Tag Archives: Pentecost

You Have but One Father in Heaven

“You have but one Father in heaven”
Matthew 23:1-12 “in a snailshell”
Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Related posts: Lent, Day 12, Abba, Draw Us to Your Son, Mysteries Too Deep, Servant Leadership
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matthew 23:1-12

Between the Creator and creation, there is no barrier. Phylacteries and tassels, like the fig leaves of Eden, seek cover from the original, naked simplicity before God. 

As no barrier exists between the Son and the Father, none exists between the Son’s brethren and the Father. Abba’s children are directly in his hand and in his womb. God designed the human person to hear his voice directly in the Spirit. The Son of God came to restore Adam’s union with the Father, for “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

In the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus quotes Isaiah 54:13, which prophesies a new intimacy with the Father:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.

It is written in the prophets:
‘They shall all be taught by God.’

Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.

John 6:44-45

All your children shall be taught by the Lord;
great shall be the peace of your children.

Isaiah 54:13

The Hebrew word for “peace” is shalom, which means wholeness, soundness, and completeness in God. Fractured Adam and his offspring will be made whole by the Spirit of God:

I will pour out water upon the thirsty ground,
streams upon the dry land;
I will pour out my spirit upon your offspring,
my blessing upon your descendants.

Isaiah 44:3

The law of life written on hearts is the voice of the Holy Spirit, our interior teacher:

But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days—oracle of the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. They will no longer teach their friends and relatives, “Know the Lord!” Everyone, from least to greatest, shall know me—oracle of the Lord—for I will forgive their iniquity and no longer remember their sin.

Jeremiah 31:33-34

And I will give them another heart and a new spirit I will put within them. From their bodies I will remove the hearts of stone, and give them hearts of flesh, so that they walk according to my statutes, taking care to keep my ordinances.

Ezekiel 11:19-20

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost fulfilled the prophecy of Joel:

It shall come to pass
I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions. 
Even upon your male and female servants,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Joel 2:28-29 (NABRE: Joel 3:1-2); cf. Acts 2:17-18

The essence of prophecy is the recognition of truth, which is given by the Holy Spirit:

But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.

John 16:13

In the Last Supper Discourse, Jesus enigmatically told the disciples that the hour and day is coming when he will no longer intercede for them. They will find themselves “in the Father” just as the Son is “in the Father.”

I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father. On that day you will ask in my name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you. For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God.

John 16:25-27

I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.

John 17:20-23

Like a Dove

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The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism in the form of a dove, the gospels say. Scholars like Luke Timothy Johnson in his commentary on St. Luke’s gospel seem puzzled by the description. What’s the explanation?  “Such is the nature of symbols–all are possible,” Johnson writes.

May I hazard an explanation? Doves are regular visitors at my window and at our bird-feeder outside. I notice how confident and unafraid they seem to be, so different from the nervous sparrows flitting from place to place. As far as I can see, the doves are without the usual signs of power, sharp talons and strong wings. What’s their secret?

St. Gregory of Nyssa seems to point to a fearless love in his Commentary on the Song of Songs:

“When love has entirely cast out fear, and fear has been transformed into love, then the unity brought by our Savior will be realized, for all will be united with one another through their union with the supreme Good. They will possess the perfection ascribed to the dove, according to our interpretation of the text “one alone is my dove, my perfect one.”

A fearless, humble love, unafraid of chaos, brings peace. Is that why Noah chose the dove to go into the world engulfed by the flood and not a lion or an eagle? Such is the nature of symbols–all explanations are possible. We could use that kind of fearlessness today, couldn’t we?

Behind the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica in Rome, the artist Bernini created a beautiful alabaster window where a steady light pours into the dark church through the image of the Holy Spirit, in the hovering form of a dove. Light is also a favorite sign of the Holy Spirit.

Day by day, the light comes quietly through the window. Day by day, the Holy Spirit dispenses light for the moment, graces for the world that is now. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit dwells with us, his final gift.

The Feast of Pentecost is this Sunday.

Two Angels and a Sword

Tuesday within the Octave of Easter

John 20:11-18 

“Woman, why are you weeping?”

Two angels and the Lord Jesus Christ asked the same question in a garden. The scene recalls the first garden at the moment of exile: two angels, a fiery revolving sword guarding the way to the tree of life, and a weeping Eve (Genesis 3:24). In the garden of the tomb, Mary Magdalene is found weeping before two angels sitting at the head and foot of the space made vacant by the risen Christ—the Word of God who is sharper than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). In the garden of Eden, God looked for Adam and Eve who went into hiding. In the garden of the resurrection, the hidden God is sought after by the heartbroken daughter of Eve. 

Jesus’ body must have been stolen, Mary thought. Perhaps the gardener took it. 

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.

John 20:16

At the sound of her name, Mary’s eyes were opened and she recognized Jesus, the tree of life in the midst of the garden. Overwhelmed and astonished with joy, she proceeded to resume her earthly relationship with Jesus, not realizing that the risen Christ had entered into a new condition and manner of relating to humankind. 

Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.

John 20:17a

The work of the local Christ would soon give way to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The mission of the Son does not terminate in himself, but in the Father through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

John 20:17b

Jesus had said during his earthly ministry, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50). On this first apostolic assignment, Mary Magdalene is sent forth to gather Jesus’ family together in his Father’s name. By Pentecost, the band of frightened and doubting disciples will finally receive a fiery infusion of the Spirit to spread the good news from the empty tomb to the ends of the earth.

-GMC

Ask, Seek, Knock

Icon of Pentecost

First Week of Lent, Thursday

Matthew 7:7-12

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:7-8

Asking, seeking, and knocking presuppose desire. In some wisdom traditions, desire is the root of suffering and must be extinguished in order to be liberated, but in the protological account of human origins in Genesis, desire is presented as primordial—an energy that must be directed in accordance with the Law of Knowledge and Life to blossom into godlikeness.

The serpent’s temptation to Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit contained a partial truth: “your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Jesus said to the Jews, quoting Psalm 82:6, Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? (John 10:34) 

Early Christian writers like St. Ephrem the Syrian and St. Gregory of Nazianzus believed that Adam and Eve were created in an intermediate state, with the potentiality for deification and infallible knowledge hinging on obedience to the commandment.

St. Ephrem writes:

For had the serpent been rejected, along with the sin, they would have eaten of the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge would not have been withheld from them any longer; from the one they would have acquired infallible knowledge, and from the other they would have received immortal life. They would have acquired divinity in humanity; and had they thus acquired infallible knowledge and immortal life they would have done so in this body.1

St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes:

This being He placed in paradise… And He gave him a Law, as material for his free will to act upon. This Law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of, and which one he might not touch. This latter was the Tree of Knowledge; not, however, because it was evil from the beginning when planted; nor was it forbidden because God grudged it to men—let not the enemies of God wag their tongues in that direction, or imitate the serpent. But it would have been good if partaken of at the proper time; for the Tree was, according to my theory, Contemplation, which it is only safe for those who have reached maturity of habit to enter upon; but which is not good for those who are still somewhat simple and greedy; just as neither is solid food good for those who are yet tender and have need of milk.2

The primordial desire to “be like gods” is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who deified Adam by his Incarnation, obedience unto death, and resurrection.

Asking, seeking, and knocking is the process of walking hand in hand with the Father as his child in his only-begotten Son, and receiving freely the fruit of wisdom and life from the Spirit.

If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11:13

The syllabic count in the following poem adds up to fifty—the fifty days from Easter to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the Church. ASK, SEEK, and KNOCK are 3, 4, and 5 letter words, and their respective stanzas consist of 3, 4, and 5 syllable lines.

32 + 42 + 52 = 50 syllables

Adam’s son,
Son of God,
King and Priest

Strolls with Abba—
Eden enfleshed—
Eating fruit of
Knowledge and Life.

Kingdom of Heaven,
Nucleus within,
Offers orisons:
Come, Holy Spirit,
Kingdom come on Earth.

-GMC

1 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis II.23, in St. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Paradise, trans. Sebastian Brock (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990), 214. St. Ephrem’s view is also found in the Palestinian Targum tradition at Genesis 3:22 and in Nemesius, On the Nature of Man 5. See Brock’s introduction (footnote 39).

2 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 45.8.

A Summary of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

When the Holy Spirit descends,
Fearful fishermen
Become fearless preachers.
Tongues of fire
Reverse 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,
“Abba, Father!”

One Spirit,
Many gifts.
One Body,
Many parts.
One Christ,
Many brethren.
One Father, 
Many children.
One communion,
Many persons.

Locked doors 
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.

-GMC

D-day June 6th, 1945: “Arma virumque cano”

Normandy Beach, June 6, 1945

“I sing of arms and a man” , words the Latin poet Virgil used to describe Aeneas, a founder of Rome. His fate was to take up arms and after much struggle found a great city. The words could also describe our generation. For most of the last hundred years, we have taken up the arms of war to achieve our various purposes.

Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of one of the great battles of all time–the sea born invasion of Normandy by175,000 Allied troops, which led to the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control. The Second World War, which began in 1939 and ended in 1945 was followed by the Korean War (1950-51}, the War in Vietnam (1965-73) and the War in Iraq (2003-present). Other wars besides these have raged world wide.

Will the day come to lay down our arms? Not soon, it seems, and the arms in our hands become still deadlier. We don’t live in a peaceful world. 

War over the years, with all its consequences, affects us in many ways. I’m wondering about the way it affects our theological imagination. Has it weakened our sense of hope in life and in God? Have the long years of war brought doubt about human life flourishing here on earth? Is personal flourishing now the only way to go? So let’s survive the best we can on our own, in a house or country surrounded by walls.

We take up arms to control land and resources. Has chronic war also affected the way we see our planet?  Should we abandon our fragile and unsteady earth, and make heaven our goal? Or maybe survive the best we can on our own, here and now, without a thought of it?

The Feast of the Ascension points to heaven and tells us that’s our goal. But what about the world God created? Doesn’t it yearn for something new and needs our care? The Feast of the Ascension is linked to Pentecost and the promise of the Spirit who teaches us all things. 

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and renew the face of the earth.

The Holy Spirit: Water Poured Out

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The Holy Spirit is “poured out on all flesh,” Peter tells the crowd at Pentecost. The Spirit is like water poured out, St. Cyril of Jerusalem tells his hearers:

“The water I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.
 “In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each one as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvellous.
 “The Spirit makes one person a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one person’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

“The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.
“As light strikes the eyes of a person who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables him to see clearly things he could not discern before, so light floods the soul of someone counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables him to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.”  (Catechesis)

Welcome to Ordinary Time

Creation
The Easter season ends with the Feast of Pentecost and we’re into ordinary time in the church year. Unlike other feasts, Pentecost has no octave; ordinary time is its octave. Most of the church year is ordinary time; most of life is ordinary too, but the Spirit is there just the same.

“Their message goes out to all the earth.” We read the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season as Jesus’ apostles, led by Peter and Paul, ventured on their way from Jerusalem to Asia Minor and to Rome, empowered by strong winds and tongues of fire, Yes, the Spirit can bring us to the ends of the earth, but the Spirit is also there in the few steps we take every day, though we’re hardly aware.

We tend to minimize ordinary life. Just ordinary, nothing’s happening, we say. Yet, day by day in ordinary time the Risen Lord offers his peace and shows us his wounds. Every day he breathes the Spirit on us. No day goes by without the Spirit’s quiet blessing.

 

Pentecost

Audio homily here:

The Pew Research Center regularly reports on trends in America and in the world and recently they reported on how Americans see their place in the world. Most Americans, the report said, think that we should deal with our own problems and let other countries deal with their problems as best they can. Reports like this don’t make a judgment whether this is a good trend or a bad trend, they just tell us the facts. But the trend seems to indicate that there’s an increasing fear in us that the world in becoming unmanageable, and so we should beware of taking on too much.

Today we’re celebrating the Feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to send not only to his disciples but to the whole world. The Holy Spirit comes not only to us as individuals, to guide us on our way, to teach us all things, to help us to pray, but the Spirit also is sent into our world. Our temptation, unfortunately, is to see faith as just a personal thing and not affecting our whole world.

As we were preparing for this feast, I have been thinking how differently we know the Holy Spirit from the way we know Jesus and, to a certain extent, God the Father. Jesus is God come to us in human flesh, and so he has our “likeness” as St. Paul says. He’s born a child, lives as a man, reacts to events and people around him, he speaks in human words, he suffers and dies and rises. However distant the time of Jesus is from ours, we see and hear him as human like ourselves.

God the Father is also described in human terms. God is “Father”, a description we know is an analogous term. Calling God “Father” doesn’t mean that God is masculine, but the term itself offers us a human reference for God, the creator and sustainer of all things.

But the description of the Holy Spirit is more difficult to grasp, I think. What does “spirit” mean? The scriptures use symbolic ways to describe the Third Person of the Trinity. Our readings for the feast speak of the Spirit as a driving wind, tongues of fire that empowers the disciples to speak with wisdom, with new words, and to act bravely instead of fearfully.

I have been thinking lately of other symbolic ways the Spirit is described. One is a familiar symbol found in the New Testament and in art. The Spirit is a dove who rests on Jesus when he’s baptized in the Jordan by John.

There’s a bird feeder outside the monastery where I live in Queens, NY, and in the early morning before Mass I usually go out with a cup of coffee to watch the birds. Mostly house sparrows, but there’s a pair of doves who are regular visitors. Every once in awhile a hawk flies over and immediately the sparrows disappear. But the doves are the last to go and first back at the feeder. You might call them simple or dumb. But you could also say they’re fearless. They’re not afraid of the hawk.

Remember the bible story about Noah in the ark. Noah wonders if the flood waters are gone, so who does he finally send out? He sends out a dove, who returns with a twig from an olive plant. There’s life there, you can get out of the ark. The dove is not afraid of dangerous places or floodwaters. The Holy Spirit is not afraid of the chaos of our world, but recreates from the chaos.

The Spirit who appears at Jesus’ baptism as a dove also leads him into the desert, the realm of Satan. The scriptures say Jesus is hungry there, but he’s not afraid. Jesus defeats Satan in his realm.

Where are the disciples of Jesus in today’s gospel? They’re locked up in a room in fear when Jesus, risen from the dead, comes into their midst. He breathed on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” the Spirit whom he promised to give them. And what did they do? They left that room and went out into the world they feared, a world that the Spirit promises to recreate.