"I will put my Spirit in you that you may live," the Lord promised through the prophet Ezekiel, a promise fulfilled through Jesus, for as Paul tells the Romans, "the Spirit of God dwells in you." It is a power of immeasurable greatness, for it is this same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20).
The New Testament reveals that the whole life and mission of Jesus Christ is lived out in total communion with the presence of the Holy Spirit. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus at his Baptism is the sign of his anointing as Messiah. Jesus promises to send the Spirit upon the apostles once he has completed his mission, a promise fulfilled both on Easter Sunday (Jn 20, 22) and on Pentecost (Acts 2,1-4). As Christ is filled with the Holy Spirit, those who are incorporated into his Body (us, the Church) are also filled with that same Spirit. All those who believed the apostolic preaching and sought Baptism also received this outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The imposition of hands by the apostles, the origin of the Sacrament of Confirmation, became the sacramental means whereby the apostles and their successors transmitted this great gift of the Holy Spirit. Very early on, however, the anointing with chrism was added to this imposition of hands to better signify the "sea1ing" by the Holy Spirit. The very name "Christian" evokes the messianic anointing in Christ.
The Mother of Christ, our Mother, Mary - Mary's strength of character and clarity of vision evidenced in Scripture makes the reader long for more. We receive in the gospels only brief impressions of the real human woman-in the birth narratives; in the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1f); at the foot of the cross (John 19-25f). We're given only enigmatic glimpses of her feelings as Jesus' life and ministry unfolds. We know she "treasured al1 these things in her heart" - (Luke 2: 51); we can see her confidence in her son: "Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5); she obviously suffered greatly, as promised by Simeon: 'A sword will pierce your own soul too" (Luke 2:35).
But we are focused on hope and vindication and triumph. "Of all women you are the most blessed. Blessed is the fruit of your womb. "'My soul. magnifies the Lord'" The victory is complete; the promise fulfilled: unto us a child is born.
The Easter Vigil is THE most important celebration for us as Catholics, the Resurrection of Jesus, the source of our hope, the promise fulfilled, the Reign of God breaking into the sorrows of our 1ives. Death doesn't have the last word. The power of God is stronger, even when all seems lost. We light the Easter candle, the Light of Christ, bless the new water, baptize new Catholics and sing as many alleluias as we can!
"Jesus promised his disciples in Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” This promise was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2), and the first apostles and disciples never stopped boldly proclaiming the gospel of salvation in Jesus.
The Holy Spirit did more than give power and boldness to preach. The Holy Spirit was to be a guide, counselor and teacher (cf. John 14:26). The Holy Spirit was also to produce holiness through the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22). The fruit of the Holy Spirit stands in sharp contrast to the works of the flesh observed in the world: including fornication, impurity, enmity, strife, anger, selfishness, envy and drunkenness (Gal 5:20–21). The Holy Spirit also brought about a community of faith and love (Act 2:42–47). Jesus, when he ascended into heaven, sent the Holy Spirit from the Father, to accompany us in a life of holiness and evangelization in the community of the Church."
Jesus commissioned his disciples, the twelve Apostles, as the first priests, as missionaries, to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to their friends, their neighbors or anyone willing to listen to them as they spoke in areas ever larger than Jerusalem. Likewise, as serious Catholics, our great Pope, St. John Paul II, urges and strongly desires all Catholics to go out there, in the marketplace, so to speak, and spread the Good News, first through being Christ to others, and second by teaching and spreading God's word, and most of all, to teach other people about God's unconditional love for all of us. By ourselves we cannot accomplish this, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, God's love between Father and Son, and between God and us, we can accomplish this quite easily when we unconditionally say Yes, Lord.
You who are seated here (this talk given at a RCIA class), are in the process of being trained to become Roman Catholics. This is not just a training with books, with reading, but it goes deeper than that. As you are being instructed, you know and will begin to recognize God's unconditional love for you in this process. For some it may become a road to sainthood, a pilgrimage of life, because that's what all of us strive for, to be able to be with Christ in eternity, for all ages. If we lived our life obeying God, we go from death to life, as we die a physical death, but while we are still very much alive, we go from death to life when we die to sin, and strive to walk in the light of the Lord.
Jesus was born on earth, in an animal stable in poverty, as we relive every Christmas Night and Day. He lived among us in His Humanity, and He healed people and cured them from their evil ways. And, then there was His public ministry in which he came to be hunted and Crucified as though he was a criminal of the worst sort. But He was the greatest person who ever lived, and He still lives in us, because through His Crucifixion he redeemed us. He made it possible for us to get into Heaven.
The biggest promise God made to the people is found in the Old Testament, in Exodus 6:7, where God said: "...I will take you for my people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians." What a beautiful promise... He is our God, and we are His people. It is a covenant, a pact between God and us. He has never let us down. And, God sent to us His only beloved Son, Jesus.
We have no written record of what Jesus did between the point where he talked to and was questioned by the Elders, the rabbis in the Temple, and the beginning of his public ministry, which began at the Jordan River, where He was baptized by St. John the Baptist. One can assume, that in these growing up years, Jesus helped his stepfather, St. Joseph, in their carpentry business.
As an aside, here, the impression given by such shows as recently aired on television that Jesus had an affair with Mary Magdeline is totally false and an insult to Catholicism. This show, aired on December 12th, 2004, tried to show Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a feminist. That too, is utterly false. Feminism in any form is an invention of the 20th and 21st Centuries. I have no opinion on this concept one way or another, but to label a woman who lived 2000 years ago as such is preposterous.
After the baptism at the Jordan River, Jesus began a life of talking and preaching and healing of the people along the way of his route. He must have walked a great deal because there were no cars then, there probably were donkeys but the impression Scriptures give is that Jesus traveled mostly on foot.
Toward the end of this 3-year period, Jesus has his detractors, namely, the Pharisees. They ruled Jerusalem - they had much influence and so it was that Jesus foreseeing what was to come, set out for a triumphant entry to the city, as we celebrate every Palm Sunday. Seated on a donkey, he entered Jerusalem to the cheering of people along the way, and the Apostles, of course.
How Jesus suffered for us has been made clear in the movie many of us saw since Ash Wednesday 2004, The Passion. Given the historical data and the known brutality of the Roman soldiers (of that time) the movie is probably just the way it happened. Jesus endured suffering on the Cross for the sins of the world. His suffering would leave anyone speechless. At the pillar where he was scourged, he wasn't just flogged but His flesh was ripped open so that every lash of the whips with hooks at the ends was a hammer-blow that kept Him reeling. Why was all this necessary? In order to answer that question, we must ask ourselves why the world, in which we all have a part, has so transgressed His teachings.
The day before that Friday, Jesus instituted what takes place on Catholic Altars every day, the remembrance of that day, where he broke the bread and poured the wine. "Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'" (Mat 26:26-28 RSV).
The great gift Jesus gave us, His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, His Real Presence, was given to all of us that Thursday night at the Last Supper. Jesus told us to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind", and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." So, when He gave his life for us on Good Friday, He showed us His love for us... He gave His life for all of us, so that we may be redeemed and be saved.
My crucified Jesus, we see you bathed in blood. The souls of all of mankind, from the very first man to the last yet to be born, we see in your suffering, in the Blood you shed for the world to redeem the world. Each act of reparation, of repentance, atonement, courage and holiness, represents salve upon your open wounds. My Love, how willingly would I take your place to spare you so much pain. My Jesus, I fuse myself in the wounds of your hands, your feet, and your Heart. Please shield me there from temptation as we, too, are attacked in our desert on our path of life. Let my thoughts be ever upon your holy suffering when I'm attacked so that I may remain resolute in my promise to be obedient to you and to your Holy Church. My dear Lord, to relieve and to soothe your pain, we offer you all of our charitable acts, and the holy works of all your creatures.
As your walk to Golgotha, bearing the heavy Cross of our sin, is completed, you are crucified, and I am crucified in you. Do not permit me to become separated from you. May I always be at your side, making reparation to you for everyone, to soothe the pain caused by my sins and the sins of all throughout the ages. I ask for your mercy and compassion for everyone in the world. It is never too late. The good thief on the cross, moments before his death asked you with sorrow for his sins; that you have mercy on him. You replied that he would be with you that day in paradise. Let us remember that it is never too late. That if we're on our deathbed and we're not in the State of Grace please give us the presence of mind to whisper a prayer to you, an expression of regret for a sinful life, a prayer of recognition of your Divine Majesty, that you are the Christ, the Son of God. Then, as you did with the good thief, please answer that plea for grace, that appeal for forgiveness.
What takes place in Holy Week is reality. In the Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus gives us Himself. He lays down his life for us, so that we may find happiness in Him. Happiness without Him is a transient "feeling good," that withers away. For many people it is too late. Many of the world's people do not know Jesus and what He made possible for all of us. All too many people are unhappy because their life has become meaningless. When you take God out of life's equation, the luster of a human life subdues, there is no more meaning to life, there is no more life. What remains is an existence consisting of pain, frustration, anxiety, deprivation, and extreme loneliness. That's when some people turn to drugs or sex, to make it all bearable. That's not life, that's death. There is no beauty left and life has lost its meaning. For those and for all of us, Jesus suffered a most terrible death. A death that seems to go wasted if we repel Him. But if we love Him, as He loves us, then there will be much joy in your life. Then you will happily get out of your gloomy existence and apply all your considerable talent and capacity for true love to join the millions who know Jesus by His first name. And we hope that someday, we may all be together in the House of the Lord: Heaven.
Many people fail to recognize that when God sent His only Son Jesus, to die on the Cross to redeem us, that God sent us the ultimate expression of His love. There are numerous examples of His love in Holy Scriptures but if that should still be unconvincing, then please go and sit by the Tabernacle for a half hour or more and tell Jesus in your own words that you love Him, that you need His help. Saint Bonaventure, the great Franciscan Doctor of the Church, speaks of devotion to Mary as the ninth Beatitude and he reminds us that all who will serve her worthily will be justified and saved. So, while simply adoring the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle, one might pray a Rosary or some Our Fathers and Hail Marys.
Saint Bernard, the last of the Fathers of the Church wrote: "It is by Jesus Christ alone that we have access to the Eternal Father. Likewise, it is by Mary, and only by Mary, that we have access to Jesus."
Why do I suggest praying to Jesus through Mary? Well, of course we can pray to Jesus directly, but we regard Mary as our Mother and that is what she is, when Jesus told her on Calvary, (John 19:26b-27) "Woman, behold, your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" We are all His disciples. The other part of the reason is that we naturally are at ease speaking to our natural mothers. We confide in them, so it also seems natural to confide in our Mother Mary. Speak to Mary, our mother in heaven as a child, with childlike trust. The author of the “Hail Mary” is the Blessed Virgin, what the Archangel Gabriel said to her at the Annunciation, and the conversation between Elizabeth and the Blessed Mother at the Visitation.
God's ultimate expression of love can truly only be experienced in Heaven. A high level of perfection attained on earth will surely get us admitted into Heaven. Perfection on any level is not possible without a strong devotion to Our Blessed Mother. But it takes effort to live according to the Charter of Happiness, the Sermon on the Mount.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they
will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
See Matthew 5:3 for the complete text.
We are often drawn into situations with other people where we do some small or perhaps even insignificant thing that no one even remembers, yet it makes all the difference in the world to one person, maybe even to someone we do not really know very well. Something we said, something we did in the Name of Jesus.
We bring people together in activities we play a key part in, and they form relationships—with each other, and most of all with Jesus and Mary and with the Angels and the Saints.
Sometimes young people use us (unbeknownst to us) as a role model and try to follow in our footsteps. As individuals amid the millions who walk on this earth, we think we’re doing very little but really if we have vision and faith, we can do a lot. When was the last time you asked God for something very special you could do for someone else? When did you really, deeply concentrate on prayer for another person? Prayer is a great action, a moment in time, an act of love for another, that each of us can do to help each other. Was it your prayer, insignificant as it may have seemed to you, that healed someone?
There could be a little sick Catholic boy praying in Papua New Guinea, perhaps someone baptized by a missionary who is praying that this day someone, somewhere, may turn to God. If you were healed today it could have been the answer to the little boy’s prayer.
This is God's love working in us and through us. It is the Holy Spirit (the Third person of the Holy Trinity = God) - God's unique love helping us overcome our fear of approaching a suffering stranger and comforting him or her. It is God's promise fulfilled in us as we come ever closer to God as our life unfolds and continues to unfold under His loving care.
Fred Schaeffer, OFS. (This was a talk given at a RCIA session in a parish in 2004. Updated and slightly revised in 2019).
Secular Franciscan Order
Ordo Franciscanus Sæcularis
Divine Mercy Fraternity
Vero Beach, FL
Term expires: 2/10/2022
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Helen Caldarone, OFS
Mary "Jean" McGovern, OFS
Jack Reddy, OFS
Donna Haro, OFS
Joanne Giordano, OFS
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
Five Franciscan Martyrs