Pentecost - the outpouring of the Holy Spirit - is the birthday of the Church. It was on that day that Christians, as a community, were empowered by the Resurrected Life of Jesus. Today, we celebrate our wonderful ability to understand Christ. The ‘spiritual man’, of whom Saint Paul speaks, the living, believing Christian born of the Holy Spirit can understand Jesus. Pentecost is indeed a threshold. By entering its door, the Christian is permitted to share in Christ’s superior life. Pentecost is the feast of heart and intellect united. As Spirit filled (Spirit-marked) persons, we are called to ‘reconsider all things in Christ; that we penetrate more and more deeply into his point of view; that our life is remodelled after his.’ (Guardini)
We can sum up this change with a simple image. In religious art, the face is in focus. The sacred ard of icon-writing in particular observed the human face. The face of the ‘saints’ - who through the Spirit share and understand Christ’s life - is the face of Pentecost. The human face, transfigured by faith is our ‘spiritual face’. It is full of life, with lasting life. This face of ours is never aging, it cannot lose its special beuty, Jesus Christ. This is our lasting face. As it were, Pentecost is our lasting face, always alive. It is opposed to the mere physhical or biological face. It reflects the harshness of life, anxiety, or, the life-style of a person. Living under stress, drinking, drogs, the ‘empty temptations and shows’ of this world, our biological aging itself, all leave a mark on our biological face. With time, our biological face can lose its beauty, vitality, and health. But not for the person of Pentecost.
But in order to have our Pentecost-face, we must work on it. This work is called discipleship. This when we consciously develop the bond of faith with Jesus. When in a conscious way, we ‘watch his face, feel the beauty of his gestures’, when we ‘vibrate with the intensitiy that flows from Jesus, and participate in his whole destiny.’ When we do this through faith.
Pentecost is this very moment, when we can say: we believe. I believe. This is what the disciples still lacked before Pentecost. Who understands music? He who has music in him. It is the same, only more so, with Christ. Only he can understand Christ who lives in that which comes from Christ.’ (Guardini)
That is why Pentecost is about our new ability to welcome Christ as the most important person in our life. For on the day of Pentecost, ‘the Holy Spirit made room in our hearts for the transfigured Lord.’ It is precisely owing to this transformation that after Pentecost something new had happened. In the Holy Spirit, the Apostles, and the whole church will speak of ‘Christ in us’. We can sum up the message of ‘Christ in us’ of which we as a church speak and witness to: ‘that God pardons the sinner and accepts the creation into his holy presence - that is the new and overwhelming message of Christ.’
And Pentecost is about this acceptance. That’s why now we can understand why Christ ascended to Heaven. ‘So Jesus left - only in the same instant to return in new form. He entered eternity, into an existence that is entirely love, for “God is love” (1 John 4:16) Ever since, Christ’s manner of being has been that of love.’ Pentecost means: ‘Christ is in us!’ The core of our Christian witness is this: ‘Christ’s love is in us!’ Indeed, ‘God pardons the sinner and accepts the creation into his holy presence - that is the overwhelming message of Pentecost.’
What do we celebrate on Ascenson-day? Why Jesus’ returning to the Father is a feast? How can could it be a cause for your - for the disciples, and for us, today?
When we depart from someone we love, it is painful. However, when waiving goodby, in that very gesture, in that moment shadowed by sorrow, the joy of seeing each other again is always present. This joy, like a germinating seed, is present of saying goodby.
Our Christian faith teaches us that actually it is this joy which dominates Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. We are celebrating this joy today. And this ‘joy’ means all what makes us Christians, what we cherish as important to our faith and Christian life.
Thus, we celebrate the gift that from now on we can look at all challenging situations in our lives not only in terms what we experience first: pain, anxiety, sadness, or fear. We know, as the gift of our faith, that when we recognise our Lord in that situation, there is joy, hope, growth, peace, reconciliation, and reunion. ‘The moments of joy when seeing Him again’. In brief, we can see everything in hope - nothing is outside hope.
We also celebrate an another important thing. Actually, it is a task, a call, a duty, which - like the future joy of meeting again - is also waiting for us in Jesus’ Ascension. We love Jesus, we believe in him, we remain in him through prayer and good works, beceuse we know where he is. And this is the second, main gift of Ascension Day. It is a task. We remain in him if we know where he is. If we know who He is, what he is doing on the right hand of the Father. This is the difference between the ‘world’ and us. This is the peace ‘which the world can never give.’ Because we know who and where Jesus is - the world does not.
This is the task given to us on this feast day. We can belong to Jesus, our Saviour, if we know him. If we make the effort of learning about him, learning about our faith, the teaching and customs of the church, which is the community of salvation. Ascension Day implies our mind’s and heart’s contiunuous return to Jesus. This is the task of permanent learning, permanent prayer, permanent repentance. We are called to this daily ‘office’ of divine work. Prayer, charity, mission, and learning: learning of the Bible, learning of the sacraments. Continuous learning. And the surest way of knowing where Jesus is, when we celebrate the Eucharist, and receive the Holy Communion.
There is a practical teaching on receiving the Communion, the surest way of knowing who Jesus is and where He is now; where we anticipate, almost fully, of seeing him Again.
‘Although it is most expedient that those who communicate frequently or daily should be free from venial sins, especially from such as are fuly deliberate, and from any affection thereto, nevertheless it is sufficient that they be free from mortal sin, with the purpose of never sinning mortally in the future; if they have this sincere purpose, it is impossinble but the daily communicatnts should gradually emancipate themselves from even venial sins, and from all affection thereto.’ (The Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual) Classic, old fashioned teaching yet highlights the high-standards given to us on Ascension Day.
This daily work of being a Christian is summed up in the closing words of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. ‘Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach hem to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’
OF THE ETERNAL UNION OF THE BLESSED SPIRITS WITH GOD, IN THE VISION OF THE ETERNAL BIRTH OF THE SON OF GOD. (Saint Francis de Sales, Treatise on Divine Love, Ch 12)
This time, a full quote. It is one of the most beautiful exposition of the Holy Trinity, Christians' special understanding of God. I have chosen a rose from our garden to illustrate 'the joy of contemplating the birth'.
"O HOLY and Divine Spirit, eternal Love of the Father and the Son, be propitious to mine infancy. Our understanding then shall see God, Theotimus; yes, it shall see God Himself face to face, contemplating with a view of true and real presence, the divine essence Itself, and in It, the infinite beauties thereof, all-power, all-goodness, all-wisdom, all-justice, and the rest of this abyss of perfections.
It shall see clearly then, shall this understanding, the infinite knowledge which God the Father had from all eternity of His own beauty, for the expression of which in Himself, He pronounced and said eternally the Word, the Verbum, or the most singular and most infinite speech and diction, which, comprising and representing all the perfection of the Father, can be but one same God, entirely one with Him, without division or separation. We shall thus then see that eternal and admirable generation of the Divine Word and Son, by which He was eternally born to the image and likeness of the Father, a lively and natural image and likeness... For how could this Divine Son be the true, truly perfect and truly natural image, resemblance and figure of the infinite beauty and substance of the Father, if this image did not represent absolutely to the life and according to nature, the infinite perfections of the Father? And how could it infinitely represent infinite perfections if it were not itself infinitely perfect? And how could it be infinitely perfect if it were not God, and how could it be God if it were not one same God with the Father?
This Son then, the infinite image and figure of His infinite Father, is with His Father one sole, most unique, and infinite God, there being no difference of substance between Them, but only the distinction of persons. This distinction of persons, as it is certainly required, so also it is absolutely sufficient, to effect that the Father pronounces, and the Son is the Word pronounced; that the Father speaks, and the Son is the Word, or the diction; that the Father expresses, and the Son is the image, likeness or figure expressed, and, in short, that the Father is Father, and the Son, Son—two distinct persons, but one only Essence or Divinity; so that God Who is sole is not solitary, for He is sole in His most singular and simple Deity, yet is not solitary, because He is Father and Son in two persons. O Theotimus, what joy, what jubilee to celebrate this eternal birth, kept in the brightness of the Saints, to celebrate it in seeing it, and to see it in celebrating it!
The most sweet S. Bernard, as yet a little boy at Chastillon-sur-Seine, was waiting in Church on Christmas night for the divine office to begin, and whilst waiting the poor child fell into a light slumber, during which (O God what sweetness!) he saw in spirit, yet in a vision very distinct and clear, how the Son of God, having espoused human nature, and becoming a little child in His Mother's most pure womb, was with a humble sweetness mingled with a celestial majesty, virginally born of her — As a bridegroom coming out of his bride-chamber — a vision, Theotimus, which so replenished the loving heart of the little Bernard with gladness, jubilation and spiritual delights, that he had all his life an extreme sense of it, and therefore, though afterwards as a sacred bee he ever culled out of all the divine mysteries the honey of a thousand sweet and heavenly consolations, yet had he a more particular sweetness in the solemnity of the Nativity, and spoke with a singular relish of this birth of his Master.
But Ah! I beseech thee, Theotimus, if a mystical and imaginary vision of the temporal and human birth of the Son of God, by which he proceeded man from a woman, virgin from a virgin, ravishes and so highly delights a child's heart, what shall it be when our spirits, gloriously illuminated with the light of glory, shall see this eternal birth by which the Son proceeds, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, divinely and eternally! Then shall our spirit be joined by an incomprehensible complacency to this object of delight, and by an unchangeable attention remain united to it for ever."
Another exercise for developing our 'heart-sight'. Criminals become criminals because they see someone enjoying life: easy money, nice chicks, cars, power. Christians become Christians because they see someone enjoying their faith, seeing someone passionate about prayer, passionate about liturgy, the Bible, etc. So this quote shows someone passionate about the experience 'faith' offers!
‘God has imprinted upon all created things his traces, trail, or footsteps, so that the knowledge we have of his divine Majesty by creatures seems no other thing than the sight of the feet of God, while in comparison of this, faith is a view of the very face of the divine Majesty. This we do not yet see in the clear day of glory, but as it were in the breaking of day; as it happened to Jacob near to the ford of Jaboc; for though he saw not the angel with whom he wrestled in the weak light of daybreak, yet this was enough to make him cry out, ravished with delight: I have seen God face to face, and my soul has been saved. O! how delightful is the holy light of faith, by which we know, with an unequalled certitude, not only the history of the beginning of creatures, and their true use, but even that of the eternal birth of the great and sovereign divine Word, for whom and by whom all has been made, and who with the Father and the Holy Ghost is one only God, most singular, most adorable, and blessed for ever and ever! Amen. How sweet are thy words, O Lord, to my palate, said that great king, more than honey to my mouth! Was not our burning within us, whilst he spoke in the way? said those happy pilgrims of Emmaus, speaking of the flames of love with which they were touched by the word of faith. But if divine truths be so sweet, when proposed in the obscure light of faith, O God, what shall they be when we shall contemplate them in the light of the noonday of glory!'
We are preparing for Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. Next week, we are remembering Jesus’s return to Heaven. In two weeks time we are celebrating the birth-day of the church; the rebirth and renewal of who we are now as children of God.
With Pentecost, the old man will die. Our past ways will become past, our sins, when confessed, forgotten. This will be our spiritual resurrection, being resurrected by joy and Life.
So these last days of the Easter period is an anticipation of the end of our own lives, when our life will be ending, and, our new life, our new existence begins with the Risen Lord. How does this preparation look like from our personal perspective, and from the point of view of the Lord? I found a beautiful passage from Saint Francis de Sales, which illustrates this passage from the old life into the new.
‘Finally, the heavenly King having brought the soul which he loves to the end of this life, he assists her also in her blessed departure, by which he draws the soul to the marriage-feast of eternal glory, which is the delicious fruit of holy perseverance. And then, this soul, wholly ravished with the love of her well-beloved, putting before her eyes the multitude of favours and succours with which she was prevented and helped while she was yet in her pilgrimage, incessantly kisses this sweet helping hand, which conducted, drew and supported her in the way; and confesses, that it is of this divine Saviour that she holds her felicity, seeing he has done for her all that the patriarch Jacob wished for his journey, when he had seen the ladder to heaven. O Lord, our soul then says, you were with me, and guided me in the way by which I came. You did feed me with the bread of your sacraments. You did clothe me with the wedding garment of charity. You have happily conducted me to this abode of glory, which is your house, O my eternal Father. Oh! what remains, O Lord, save that I should protest that you are my God for ever and ever! Amen.’
So, from our point of view, let these two weeks be a thorough review of the gifts you were given. Let it be a thorough recalling of the persons, the great helps, supports, our challenges and our escapes, our recoveries from illness. Let it be part of our daily prayers of ‘instantly kissing this sweet hand’ of Providence. Also, let us give thanks for gift of our faith, for its ups and downs. ‘Seeing what Jesus has done for our soul’, will increase our joy and prepare our feast at Pentecost. What a privilege it is to stand in the long line of faith, indeed starting from the Patriarchs!'
But also, let us be challenged by Saint Francis’ vision from a different angle. Let us try to enter our Lord’s mindset. What will be his feelings and thoughts of thanksgiving on the day of Ascension? What a wonderful and rich prayer it must have been when he looked back on his life with his beloved disciples? What future he saw in them, what future joys of their faithful service.
And let us humbly imagine, and this is not imagination, ourselves in the prayers of our Lord. For in his love for his disciples all future Christians were included. All future disciples. And this humble and the same time most privileged title is the key. In his return to the Father, when surveying his mission on Earth, he prayed, and went through the lives of all his disciples, future and present. This is the stake in our lives: to be counted as his disciples. To have this special relationship, to be part of his special love and prayers for his disciples.
Cannot we conceive Pentecost as Jesus’ permanent, ever-lasting prayer, of which prayer we are part of? From this perspective, Pentecost simply means, ‘being prayed for’. Let us take Saint Francis’ vision seriously, as a guide, to ‘put before our eyes the Lord’s multitude of favours’ for us. Let us grow together into a living faith of thanksgiving. Let us become his disciples through this thanksgiving.
Have we noticed the change in our readings? We have left behind the Easter stories of the Gospel. Now are entering the teaching ministry of Jesus. The normal, day to day life of the church resumes. We experience the toiling work Christians. In our own ups and downs we can recognise the experiences of the early church. What actually happens, through these readings, is the new life of the church. That new life which is governed and sustained by the Resurrection of our Lord. It is working life, where work, joy, failures, and new beginnings blend. The point is that the focal point, the nourishing centre, always remains the same: the Risen Lord!
This yearning for our Easter joy - never leaves us. Like the glory of God in the desert which led the Jewish people, this Light of Easter, is guiding us. It inspires us. We can truly say, ‘our dream is the Risen Lord’. Our dream is life with Jesus... So, as an exercise, can we spend some time in answering the question. ‘What is your dream about Christian life?’ ‘What life do you imagine with Jesus for Saint Augustine’s?’ ‘What is your dream about your own religious life, how do you imagine it with Jesus?’
Easter, our communion with the Risen Lord, symbolically and literally, is our dream. Compared with our daily life this ideal, this first love, is like a dream. It feels like something to return to, something to be recalled. The joy of the Easter celebration, as a ‘dream’, is leading us, this ‘dream’ wants to merge with our present life. It wants to fertilise and transform our deserts, our personal shipwrecks, or our unfinished businesses. It wants to fulfil our ‘dreams’.
In this coming week, our readings would like to make us think about the significance of the Risen Lord in our lives. Again, I would like to apply few of Melinda Powell’s thoughts from The Hidden Lives of Dreams to answering this question. Why is it so important to ‘dream about Jesus’, and imagine and re-imagine our life with Him? The ‘Hidden life of Dreams’, in our context, can mean the hidden life of Easter, the hidden life of our ‘Easter-dreams’. She says: ‘we can appreciate how our drams challenge us to think and to feel “outside the box”. We can do so by attending to our right brain’s [‘our Easter imagination’] metaphoric and associative qualities, characteristic of the intuitive, creative mind, rather than the left brain’s [practical intelligence ready to opportunistic compromises with reality!] more linear and rational approach.’ The result is not illusionary day-dreaming or escapism. On the contrary, ‘these are not different ways of thinking about the world: they are different ways of being in the world.’
So, is it worth ‘dreaming Easter’? It is well worth dreaming and imagining our life with the Risen Jesus. It is this creative imagination which makes our life real, the most real. ‘Such intuitive knowing has significant implications not only for how we view our dreams [our meditations on our Easter life with Jesus] but also for how we share the earth [the gifts of life] with one another.’ The final point I want to make is that Easter as the centre of our imagination is about sharing. Faith, our ‘dreaming faith’ [as ‘thinking’ faith!] is the only realm that connects us. Easter, as our creative imagination, is the only way to unite all people, to see the human family as one and united.
Let us re-read today’s readings in this light. All confirm the significance of following the desires of our imagination to be and work with our Lord. ‘There are many rooms [dreams] in my Father’s house… I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place [‘dream’], I shall return to take you with me.’ [To bring to realisation our dream work!] ‘I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me [dreams about life shared with me] will perform the same works as I do myself.’ Keeping our Easter-faith (Easter-dreams!) alive is so important that the Apostles decide to invest into the work of faith. Actually, keeping ‘the creative imagination of faith’ is what they are investing into and what they want to preserve at any price: ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food; you, brothers, must select from amount yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and wisdom; we will hand over this duty to them, and continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.’
So let us think about how important it is to live the truth: our dream is Easter!
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..