Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
When the Holy Spirit descends,
Become fearless preachers.
Tongues of fire
Replace the babble of Babel,
Uniting in Christ
What Adam fragmentized.
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,”
Except by the Spirit,
And it is the Spirit who cries out,
And fearful hearts
Cannot bar Love
With pierced hands and side
Bringing peace, joy,
And life eternal.
“As the Father has sent me,
So I send you.”
With the breath of the Spirit
Bring back to life
Those dead in sin.
With the power of the keys
Comes great responsibilities.
Father Paul Vaeth and I go out to our garden most afternoons to water the plants in our Mary Garden. We’re having a dry spring in New York this spring. Then we sit for awhile and watch the birds fly into our fountain to drink and bathe in its water. Since it’s seedtime, we’re even watching the different seeds flying through the air looking for a spot to land.
I don’t think we would pay much attention to these things if the virus didn’t shut us down.
Today I discovered why some bulbs I planted earlier never came up.. A squirrel came digging in our garden, then sat contentedly eating next to our Statue of Mary and her Child. One of our bulbs?
What’s surprising is how this helps appreciate the description of the Holy Spirit we have on Pentecost today from St. Irenaeus, who wrote in the 4th century for people who were also watering their gardens and wondering about the weather.
“The Holy Spirit is water abundantly poured out on the earth.
Like parched ground, which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above. Through the baptism that liberates us from change and decay we have become one in body; through the Spirit we have become one in soul. If we are not to be scorched and made unfruitful, we need the dew of God”
Come, Holy Spirit.
7th Week of Easter, Saturday
A renewed Peter, now confident of being in the Lord’s good graces, swiftly turns his attention to his fellow disciple John and asks, “Lord, what about him?”
Why does Peter suddenly take an interest in John’s particular destiny? After having his own martyrdom foretold, does he wish to benefit his silent comrade and obtain foreknowledge of his end as well? Whatever may be in Peter’s heart, Jesus tells him that such curiosity is irrelevant. Keep your eyes fixed on me, he says. “You follow me.”
In our earthly state, with the eyes of the spirit not yet fully attuned to divine realities, there is a tendency to fall into the comparison syndrome. The brothers spent time in idle speculation about John because Jesus had said, “What if I want him to remain until I come?”
Referring to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” John stands out for his deeply personal relationship with Christ. He is also highly intuitive. At the empty tomb, “he saw and believed,” and at the miraculous catch of fish, “That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’” Requiring fewer proofs and empirical data, John’s vision soars far beyond the created cosmos to arrive at the Word who was “in the beginning.”
The reality is that every single disciple is beloved by Jesus in a unique, unrepeatable, and incomparable way, but only John seems to have reached a high state of realization of that personal love during his time on earth. He also spent years quietly caring for the Blessed Virgin Mary until her Assumption. John’s Gospel was written many years after the other Gospels had circulated. It is the fruit of deep contemplation and lofty theological insight, no doubt in part due to his quiet hours with the Mother of God.
In light of the Trinity, the comparison syndrome is seen to be illusory. Absolutely distinct persons cannot be compared. Individuals in the divided state of nature can be compared according to quantities and qualities like height and musicality, but persons cannot be.
Persons contain the whole nature, as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each contain the whole divine nature. But the Persons are absolutely unique, and thus transcend the categories of equality and inequality. For example, the Father is neither equal nor unequal to the Son as Person, but utterly distinct from him. The concept of “equality” is typically applied to the oneness of nature (the Son is equal to the Father as God), but cannot touch the distinction of persons.
This is true also of the brethren of Christ. Each child of the Father in Christ is a unique person, but each also carries the entire Body of Christ, the one deified human nature. When one member suffers, all suffer. When one rejoices, all rejoice. A desert monk once said that he spent twenty years in combat so as to be able to see all humankind as one man. Such a realization puts an end to envy and comparison because we enjoy the gifts of our brothers and sisters as our very own. We also do everything we can to make others flourish.
Bottom line: Each child of the Father is supremely loved and is “the disciple whom Jesus loves.”
7th Week of Easter, Friday
Chapter 21 in the Gospel of St. John comes in like an “appendix,” as the writer already concluded his account in the previous chapter. The wisdom and marvels in the life of Jesus are uncountable, the Evangelist tells us, but thankfully he decided to add the beautiful and touching scenes at the Sea of Tiberias.
After the wondrous miracle of the unbroken net full of fish, and breakfast served by the resurrected Lord, Jesus turns to Peter and asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Jesus knows and loves Peter to the last detail, and sees the great potential in him. As the spokesman and leader of the apostles, Peter has an “all or nothing” character.
At the Last Supper, it was not enough for him to have his feet washed; he offered his hands and his head as well. Then afterwards, lacking self-knowledge, he declared that he was ready to die with Jesus. Peter is an earnest, wholehearted friend on a journey to spiritual maturity. Jesus does not remind Peter of his denials; his own tears were enough. Instead, by having him affirm his love for him three times, he gave Peter a chance to start afresh.
Peter is also given the special mission to feed and tend Christ’s sheep as the first chief shepherd of the flock. Peter (Petros/Cephas) is the “rock” upon whom Christ would build his church “and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
Strengthened by the mercy of his threefold “yes” to Jesus, and filled with the Holy Spirit nine days after the Ascension, Peter took up his task marvelously with his first homily at Pentecost.
The ever active and ardent Peter will get his wish fulfilled to die for Christ. With his martyrdom foretold, the beloved Peter hears the happy words of his Lord, “Follow me.”
The readings at Mass approaching the Feast of Pentecost speak of closure. Jesus speaks his last words to his disciples before his death. Paul bids farewell to the elders at Ephesus and in Jerusalem is taken into custody for judgment in Rome.
It’s not the end, however, but a beginning.
We’re entering Ordinary time, when we celebrate feasts of the saints more extensively, as our June calendar indicates. St. Justin, the philosopher (June 1), engages the learned in Rome; St. Charles Lwanga and his companions (June 3) cause a new birth of Christianity in Africa; St. Boniface (June 5) brings the gospel to the fractured Germanic tribes of Europe. No, it’s not over, the gospel will be preached in every age.
We’re going to need good leadership. That’s why we read Paul’s Letter to Timothy immediately after Pentecost. Paul’s advice is especially interesting. “Stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Timothy is losing a powerful mentor, but the Spirit never leaves the church without pastors.
We’re not left orphans. The Holy Spirit broods over the world, constantly making all things new. Every age will have its saints. The calendar of saints is the calendar written by the Holy Spirit. The saints are signs of the Holy Spirit. No age, however critical, is without them.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people. Send us saints for the healing and new vision that will benefit our church and our world. We need them.
Jonathan Ramos is growing plants on our monastery porch these days In a collection of used plastic bottles, tied together ingeniously with string. Assorted herbs are fed by water dripping from bottle to bottle, plant to plant, supplying the nourishment they need.
Someday they may be flavoring one of our meals.
Jonathan got the idea from a magazine and patiently put the garden together during this time of virus.
He will be leaving us soon to enter the Passionist novitiate in Mexico. Before he goes he’s labeling the garden, “Let everything growing from the earth, praise the Lord.”
May you grow in spirit, Jonathan, and help our world to grow.