Monday, May 31, 2010

Note On the Visitation

"The reason for the observance of the festival of the Visitation in the tradition and prayer books of catholic churches is not merely sentimental nor even primarily devotional. The Visitation is an important part of the story of the Incarnation and, as such, is significant to the gospel itself. A little reflection shows why this is so.

Reading the Gospel [Luke 1:39-57] for the Visitation, we are inclined to pass over the words, 'And the babe leaped within her', as a quaint but somewhat 'intimate' touch of realism. Modern obstetricians give us a helpful hint toward the understanding of this passage when they tell us that it is a very joyful experience when an expectant mother first feels the movement of the child within her, for by this token she realizes that this growth within her is truly alive -- that it is is not only a part of her life, but that it has a life of its own.

Add to this idea the beautiful explanation which Elizabeth, herself, makes of the experience. To her the stirring of the babe in the womb is not only a sign of life for one child; it is is a sign of new life for all mankind, a prophecy of the imminent Incarnation of the Word through which all men might be born again. To Elizabeth this natural occurrence had a supernatural meaning.

And then, think of John, the Baptist, yet unborn, but already witnessing to the Savior, already fulfilling the will of God. If the blessed forerunner of our Lord had died at birth, the Redeemer would still not have been unexpected or without his prophet, so wonderful was the witness of this unborn child. In all of his years of life on earth, which included his incomparable preaching and glorious martyrdom, blessed John never went beyond this moment, was never more the instrument of the Holy Spirit than when as a babe he leaped in the womb of his mother, for in that moment he became what he had been created to be and fulfilled his destiny.

One more related thought -- even though St. John the Baptist lived for many years, this event points toward the understanding of a great mystery in showing us that in the mystery of God even an unborn child may have fulfilled its destiny and thus be taken by God before it has seen the light of day. People will always be brokenhearted at the death of a baby, but they may find comfort if they look beyond this tragedy of nature to the realm of supernature in which even an unborn child may have had a deeper experience of God than an adult. St. John in the womb and old Simeon could not have been farther apart in age -- nor closer in their knowledge of the presence in the world of the Incarnate God. Thus we have in the words of Elizabeth not an embarrassing intimacy that she was too quaint to conceal, but a beautiful insight into truth, a part of a great gospel. We see why the Visitation has been celebrated in the church for well over a thousand years.

(The Rev. William H. Baar, in The Living Church, May 25, 1986) 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hagia Sophia: The Love Which Is The Three-in-One God

There’s a legend about a holy bishop walking along the seashore one day, trying to figure out the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. He came upon a young child, running back and forth between the water’s edge and a small bucket. The bishop watched the child for awhile, with growing curiosity, then asked, “What are you doing?” “Putting the ocean into my bucket,” replied the child. “But,” said the bishop with a laugh, “that is impossible.” “Not nearly as impossible,” the child said, “as your trying to understand the mystery of the Trinity.

Humankind has learned through the centuries that to understand or grasp the Trinity is simply beyond human ability. Nevertheless, the Holy Trinity can at least become more intelligible for us. Those who wrote the Apostles’ Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Nicene Creed did so because they discerned that God’s most basic relationship to humankind seems to be threefold: God relates to us as Creator, as Redeemer, and as Sanctifier. The Council of Nicaea in 325 asserted that these three are all equally ways in which God is God to us, and they’re essential to understanding that God’s very essence is to draw all things into the unity of interrelatedness.

This, however, isn’t the place to puzzle over the intricacies of Trinitarian theology and doctrine. Today’s feast is about the mystery of God the Holy Trinity. Someone has wisely observed that: “In Christian faith, a mystery is not something which fails to make sense. It is, rather, something whose sense can be discerned, and even stated, but never mastered or fully comprehended in its richness...not because of its absurdity or its incoherence, but because of its depth...” And so, this feast of the Holy Trinity is a time to celebrate the mystery of the Holy God, in all its richness: to stand in awe before the One Who Is, to join with the whole communion of saints and angelic beings in praising God who is all Power, all Wisdom, all Goodness and Love.

Each of today’s texts, in its own way, helps us to get some inkling of who God the Trinity is. They especially help us to get at both the overwhelming, elusive otherness of God, by using ideas of Creator and Father; as well as at the intimate, comforting familiarity of God, by speaking of Jesus and the Spirit, though still in somewhat elusive language.

The first reading (Proverbs 8:1-4; 22-31) speaks of Wisdom, suggesting aspects of God’s life and being which are as yet largely unfamiliar to most of us. Here we encounter Holy Wisdom, in Greek, Hagia Sophia, who cries out, particularly to the little, to the ignorant, to the helpless: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live...” Biblical scholars have puzzled over this personified Woman Wisdom, some identifying her as a figure of poetry, some as the principle of order in creation, some as a personified attribute of God.

The writer of Proverbs describes this mysterious Wisdom with many images. One could look at this as a sort of new creation-story, celebrating creation as a process of wise and delightful play and business and spiritual experience, all in one. Wisdom is like a little child dancing around a parent who is seriously at work, wanting to be part of it, wanting to “help” as children do, with delightful joy and laughter. “...I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race...” (8:30-31) Thomas Merton, famous Trappist monk and writer who died in 1968, and who spent most of his last years reflecting on and writing about Holy Wisdom/Hagia Sophia, says that she means profoundly more. He concluded that Wisdom, before all else, is Godself, not only as Father, but also as Mother, both at once, because this expresses the completeness of God’s Being and reality. Contrary to common misunderstanding among church people, this is a very ancient understanding of God, well-known in the early Church. Over thirty theologians, mystics, writers, and saints, including St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Augustine, St. Bernard, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Julian of Norwich, Dante, etc., specifically wrote of this.

Merton says that Sophia/Wisdom expresses God’s Being, “not one of the Three Persons, but each ‘at the same time, are [Wisdom] and manifest her.’” Wisdom is also the “blessed sweet [pivot] point” of all being and nature, “that which is the smallest and poorest and most humble of all...” Likewise, wisdom is unfathomable mercy, made manifest in Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection. Sophia/Wisdom is “God’s love and mercy coming to birth in us.” (Christopher Pramuk) God, as Love and Mercy “shows Himself to us within ourselves as our own poverty, our own nothingness (which Christ took upon Himself...)” (Merton)

So, who is Holy Widsom/Hagia Sophia? “She is the Spirit of Christ but more than Christ. She is the Love joining the Father, Son, and Spirit that longs for incarnation from before the very beginning. She is Jesus our mother, and Mary, the Theotokos [the God-bearer]”, mentioned on p. 864 of the BCP. Wisdom is, according to Merton, our “true self”, “when we...allow Christ to be birthed in us, and so realize the hidden ground of mercy, creativity, and presence in our very selves, the mystical Body of Christ...” (Pramuk)

In the Epistle (Romans 5:1-5), Paul reminds us that we stand on the threshold of a sort of stairway which leads to “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ...through the Spirit that has been given to us.” In fact he says that “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God”. But first, Paul says, we have to climb the step of “suffering”. Much as we hate it and fear it, here the saying “No pain, no gain” definitely applies. Taking that step in hope, we find that it leads to a second step: “endurance”. And that leads to the next step: “character”, which then allows us to reach the step of “hope”, which, Paul notes, “does not disappoint us” because at that point “God’s love [God’s Self] has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has [already] been given to us.” Julian of Norwich, great 14th century mystic, says: “...before God made us, God loved this love God has done all God’s works...and in this love our life is everlasting...In our creation we had a beginning, but the love in which God created us was in God from without beginning, and in this love we have our beginning. And all this we shall see in God without end...” Dr. Kerrie Hide calls our life “a journey in love from God to God.” We have our being in going forth from God’s love in creation; we have our growing during our human life here below as we continue in an identifying relationship with God who is Love, in and through Jesus; and finally we have our completing in passing from this world, returning to God in Christ and in the Spirit of Love.

Finally, in reading today’s Gospel passage (John 16:12-15), bear in mind that the context is Jesus’ last sharing with the Apostles at their meal on the night before he suffered and died for humankind. He tries to prepare them for his absence: “I still have many things to say to you, but... When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth...” How would you have felt? I’d venture to say that all of us, at one time or other in our prayer life, have experienced something like the Apostles’ loss, that sense of absence. The truth is: God can never be absent to us, really, or we’d simply cease to exist. Nevertheless, there are, for sure, times when we “feel” like God is absent. That feeling might mean a number of different things. It might mean that we feel that God isn’t meeting our expectations. After all, we all have great plans for our lives! Or it might mean that we’re actually experiencing a different form of God’s presence.

Sometimes God is present to us as silence/aloneness. Once in awhile when the grace of silence comes upon us, we realize that everything feels just right; we sit in quiet and peace, with no direction to our thoughts, no desire, no particular clarity about our place in the world. Just peace. Or, perhaps more frequently, we don’t find ourselves in a good place. We feel the burden of our inevitable failings and selfishness; we feel helpless and abandoned; we feel that everything is wrong with our world. Yet, even in the silence and darkness, deep down we may find an amazingly unexplainable peace. Someone has written that “God is the nail that splits our palms to break our grip on the world. He is an unfathomable darkness.

Sometimes God is present as quiet undemonstrable love. Novelist Timothy Farrington writes that “Real prayer is a disappearance, a surrender to the embrace of deepening mystery, in darkness. In that darkness, finally, God alone is. And God is infinite surprise...” That, I believe, is what Jesus is trying to convey to his Apostles in John’s Gospel: that the Advocate, the Comforter, the Spirit, whom we celebrated on Pentecost Sunday last week, though unseen, is the continuing presence of both the Father and of Jesus the Son, present here and now in their lives. The Spirit of Love invites us into a deep, direct experience of God among us, with us, and in us.

Julian of Norwich describes the Holy Spirit as “...the grace-filled gift of action in which we love God for Godself and ourselves in God, and all that God loves, for God’s sake”. Jesus says that “the grace-filled...action” of the Holy Spirit includes guiding us into “all the truth”: to all that Jesus has already taught and to what must still be further revealed; and speaking and declaring to us what the Father and Jesus share together.

In his book, The Go-Between God, John Vernon Taylor offers this amazing statement: “The Holy Spirit is that power which opens eyes that are closed, hearts that are unaware and minds that shrink from too much reality. If one is open towards God, one is open also to the beauty of the world, the truth of ideas, and the pain of disappointment and deformity. If one is closed up against being hurt, or blind towards one’s fellow-men, one is inevitably shut off from God also. One cannot choose to be open in one direction and closed in another.

As the Father is the power responsible for creating us in love, as Jesus is the model par excellence of addressing one another’s needs through the power of love, so the Spirit of Love is God giving us the power to love constantly. God’s presence in our lives through the Spirit of Love is full of surprise. It is subject to no restraint, and breaks out in all directions. It doesn’t constrain or hold us back, but enables us to see with new eyes and understanding, to be sensitive, caring, giving. It enables us to know the truth which makes us free. In opening us towards the Father and the Son, the Spirit enables us to be open to the beauty of the whole world. Imagine the implications this has for motivating us to discontinue polluting and wasting our air and water, timber, animal life, etc., and to not support others who do? for helping us to not allow children to be abused and maltreated? for helping us to not continue in unhealthy and addictive habits? The Spirit enables us to be open to all truth: to finally commit ourselves to become less lazy in learning and in passing on our heritage; to become more tolerant of others’ viewpoints, even though we may disagree; to become less resistant to letting God’s Word work in our everyday lives.

But having said and having heard all this, having professed our faith using the Creed, which we’ll do in a few minutes, we find ourselves still standing in the face of the mystery of God, One and Three. We accept. We believe. But none of us can boast that we fully understand. Without ever abandoning our search to learn about and love God more, to make God more intelligible in human terms, perhaps what we simply need to do is what God does: to be in relationship within the Holy Trinity: to relate to the secure, providing, protecting God Who is Parent; to relate to Jesus Who is the only statement, in flesh and in truth, of the real God’s honest-truth, on which you and I can stake our very lives; to relate to the warming, comforting, helping, loving, yet unseen Present God in the deepest part of our spirits: as available and pervasive as the air which keeps us breathing, and yet as elusive as fire. For those who believe in such relationship -- whether bishop or child -- no explanation is necessary. For those who don’t believe in such relationship, no explanation is possible.

Borrowing words of St. Paul: “I pray that, according to the riches of [the Father’s] glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God...[T]o [God] who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The 1st Book of Common Prayer - 1549

The Preface.

THERE was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so surely established, which (in continuance of time) hath not been corrupted: as (emong other thinges) it may plainly appere by the common prayers in the Churche, commonlye called divine service: the firste originall and grounde whereof, if a manne woulde searche out by the auncient fathers, he shall finde that the same was not ordeyned, but of a good purpose, and for a great advauncement of godlines: For they so ordred the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest parte thereof) should be read over once in the yeare, intendyng thereby, that the Cleargie, and specially suche as were Ministers of the congregacion, should (by often readyng and meditacion of Gods worde) be stirred up to godlines themselfes, and be more able also to exhorte other by wholsome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the trueth. And further, that the people (by daily hearyng of holy scripture read in the Churche) should continuallye profite more and more in the knowledge of God, and bee the more inflamed with the love of his true religion. But these many yeares passed this Godly and decent ordre of the auncient fathers, hath bee so altered, broken, and neglected, by planting in uncertein stories, Legendes, Respondes, Verses, vaine repeticions, Commemaracions, and Synodalles, that commonly when any boke of the Bible was began: before three or foure Chapiters were read out, all the rest were unread. And in this sorte the boke of Esaie [Isaiah] was begon in Advent, and the booke of Genesis in Septuagesima: but they were onely begon, and never read thorow. After a like sorte wer other bokes of holy scripture used. And moreover, whereas s. Paule would have suche language spoken to the people in the churche, as they mighte understande and have profite by hearyng the same; the service in this Churche of England (these many yeares) hath been read in Latin to the people, whiche they understoode not; so that they have heard with theyr eares onely; and their hartes, spirite, and minde, have not been edified thereby. And furthermore, notwithstandyng that the auncient fathers had devided the psalmes into seven porcions, wherof every one was called a nocturne, now of late tyme a fewe of them have been dailye sayed (and ofte repeated) and the rest utterly omitted. Moreover the nombre and hardnes of the rules called the pie, and the manifolde chaunginges of the service, was the cause, yt to turne the boke onlye, was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times, there was more busines to fynd out what should be read, then to read it when it was faunde out.
    These inconveniences therfore considered: here is set furth suche an ordre, whereby the same shalbe redressed. And for a readines in this matter, here is drawen out a Kalendar for that purpose, whiche is plaine and easy to be understanded, wherin (so muche as maie be) the readyng of holy scripture is so set furthe, that all thynges shall bee doen in ordre, without breakyng one piece therof from another. For this cause be cut of Anthemes, Respondes, Invitatories, and suche like thynges, as did breake the continuall course of the readyng of the scripture. Yet because there is no remedy, but that of necessitie there must be some rules: therfore certein rules are here set furth, whiche as they be fewe in nombre; so they be plain and easy to be understanded. So yt here you have an ordre for praier (as touchyng the readyng of holy scripture) muche agreable to the mynde and purpose of the olde fathers, and a greate deale more profitable and commodious, than that whiche of late was used. It is more profitable, because here are left out many thynges, whereof some be untrue, some uncertein, some vain and supersticious: and is ordeyned nothyng to be read, but the very pure worde of God, the holy scriptures, or that whiche is evidently grounded upon the same; and that in suche a language and ordre, as is moste easy and plain for the understandyng, bothe of the readers and hearers. It is also more commodious, bothe for the shortnes thereof, and for the plaines of the ordre, and for that the rules be fewe and easy. Furthermore by this ordre, the curates shal nede none other bookes for their publique service, but this boke and the Bible: by the meanes wherof, the people shall not be at so great charge for bookes, as in tyme past they have been.
    And where heretofore, there hath been great diversitie in saying and synging in churches within this realme: some folowyng Salsbury use, some Herford use, same the use of Bangor, some of Yorke, and some of Lincolne: Now from hencefurth, all the whole realme shall have but one use. And if any would judge this waye more painfull, because that all thynges must be read upon the boke, whereas before, by the reason of so often repeticion, they could saye many thinges by heart: if those men will waye their labor, with the profite in knowlege, whiche dayely they shal obtein by readyng upon the boke, they will not refuse the payn, in consideracion of the greate profite that shall ensue therof.
    And farsomuche as nothyng can, almoste, be so plainly set furth, but daubtes maie rise in the use and practisyng of the same: to appease all suche diversitie (if any arise), and for the resolucion of all doubtes, concernyng the maner how to understande, do, and execute the thynges conteygned in this booke: the parties that so doubt, or diversly take any thyng, shall alwaye resorte to the Bishop of the Diocese, who by his discrecion shall take ordre for the quietyng and appeasyng of the same: so that the same ordre be not contrary to any thyng conteigned in this boke.
¶ Though it be appointed in the afore written preface, that al thinges shalbe read and song in the churche, in the Englishe tongue, to thende yt the congregacion maie be therby edified: yet it is not meant, but when men saye Matins and Evensong privatelye, they maye saie the same in any language that they themselves do understande. Neither that anye man shalbe bound to the saying of them, but suche as from tyme to tyme, inCathedrall and Collegiate Churches, Parishe Churches, and Chapelles to the same annexed, shall serve the congregacion.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Fasts of the Four Seasons

Today, Friday and Saturday we once again celebrate the Ember Days.

The English name for these days, Ember, probably derives from the Anglo-Saxon ymbren = a circuit or revolution, from ymb, around, and ryne, a course, running, relating to the annual cycle of the year. The occurrence of the Anglo-Saxon compounds ymbren-tid = Embertide, ymbren-wucan = Ember weeks, ymbren-fisstan = Ember fasts, ymbren-dagas = Ember days, makes this etymology certainly plausible. The word imbren is mentioned in the acts of the Council of Ænham (1009): "the fasts of the four seasons (jejunia quattuor tempora) which are called imbren". It corresponds also with Pope Leo the Great's definition: "fasts of the church distributed through the whole circuit of the year". Others maintain that the term is derived from the Latin quattuor anni tempora = four times of the year, while folk etymology even cites the phrase "may ye remember [the inevitability of death]" as the source. According to J. M. Neale's Essays of Liturgiology (1863), "there is no occasion to seek after an etymology in [the word] embers..."

In the liturgical calendar of the Western Christian churches, Ember Days are four separate sets of three days within the same week, i.e., Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, roughly equidistant in the circuit of the year, set aside for fasting and prayer. These days were also considered especially suitable for the ordination of clergy. 
The Ember Weeks, i.e., weeks in which the Ember Days occur, are the week between the 3rd and 4th Sundays of Advent, between the 1st and 2nd Sundays of Lent, the week between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, and the week beginning on the Sunday after Holy Cross Day (September 14), the liturgical 3rd week of September.

The origins of Ember Days are open to considerable debate. Generally, most agree that the idea for observing Ember Days predates the Christian era, and that since Ember Days have never been observed in the Eastern Churches, the days must have pagan origins in the west. They could possibly have had Celtic origins, linked to the Celtic custom of observing various festivals at three-month intervals: Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain. Historically, the ancient Christian Church often co-opted pagan feasts and reoriented them to suit Christian purposes.

In pagan Rome offerings were made to various gods and goddesses of agriculture in the hope that the deities would provide a bountiful harvest, a rich vintage, or a productive seeding. At first the Church in Rome had fasts in June, September, and December. When the fourth season was added cannot be ascertained, but Pope Gelasius I speaks of all four already in the 5th century. The earliest mention of the seasonal fasts is known from the writings of Philastrius, bishop of Brescia (d. ca. 387). He also connects them with the great Christian festivals.

From Rome this seasonal observance of the Ember days spread to the rest of the Western Church. They were known as the jejunium vernum, aestivum, autumnale and hiemale ("the spring, summer, autumn, and winter fast") so that, to quote Pope Leo I, the law of fasting might apply to every season of the year. In Leo's time, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday were already the days for the observance. In order to make them fasts preparatory to the three great festivals, i.e., Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, a fourth needed to be added "for the sake of symmetry", according to the Encyclopædia Britannica. Thus the autumn Ember Days.

From Rome the Ember days spread gradually and unevenly throughout Western Christendom: first in Britain, interestingly, and later in Gaul (8th cent.), Spain (11th cent.), Italy (16th cent.). Practices appear to have varied considerably, however, and in some cases, quite significantly, the Ember Weeks lost their connection with the Christian festivals altogether. The Eastern Orthodox Church has never observed the Ember Days. 

Dr. Pius Parsch notes that "Ember week is a recognized time for spiritual renewal, an occasion to review the past as well as to scan the future. And during these days after Pentecost we can sense more easily the original import and the spirit of joyous gratitude proper to Ember week. Gratitude, not penance, should be the dominant Ember spirit. Even fasting can be an act of thanksgiving! Let us stress positive rather than negative values in our Christian life, cultivate the consciousness of being God's holy children rather than feel ourselves as outcasts and sinners..."

Parsch says that every feast of the Church brings us two blessings: an element of truth revealed and a grace. The Pentecost, first of all, brings Easter to a conclusion. Easter proclaimed the risen Lord Christ, victorious over death and evil, freeing us to recognize God's reign already within us. Pentecost announces the ongoing working out of Christ's redemption through the presence of God the Holy Spirit, the "giver of life". "It is the Holy [Spirit] who transforms the Church...into Christ's mystical Body, into a communion of saints...into Christ continuing His work of teaching and redeeming..."  (Dr. Pius Parsch, The Church's Year of Grace, Vol. 3, 1954)

For the Ministry (Ember Days)

Wednesday: For those to be ordained
Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, in your divine providence you have appointed various orders in your
Church: Give your grace, we humbly pray, to all who are now called to any office and ministry for your people; and so fill them with the truth of your doctrine and clothe them with holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before you, to the glory of your great Name and for the benefit of your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday: For the choice of fit persons for the ministry
O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of your kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday: For all Christians in their vocation
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified:
Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Responding To the Gift of God's Spirit

"The love of God has been poured into our hearts by God's Spirit living in us, alleluia."

It's one thing to celebrate Jesus' amazing sending of the gift of the Spirit of Love from the Father upon us. It's another thing to truly desire, to invite the Spirit to indwell us ever deeper.

We don't have sequences much in the Eucharistic liturgy of the Episcopal Church; our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers are much better known for that practice. Dr. Pius Parsch, in his The Church's Year of Grace, speaks of the origin of the sequence in the Mass. He notes that according to an "old liturgical axiom", two lessons shouldn't be read in direct succession. An intervening chant, preferably from the Psalter, is generally inserted between lessons, thus allowing a breathing space for briefly meditating on what we've heard in the lesson, in order to let it, as Parsch says, "echo in the soul".

From ancient times, therefore, a song or even two or three, has been inserted between the Epistle and the Gospel readings. The first is what we call the Gradual, probably because it was sung on the gradus or step. The second song might be a threefold Alleluia plus a verse, heralding or introducing the Gospel. Sometimes there is a chant called the Tracta verse that follows the Gradual and precedes the Gospel reading in Lent, a supplement to the Gradual chant. It appears in place of the Alleluia and its verse. The name apparently derives from tractus, either because of the drawn-out style of singing, or because of the continuous structure without a refrain. Parsch says that early Christians, being particularly fond of the Alleluia, not unlike many Christians today, often sustained the -ia indefinitely.  In time, a text in the form of a poem developed to replace the endless ending, and became known as the sequentia, the Sequence, the song which followed the Alleluia. Hundreds of sequences were written in the Middle Ages.

With Pius V's revision of the Roman Missal in 1570, nearly all Sequences were omitted, save five of the most beautiful ones, of which the Veni, Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit) for the feast of Pentecost was one. Written by an unknown author, it is a magnificent hymn and gives us much on which to meditate. Most noticeable throughout is the urgent voicing of human pleading to the Spirit of Love: "Come" (5 times); "shed a ray"; "shine within"; "fill"; "heal"; "renew"; "wash"; "bend"; "melt"; "guide"; "descend"; and "give" (3 times). The hymn refers to God the Spirit as "Father of the poor"; "source of all our store"; "of comforters the best"; "welcome guest"; "rest"; "coolness"; "solace"; "blessed Light"; and "sevenfold gift".

Pius Parsch concludes: "This, the Sequence of Pentecost. It has given us a deep insight into the quiet, ceaseless, irresistible activity of the 'unknown God.'"

Monday, May 24, 2010

Understanding the Seven Gifts of the Spirit

(From "The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit", by Frank X. Blisard)

"...Rather than perpetuating either a strictly Thomistic approach or an approach based on contemporary, culturally conditioned definitions, I propose a third way of understanding the seven gifts, one that goes back the biblical source material.

The first—and only—place in the entire Bible where these seven special qualities are listed together is Isaiah 11:1–3, in a famous Messianic prophecy:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
Virtually every commentator on the seven gifts for the past two millennia has identified this passage as the source of the teaching, yet none have noted how integral these seven concepts were to the ancient Israelite "Wisdom" tradition, which is reflected in such Old Testament books as Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Psalms, Ecclesiasticus, and the Wisdom of Solomon, as well as certain strands of the prophetic books, including Isaiah. This material focuses on how to navigate the ethical demands of daily life (economics, love and marriage, rearing children, interpersonal relationships, the use and abuse of power) rather than the historical, prophetic, or mythical/metaphysical themes usually associated with the Old Testament. It does not contradict these other.aspects of revelation but complements them by providing a glimpse into how Israel’s covenant with Yahweh is lived out in all its nitty-gritty detail.

It is from this world of practical, down-to-earth, everyday concerns rather than the realm of ascetical or mystical experience that the seven gifts emerged, and the context of Isaiah 11 reinforces this frame of reference. The balance of Isaiah describes in loving detail the aggressiveness with which the "shoot of Jesse" will establish his "peaceable kingdom" upon the earth:

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. . . . They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Is. 11:3–4, 9)
Establishing this kingdom entails thought, planning, work, struggle, courage, endurance, perseverance, humility—that is, getting one’s hands dirty. This earthbound perspective is a profitable one from which to view the role the seven gifts play in the life of mature (or maturing) Christians.

There is a strain within Catholicism, as within Christianity in general, that focuses on the afterlife to the exclusion—and detriment—of this world, as if detachment from temporal things were alone a guarantee of eternal life. One of the correctives to this kind of thinking issued by Vatican II was the recovery of the biblical emphasis on the kingdom of God as a concrete reality that not only transcends the created order but also transforms it (Dei Verbum 17; Lumen Gentium 5; Gaudium et Spes 39).

The seven gifts are indispensable resources in the struggle to establish the kingdom and are, in a sense, a byproduct of actively engaging in spiritual warfare. If a person does not bother to equip himself properly for battle, he should not be surprised to find himself defenseless when the battle is brought to his doorstep. If my classmates and I never "acquired" the "mysterious powers" we anticipated, perhaps it is because we never took up arms in the struggle to advance the kingdom of God!

The seven gifts are an endowment to which every baptized Christian can lay claim from his earliest childhood. They are our patrimony. These gifts, given in the sacraments for us to develop through experience, are indispensable to the successful conduct of the Christian way of life. They do not appear spontaneously and out of nowhere but emerge gradually as the fruit of virtuous living. Nor are they withdrawn by the Spirit once they are no longer needed, for they are perpetually needed as long as we are fighting the good fight.

The seven gifts are designed to be used in the world for the purpose of transforming that world for Christ. Isaiah 11 vividly portrays what these gifts are to be used for: to do what one is called to do in one’s own time and place to advance the kingdom of God. The specific, personal details of that call do not come into focus until one has realized his very limited, ungodlike place in the scheme of things (fear of the Lord), accepted one’s role as a member of God’s family (piety), and acquired the habit of following the Father’s specific directions for living a godly life (knowledge). This familiarity with God breeds the strength and courage needed to confront the evil that one inevitably encounters in one’s life (fortitude) and the cunning to nimbly shift one’s strategies to match—even anticipate—the many machinations of the Enemy (counsel)...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Transparent Gift of the Spirit

Many years ago, when I was teaching in a Catholic high school in Oklahoma City, one of my co-teachers, Maxine Stank, had a wonderful 7 or 8 year old son, Tommy, with bright red hair and freckles. Maxine told the story of asking Tommy to wash his hands before dinner one evening, telling him that was necessary so that he didn’t get sick. Begrudingly, Tommy went and washed his hands, and when he returned, Maxine asked to see them, upon which Tommy was sent back to wash them a second time. His exclamation was: “Jesus and germs...that’s all you hear about and you can’t see either one of them!

There was a similar longstanding attitude of the Church regarding the Holy Spirit, I think, until about 40 years ago when the Charismatic Movement became popular, and sort of helped to reeducate Christians to rediscover a personal, as well as community, relationship with the Spirit of God.

In John’s Gospel today, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit: “...I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth...You know him, because he abides in you...” The Greek word used for Advocate or Counselor is parakletos, i.e., someone who appears on another’s behalf; an intercessor; a comforter; a helper. Those terms are somewhat general and can mean a lot of things to a lot of people.

Missionaries in foreign lands have often, in the past, found it difficult to translate the Bible into a local dialect because often there are no equivalent terms. A story is told that among the Miao, a hill tribe in western China, the translation of John’s Gospel was delayed because no word for comfort or Comforter existed. Then one day a missionary heard a tribesman say that he was going to visit a woman who had lost her son. He said he was going to help her “get her heart around the corner.” And so, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, was then translated as “the One who helps you get your heart around the corner.

Not only did Jesus promise to send the Advocate, the Spirit: He delivered. “When the day of Pentecost had come,” says Luke, “they were all together...and...all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit...” The name Pentecost derives from the Greek pentekoste, the 50th day or seven weeks after Passover. The Jewish Pentecost was called the Feast of Weeks, then one of Judaism’s three great feasts. It celebrated the gifts of the first fruits, as well as the gift of the Law to Moses. For followers of Jesus, this Jewish feast became the occasion for an outpouring of the Father’s first fruits: the gift of God’s Spirit. Through the gift of the Spirit, God empowers Jesus‘ followers to speak his Word to all people and to be understood by them.

The Acts of the Apostles notes that, through the Spirit’s inspiration in St. Peter’s preaching, a sizeable community of faith came into being. It was a permanent group; Luke says they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. He says further that they shared a common life, sharing “out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed...”, and that their witness “made a deep impression on everyone.

As spiritual descendants of that first community of faith, the Father, through Jesus, has given us the gift of God’s Spirit, our Advocate and Comforter, the one who helps us “get our hearts around the corner”. The secret of a good gift is that it’s practical, something which the receiver can put to immediate use. Jesus‘ gift to that first community of faith changed people: they became people who helped others get their hearts around the corner: supporting one another in faith, telling the story of the Good News, being sensitive to human needs, sharing gladly and generously, continually praising God, and making a difference in their local communities.

You and I have been given the Spirit-Gift in Baptism and Confirmation. The Spirit is a gift eminently practical and usable: it is a gift of peace, of knowledge, and of power.

The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. It means perfect well-being, which is to say God; therefore, it is God’s presence: complete harmony, such as exists when you and I are right with ourselves, with one another, and with God. There is only wholeness, no fragmentation. St. Paul says in Romans: “ set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6)

The Spirit also enables us to discern and to know our purpose, our direction in life. Paul again, in 1 Corinthians, reminds us that “...we have received...the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God...” (1 Corinthians 2:12) Moreover, God’s Spirit enables us not only to have Christ’s peace, but to become senders of the Spirit to others, beautifully summarized in The Prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace...

In the New Testament, the greeting of peace, uttered by those whom Jesus sends, is also a word of power. Jesus was conceived as “the power of the Most High”. Jesus is the Word of the Father: God’s presence and power embodied, and spoken inside people’s hearts. The disciples on the road to Emmaus describe Jesus as “mighty in deed and word before God and all the people”. Jesus’ words and deeds bring Life to people. The gift which the Father and Jesus send at Pentecost is, according to Luke, “like the rush of a violent wind”; all are “filled with the Holy Spirit”; once empowered, people are gifted to preach, to witness, to heal, to be hospitable, to take others in, to teach, to be discerning, to show mercy: and all of this is for one purpose: “ equip the saints for the work of ministry,” as Paul says, “for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ...” That is a description of how we help one another, by the presence of the Spirit within us, to “get our hearts around the corner”.

Maggie Daniels, a friend of mine many years ago, shared with me one of her lovely poems, called Transparency. It describes the faith, hope and love with which the Spirit of God clothes each of us, like a coat, in Baptism and Confirmation:

What does it mean
to wear a transparent cloak?
and love like a veil
and faith like invisible wings.

To kneel
hidden and revealed
at the same time
Before the Face of One
who sees.

And how is it that
when the cloak’s edges
fall on the grass
It does not hide the grass
And when it lays on a root,
It does not cover the twistings
But is itself
susceptible to snags and tears?

What good is such a cloak?
of what use is it?
And why?

A transparent cloak
is the loveliest cloak of all
Because it wraps
the treasure without hiding it,
Covers without duplicity,
Avoids familiarity without rejection.
Enhances without falsifying.

And one thing more:
When it enfolds a gift
it grants the receiver
the pleasure of beholding
without denying him
the delight of unwrapping.

It is good for a [person]
to wear such a cloak,
woven of rain and mist,
spun with threads of sun.
But it is difficult
to wear well
for many reasons.

Only a [person] in love
can bear it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Holy Spirit Symbol

I know that the traditional symbol for the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and other liturgical occasions is a white dove. But when I saw this picture of an albino peacock, it was so moving that I felt it, too, could surely serve as a fitting reminder of God's Spirit.

The Language of All People

"The Church in its unity speaks in the language of every nation
The disciples spoke in the language of every nation. At Pentecost God chose this means to indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit: whoever had received the Spirit spoke in every kind of tongue. We must realise, dear brothers, that this is the same Holy Spirit by whom love is poured out in our hearts. It was love that was to bring the Church of God together all over the world. And as individual men who received the Holy Spirit, speaks in the language of every people.

Therefore if somebody should say to one of us, “You have received the Holy Spirit, why do you not speak in tongues?” his reply should be, “I do indeed speak in the tongues of all men, because I belong to the body of Christ, that is, the Church, and she speaks all languages. What else did the presence of the Holy Spirit indicate at Pentecost, except that God’s Church was to speak in the language of every people?”

This way is the way in which the Lord’s promise was fulfilled: No one puts new wine into old wineskins. New wine is put into fresh skins, and so both are preserved. So when the disciples were heard speaking in all kinds of languages, some people were not far wrong in saying: They have been drinking too much new wine. The truth is that the disciples had now become fresh wineskins, renewed and made holy by grace. The new wine of the Holy Spirit filled them, so that their fervour brimmed over and they spoke in manifold tongues. By this spectacular miracle they became a sign of the Catholic Church, which embraces the language of every nation.

Keep this feast, then, as members of the one body of Christ. It will be no empty festival for you if you really become what you are celebrating. For you are the members of that Church which the Lord acknowledges as his own, being himself acknowledged by her, that same Church which he fills with the Holy Spirit as she spreads throughout the world. He is like a bridegroom who never loses sight of his own bride; no one could ever deceive him by substituting some other woman.

To you men of all nations, then who make up the Church of Christ, you the members of Christ, you, the body of Christ, you, the bride of Christ – to all of you the Apostle addresses these words: Bear with one another in love; do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Notice that when Paul urges us to bear with one another, he bases his argument on love, and when he speaks of our hope of unity, he emphasises the bond of peace. This Church is the house of God. It is his delight to dwell here. Take care, then, that he never has the sorrow of seeing it undermined by schism and collapsing in ruins."

(From an exposition of Ecclesiastes by St Gregory of Agrigentum)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Holy Spirit: Light

Are you the ray
Of light streaming from the throne of judgment
Only to break into the dark night 
Of my soul, a soul that never knew itself?
With mercy but without rest, you enter secret places.
A soul is afraid to see itself.
It steps aside to make room for the fear
Of God and the beginning of wisdom.
They come down anyway and bind us
Like anchors to their heights --
To Your ways that recreate us.
Holy Spirit -- 
All-penetrating ray!

(St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, OCD [Edith Stein],
"And I Remain With You", Summer 1942)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Shavuot: Celebration of Revelation

Shavuot (Hebrew: שבועות‎, lit. "Weeks") is a Jewish holiday that occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (late May or early June). Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai, although the association between the giving of the Torah and Shavuot is not explicit in the Biblical text. The holiday is one of the  three Biblical pilgrimage festivals. 

The date of Shavuot is directly linked to that of Passover. The Torah mandates the seven-week Counting of the Omer, beginning on the second day of Passover and immediately followed by Shavuot. This counting of days and weeks is understood to express anticipation and desire for the Giving of the Torah. On Passover, the Jewish people were freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh; on Shavuot they were given the Torah and became a nation committed to serving God.
In the Bible, Shavuot is called the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10); Festival of Reaping (Exodus 23:16), and Day of the First Fruits (Numbers 28:26). The Mishnah and Talmud refer to Shavuot as Atzeret: a solemn assembly, as it provides closure for the festival activities during and following the holiday of Passover. Since Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Hellenistic Greeks gave it the name Pentecost (πεντηκοστή, "fiftieth day").

One thing that Shavuot is known for is being little-known. It is postulated that among other reasons, its obscurity is related to the heaviness of the Torah itself, with its numerous positive commandments and negative commandments.

Holy Spirit Coming (Painting by He Qi)

Veni, creator Spiritus mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratia, quae tu creasti pectora.
All-divine Creator Spirit, come, visit every being of yours,
And fill, with your celestial presence, the hearts which you created.

Qui diceris Paraclitus, altissimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, caritas et spiritalis unctio.
O gift of the most high God, you are called Paraclete:
the spring of life, fire of love, and unction from above.

Tu septiformis munere, digitus paternae dexterae
tu rite promissum Patris sermone ditans guttura.
You bestow the seven-fold gifts, O Finger of the Father's power;
You are the Father's promise, sent to teach us a rich and heavenly speech.

Accende lumen sensibus, infunde amorem cordibus,
infirma nostri corporis, virtute firmans perpeti.
Illuminate our senses, O light from above, and flood our hearts with love;
Support our human weakness and frailty with your unfailing strength.

Hostem repellas longius pacemque dones protinus;
ductore sic te praevio vitemus omne noxium.
Drive far from us our deadly foe, and give us true peace;
Thus led by your unfailing guidance, may we pass safely through every ill.

Per te sciamus da Patrem noscamus atque Filium,
te utriusque Spiritum credamus omni tempore.
Gift us with the ability to know the Father as well as the Son;
And help us set our hearts in faith on you, Spirit of them both, forever.

Deo Patri sit gloria, et Filio qui a mortuis
Surrexit, ac Paraclito, in saeculorum saecula.
To the Father be glory, as well as to the Son who rose from the dead,
And to you, the Paraclete, forever  and ever. Amen.

(Pentecost Vesper hymn: Veni Creator Spiritus)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rogation Wednesday - For Stewardship of Creation

O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Words jump out at us from that prayer: "open wide", "to satisfy", "always thankful", "loving providence", "remembering", "faithful stewards", "good gifts". With ardent longing we await the sending of the Spirit more fully into creation and into our individual lives, ever aware that, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, "...nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;...Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rogation Tuesday - For Commerce & Industry

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life
shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rogation Monday - For Fruitful Seasons

Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

When offering this prayer these days one's thoughts easily turn to the precariousness of "the harvests of the land and of the seas". One thinks of the meanspiritedness of those who would expel decent, law-abiding, hardworking trabajadores, workers, who willingly accept labor which many U.S. citizens, needing jobs, find repugnant and refuse to take on themselves. One thinks of well-groomed oil executives sitting before Congressional committees in expensive suits, arrogantly and totally unapologetic for obscene amounts of money earned even as their blatant carelessness regarding safety measures emerges as a major cause for one of the greatest ecological catastrophes in the Gulf of Mexico and, indeed, in our country's history. The untold losses and mushrooming and rippling social impact on fishermen and their families, and on the economy of New Orleans and others coastal towns and cities are unspeakable. May part of our prayer during these Rogation Days be for all Americans to regain their soul and their sense of oneness as a "nation under God": te rogamus, audi nos! Hear us, O God, we beseech You! 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday After the Ascension: Jesus' Desire & Ours

Famous comedian Jack Benny once quipped: “Give me my golf clubs, fresh air, and a beautiful woman, and you can keep my golf clubs and the fresh air.” It perhaps expresses humorously what the poet, Robert Frost, said more seriously: “Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.” The biblical texts for this Sunday after the Ascension of our Lord, and for the feast of the Ascension itself, celebrated just this past Thursday, speak abundantly of desire.

The event of Jesus’ Ascension is the hinge between St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry in his Gospel, and his account of the spread of the Church by Jesus’ followers after he ascended to his Father in the Acts of the Apostles. Where is Jesus? Because of the Ascension, the risen Jesus dwells in “heaven”: i.e., in the immediate presence of God. The Father's “right hand” signifies the power with which the risen/ascended Jesus reveals God and is present in the life of humanity, including the Church, in his desire to be one with us always.

Because of the Ascension, Jesus is both absent, yet present. His presence is embodied in the Holy Spirit, Christ’s gift to us. We desire and, one day, will share his full and unmediated presence, face to face. Jesus, longing to bring us home, will come again to us at the culmination of human history, which is also the definitive beginning the fullness of God’s reign.

Until then, as Luke hints through his comment by the “two men in white robes” in Acts 1:10, you and I have work to do: “...why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you... will come [again] in the same way...” Our constant question must not be, "Where is Jesus?" but "Where are we in relation to, in our desire for, the risen/ascended Lord?" We have ministry to do, not on our own initiative or for our own selfish interests, but empowered by and for the Spirit of the risen Christ within us, among us, calling us to faithfully witness to his saving presence in all of humankind.

The prayer which Jesus taught us expresses this well: "Father...may your reign come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven." Our longing should not be to "go to heaven", but to make “heaven”, i.e., the divine Presence, a reality on earth through faithful witness to the Good News of Jesus’ words and deeds. Our aim is to collapse the distance between “heaven” and earth through the Holy Spirit, sent in order that Jesus' reign may be experienced. The story of Jesus is inescapably interwoven with the story of humankind, including the Church. And this is possible because of the Ascension.

If we’re willing to stretch our imagination and human language as far as we can, Philip Culbertson reminds us, we’ll begin to grapple with the “new physics" of the Ascension. He says that the possibility of other transcendent dimensions is no longer the stuff of science fiction, but of legitimate scientific theory. What if we considered “heaven” as a dimension that can touch the dimension of our present experience rather than a place far, far away? In fact, this is how the early church regarded the Ascension.

In one of the ancient Divine Office readings, Pope St. Leo I, in his Sermon 1 on the Ascension comments:
...[I]t was a great and unspeakable cause for rejoicing, when in the sight of a holy multitude, human nature ascended above the dignity of all celestial creatures...not to have any degree of loftiness set as a limit...short of the right hand of the eternal Father, where it would be associated with [the Father’s] royal glory, to whose nature it was united in the Son. Since, then, Christ’s ascension is our own exaltation, and where the glory of the head has gone before, there also is the hope of the body summoned. Let us, dearly beloved, rejoice... For today, not only have we been confirmed in the possession of Paradise, but in Christ we have...gained...far more...For those...cast down from the happiness of their first estate, these have the Son of God made to be one body with himself, and placed at the right hand of the Father...

The Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus span the gap between us and God. In Jesus, the Word made-flesh, God, Infinite Reality, Infinite Being, utterly empties Itself by giving Itself away in love in the act of creation. God’s generosity is infinite, and we are the generosity of God. You and I are who we were in God’s knowledge before we were ever created by God. God’s non-distinction from all things is their own reality, and so that reality is our very ordinariness. Our human nature is oned with that of Jesus through the Spirit of Love: Paul says that "in Christ we have access to the Father through the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:18). From time to time, you and I experience unexpected “quickening moments”, “stirrings of love”, “fleeting flashes”. These are subtle recognitions of the holiness of our life as it is. Such moments are revelatory, i.e., in them God makes Godself known to us, awakens us to God already within our being: our God-given Godly nature. God awakens us to see that, in the very ordinariness of who we are, we already possess all that’s necessary to live in habitual consciousness of God giving Godself away. And having once glimpsed God, we know that only God will do in our life. We desire a more lasting, daily deepening awareness of this life, and the effect of this is cumulative, i.e., we desire more and more to follow the path leading to even deeper experiences of oneness with God.

This is the path of our continuing union with the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit, a continuing union made possible by Jesus' Ascension. The distance between God and humanity is fully and finally spanned in Christ! In Christ’s gift to us of the Holy Spirit, the distance between us and Christ is collapsed. This collapsing and transcending impacts our entire experience in the realms of time, space, and matter:

- In the Spirit, time is collapsed in that, in our oneness with the risen/ascended Christ, we already access eternal life, although we can only fully experience it beyond this life.

- In the Spirit, space is collapsed in that the presence of the risen/ascended Christ is available everywhere, though we must await the time when we will see him face to face.

In the Spirit, matter is collapsed in that the presence of the risen/ascended Christ is experienced in every aspect of our ordinariness here and now: in nature around us; in our times of intimacy; in solitude; in music, poetry and art; in the experience of birth; in observing children; in helping others; in the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist; and finally, in experiencing death itself, our own or others’. Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the 20th century’s noted spiritual theologians, puts it this way: “We are the language God uses to speak us. How could we possibly not understand ourselves in this language? Bathed in the light of God, we step into our own clarity.

That brings us to today’s Gospel (John 17:20-26) which is preparing us for Pentecost next week, for this new way of God’s being with us, the Holy Spirit. Judith Viorst speaks of “necessary losses”, i.e., those things which we have to lose or let go of, so as to move ahead to a deeper maturity. The season of Pentecost, the long “green” season, is a time for us to grow into a deeper spiritual maturity, in our desire for an ever-growing oneness with God in Christ. In a sense it’s the unique season of desire, of longing and thirsting for the Fountain of Life and Love. Philip Culbertson says this: “As [the theme of] water flows throughout the Bible ([e.g.,]‘By the rivers of Babylon,’ ‘As a deer longs for flowing streams,’ ‘I am the Living Water’) so the river of desire flows through the words of the... Jesus [of John’s Gospel], reminding us why we thirst, and for what we truly thirst.

Notice the key words Jesus uses in the Gospel passage: being one, glory, know, love. Notice, too, his opening line: “I ask not only on behalf of these, [i.e., his disciples] but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word...” Jesus is praying here for you and me! Listen to his desire as he then goes on: “...that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us...The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given [us] because you loved [us] before the foundation of the world.

The Gospel makes clear what Jesus’ desire is. What about our desire? Am I willing to risk becoming the presence of the risen/ascended Christ to others? Am I willing, like Jesus, to make God known by breaking the bread of God’s word open for others; to embody God’s love, even in my own weak, everyday, human ordinariness; to consider all others as “friend” and, even if only symbolically, to be willing to humbly “lay down my life” for her or him?

Paul and Silas, in the first reading, in their desire to make Christ known, invited the jailer and his household to “Believe on the Lord Jesus...”, and, says Luke, “They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.” They believed and they “rejoiced”. In the Book of Revelation passage (22:12-14; 16-17; 20-21) the risen/ascended Jesus and the Spirit invite each of us who desire the water of life to “Come”, so that “the grace [the presence] of the Lord Jesus [may] be with all the saints” -- with all of our brother and sisters -- through us.