvation history in order to reconnect humans to God, only He could pave the way or connections between Heaven and earth, and He could only truly connect Heaven to earth in the way originally intended in His mission if He returned to Heaven.

But…there is still the waiting after the Ascension. There is still this gap, an empty channel soon to be filled, but the disciples did not know exactly when the Holy Spirit would come! It has never occurred to me that the days after the Ascension were probably filled with similar angst among the disciples as were the days post-crucifixion. “Ok…so He told us to wait in Jerusalem…but not for how long…and what exactly did He say would come to us, again?”. The Lord has left them “for good,” or so it seems like, and they have directions to follow but are uncertain as to the specifics of expectations.

I invite us all to put ourselves in the disciples’ shoes after the Ascension—what would you do if you were in their place? How would you feel after you lost sight of Jesus arising farther and farther into the sky…when He turned from a speck in the air to unable to be seen…maybe it was a foggy day and they lost sight quickly…insert yourself into the scene, and reread passages from different Gospels, praying through instincts that arise when you dig deep into what it would be like to be there. Take note of your responses and what it says about how you could pray for deepening your faith.

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

Better Off

But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go.
For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you.
But if I go, I will send him to you.  (John 16:7)

We all have those particular passages of Scripture that test our faith and strain our credulity:  When Balaam’s ass thinks his master is being one, and so strikes up a conversation about it.  When Jonah is swallowed by the whale and then spit out again so that he can go to Nineveh after all.  When the Apostle Paul is preaching so long that Eutyches falls asleep, falls out the window and dies.  Yes, Paul raises him from the dead, but then he goes back upstairs and goes on preaching.

And then there’s today’s Gospel.  Why in the world does Jesus say: “It is better for you that I go”?

How can this be?  Jesus is claiming that we are better off with the Holy Spirit, than if Jesus Himself were sitting right here bodily among us.

Do I really believe this?  What do I do about it?

In the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, as Jesus is about to ascend into heaven, He tells His apostles: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”

The word “power”—dynamis in Greek—is closely related to “dynamite.”  The gift that Jesus is promising is no wimpy substitute for Himself.

I thought about this in March when three successive snowstorms dumped almost thirty inches of snow on us in less than ten days.  The heavy wet snow in combination with storm winds caused trees to topple, severing multiple power lines and leaving many without power for days.

At first, it seems almost romantic, eating and reading by candle light as in times gone by.  But then one notices that the internet does not work without power.  Foods that don’t require cooking are used up, and there is nothing to prepare for dinner without the power of the stove.  Water from wells likewise cannot be pumped through faucets without power.  The furnace cannot heat the house without power and so things quickly become cold.  And then very, very cold.  The dark is no longer fun; we wait impatiently for the power and light to return.

So it is with the power of the Holy Spirit.  It was by His power that The Light entered the world when He overshadowed Mary and Jesus was conceived; it is by His power that we receive the light of faith and understanding.  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the bread becomes the Body of Christ at Mass, our ultimate Food.  It is the power of the Holy Spirit that awakens for us the thirst for God, for goodness, for truth—and He that ensures that we are drawn to the Living Water.  It is by the Holy Spirit that we are given the Word Made Flesh, and the words to communicate this love to one another.  It is by His Power that we are made clean in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  It is in this power that we can live the abundant life and joy that Jesus desires for us.

Just as on a large scale the power of the Holy Spirit makes the Christian life possible and real, we need the power of the Holy Spirit on a practical and personal level even to pray.  Scripture tells us that not only does the Holy Spirit inspire us to pray, He prays with us and in our place:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. (Rom 8:26)

Not only has the Holy Spirit inspired me with all of my deepest desires, He expresses them to God when I cannot.  And if He does this for me in prayer, how much more will He do if I open my entire life to His Power?  For God “gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:34)

As Pentecost approaches, let us ask for the grace to be ever more open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our world.

Knowing the Holy Spirit

Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.

– John 15

On Friday, Erin reflected on the mystery of friendship that Jesus offers us. Jesus mentions a very important fruit of this friendship in today’s Gospel: He sends us the Holy Spirit. At first (and not just at first, honestly) the Holy Spirit seems rather mysterious: Who is He? What is He? How does He do His thing today, in 2018, in my life? How can we come to know Him?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 688 is a helpful guide:  

“The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit:

– in the Scriptures he inspired;
– in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses;
– in the Church’s Magisterium, which he assists;
– in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit
puts us into communion with Christ;
– in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us;
– in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up;
– in the signs of apostolic and missionary life;
– in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation.”

So in other words, we find the Holy Spirit and come to know Him wherever we find the Church.  Read a biography of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, and you’ll find he was working the entire list pretty hard – because he sought to live fully within the Church! What Erin said about mystery in general is very applicable here: “no matter how deeply we study this complex truth, there will always be more layers of understanding to peel back, always something new to learn.” The list above is not exhaustive by any means – there are many, many ways to know the Holy Spirit and to welcome Him into your life in a deeper way!

My challenge for you today: spend some time in prayer with the list above. Pray the simple prayer “Come, Holy Spirit!” throughout your day. Ask the Holy Spirit in what ways He wants you to come to know Him. And then be open! Have confidence that through your life, the Holy Spirit will testify the love of the Father to the world as shown through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

Come Holy Spirit!

Pax et bonum,
Andy

The Reckless Gift, the Reckless Giver

From today’s first reading:

“… Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

From today’s Gospel:

“…the one who comes from heaven is above all.
He testifies to what he has seen and heard,
but no one accepts his testimony.
Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy.
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God.
He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.”

Dear fellow pilgrims,

As I’m meditating about today’s readings, I see a common thread of the Holy Spirit through the first reading and the gospel reading. In the first reading, the Holy Spirit is described as both a “witness” to Christ’s death and resurrection and a gift from God granted to those who are obedient to Him. In the gospel reading, the Holy Spirit is described as a gift that never runs out, a gift that is always given out of abundance, a gift that is never given from a miserly, calculating heart. I think the Holy Spirit is the least understood member of the Trinity, and I think that is in part because he is the least embodied; we have an idea of the personhood of the Father, the Son, but who really is the Holy Spirit? I had to refresh myself on some theology out of the Catechism:

745 The Son of God was consecrated as Christ (Messiah) by the anointing of the Holy Spirit at his Incarnation (cf. Ps 2:6-7).

746 By his Death and his Resurrection, Jesus is constituted in glory as Lord and Christ (cf. Acts 2:36). From his fullness, he poured out the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the Church.

747 The Holy Spirit, whom Christ the head pours out on his members, builds, animates, and sanctifies the Church. She is the sacrament of the Holy Trinity’s communion with men.

There is something new about the Holy Spirit that was revealed to me as I read more…. the inseparability between the Holy Spirit and Christ, likened to how the oil of anointing seeps into the skin of the anointed. Christ and the Holy Spirit are inseparable, and each informs the other’s identity: the Anointed and the anointing cannot be so without the other. And this anointing is the divine nature of Christ given by the Father to be enmeshed with Mary’s immaculate DNA to create the Incarnate God, Jesus. This is the reckless love of God, to be united with His creation in such a way.

But the Incarnation was not the whole mission of Jesus, it was the qualifying state of His Being that enabled the larger mission of unleashing the deepest possible union between humans and their God through being the type of son that humans could never be: completely obedient, because Jesus submitted Himself to death completely to serve the will of the Father.

Jesus did not want to die. And yet, He did, and did so completely out of love for us because He trusted the Father’s love for us and for Him. Only because of His humanity did He know that His mission of obedience was inseparable from ours, and only because of His divine anointing and union with the Holy Spirit did He know that His mission of atonement was inseparable from the Father’s. And somehow, through the culmination of these inseparable missions in His passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven, an overflowing channel of the Holy Spirit was released into the hearts of obedient believers following after Him.

The barrier between Man and God was broken by Christ’s broken Body and became the chasm through which the Holy Spirit can now be embodied by non-divine people like us. Within this new relationship between God and Man, the Holy Spirit has one mission: to continue the Incarnation within us. And this gift is recklessly given, it is not rationed or divided because God’s love is never proportioned to what we deserve, God’s love mirrors the infinite mercy of the Giver. But this Spirit cannot be given to those who do not believe in Christ because of the inseparability of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and this is why obedience to Christ makes way for the movement of the Spirit: the Spirit cannot move through channels that have not conformed to Christ’s wounds.

Gracious God, You Who make all things new,
Create in us hearts of flesh,
Holding close to the beat of your Heart,
Which never ceases to live in pursuit of ours.

Good Jesus, may we learn from your perfect Sonship,
Your Sacred Heart, that did not deny the will of your Father’s.
Hide us in the wounds of your passion,
teach us the way of your glorious scars,
And bring us closer to your perfect obedience here within time
So that we may not have to wait any longer for eternity when You come. 

Pax Christi,
Alyssa

With All Your Heart

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASixteen years ago today, I stood in a white robe before the bishop as he anointed me with chrism and spoke the words of Confirmation: “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” I still remember the joy I felt walking into the church that day, feeling the presence of so many saints rejoicing over me. I was ready to take part in the mission of the Church, to follow those saints toward Heaven. I didn’t know how God would call me to serve in the years ahead, but I trusted in Him to lead me forward—and that was enough for me to say yes to the journey.

So many journeys start with a “yes.” There is no way for us to know every detail of the adventure that awaits, but if we know that the one who invites us is trustworthy, then we can accept the call with joy. Our relationship with God and our trust in Him are what allow us to do His work and keep His commandments. In today’s Gospel we hear that the most important commandment is to love God, and then to see and love God in others and within ourselves—because without a foundation of love, all our efforts will be fruitless. If we don’t love God with all our hearts and all our understanding and all our strength, then we won’t be able to trust Him to lead us, and we won’t be open to receiving His grace.

He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
—Mark 12:32–33

In Confirmation, we actively choose to follow God in a public way, opening our hearts to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and offering our lives to be used as God sees fit. But before we choose Him, He has already chosen us. The graces we receive through the Sacrament are meant to be used as resources for the mission on which we are sent, and He sends us gifts that are particularly suited for us. All we need to do is to be receptive, to open our hearts just a crack and allow His grace to flood in. We are called to do things that might seem impossible on our own, but when we remember the graces that have been given us, we realize that we are armed for the task.

We are called and chosen. The unfolding of our lives is not a random set of coincidences; rather, every moment carries great purpose and meaning. God has recruited us as unfit soldiers, yet by grace His will shall be done in us.

I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.
I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;
He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.
—Hosea 14:5–7

Reflect today on the journeys God has led you on in the past and where He might be calling you today. Are you ready to say yes to Him, to receive whatever He gives? Lay out your worries before Him so that He can demonstrate His love for you. Turn your attention toward this most important commandment and nurture your relationship with God. Let Him show you how loving and trustworthy He is, so that you can say yes to Him with all heart, all your understanding, and all your strength.


Image: Hermann Hammer, Sacred Heart of Jesus on Pinus Cembra in the Stubai Alps between Salfains and Grieskogel / CC0 1.0