May 18, 2009
In the 1960’s, a California winery launched a memorable advertising campaign with the voice of “War of the Worlds” Orsen Wells and the slogan: “We will sell no wine before its time.” Vintage wine needs time. Oenophiles simply have to wait.
Yet, modern technology conditions us not to wait. Cell phones, text-messaging, high-speed internet give us instant communication. Bullet trains and jets get us where we want to go at record speeds. But, even all our progress cannot eliminate waiting. We wait impatiently in lines at the airport. We wait anxiously for our body to heal when we are sick. We wait joyfully for the birth of a baby.
Waiting is a part of life. The Scriptures give ample witness to waiting as an essential part of our relationship God. The prophet Isaiah teaches that God does great things for those who wait for Him (64:3). The prophet Micah, his younger contemporary, says, “As for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation” (7:7). The Psalmist prays, “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (62:1). There should be no surprise when the Risen Lord orders his apostles to wait before beginning their mission to the world.
Jesus takes the apostles out to the Mount of Olives before leaving them for the last time. He tells the apostles “not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:3). John the Baptist had promised that the Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 1:33). But the Baptist’s prophecy remained unfulfilled throughout Jesus’ public ministry. Now that the Lord returns to heaven and leaves the Church to continue his work, the Baptist’s prophecy will be fulfilled when the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, who is the promise of the Father. But they must first wait.
At first sight, this waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit seems unnecessary. Already from the moment of the Resurrection, the Lord Jesus imparts the gift of the Holy Spirit. On Easter Sunday night, Jesus appears to the frightened apostles locked behind the closed doors of the Upper Room. He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 20:15). By the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Risen Lord is reconstituting as one community those who had been scandalized and scattered by his death. Why, then, should the apostles pray for the Holy Spirit if he has already been given to them?
At the very first moment of his conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the Spirit anointed Jesus (cf. Lk 1:35). Born of Mary, Jesus is the Messiah, that is, the Anointed One. Yet, before Jesus begins his work as Messiah, the Holy Spirit comes down on him again. The Spirit anoints him while he is at prayer at his baptism (Lk 3:21-22). The Spirit descends on him with power for his public ministry of evangelization. As Jesus himself says in his hometown of Nazareth, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Lk 4:18).
In like manner, the Spirit anoints the Church for her work of preaching the good news. As Jesus prayed before the Spirit descended on him for his mission, the Church waits and prays in obedience to the Lord’s command. Then, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes down on the Church and anoints the Church for mission.
The Church at prayer, the Church not rushing to accomplish her mission, is the first image of the Church in
Acts. Whenever the Scriptures present the first occurrence of something, the Scriptures are giving us the model of what is or should be. Adam and Eve’s original sin typifies the response of disobedience of God’s children throughout the ages. Mary, the first disciple in Luke’s gospel, models what all disciples should be. Thus, the Church on the opening pages of
Acts of the Apostles, the Church waiting and praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit, sets the example for the Church in every age.
We have a mission as the Church founded by Jesus Christ. We are sent to stand before our society as a strong witness to truth and justice and as a constant and clear voice for the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of all life. The opposition is strong. Those who oppose our Christian values are, at times, well-organized and well-financed. Not all who profess to be Christian are courageous enough to bring Christian values into economics and politics. Yet we take great hope from the promise of Jesus to those who wait in prayer: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8).
Certainly, it is our task to work strenuously at preaching the Gospel, serving the poor and transforming our society. But God’s work cannot be done without God’s power. Our first task, then, is to wait and pray.
The nine days before Pentecost are traditionally set aside for special prayer to the Holy Spirit. These days are known as the Pentecost Novena, the oldest novena in the Church. This year, from Ascension Thursday, May 21, until Pentecost Sunday, May 31, I, therefore, ask all of you to return with me to the Upper Room, to join the apostles and Mary and to wait and pray for a much needed and fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
May the nine days before Pentecost be a continuous prayer from the great Church of Paterson crying out “
Veni, Creator Spiritus”
A Suggested Prayer for the Pentecost Novena
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of Your love.
Send forth Your Spirit, and they shall be created,
And You shall renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray.
O God, Who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of Your faithful, grant that by that same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolation, through Christ our Lord. Amen.