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Our Lady of the Rosary - Marian Retreat
The Descent of the Holy Spirit
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The present meditation is on the Third Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, the Descent of the Holy Spirit. First, by the way of a fairly long introduction. The Third Glorious Mystery, is in its way, is the consummation of all the other Mysteries of the Rosary before what began at Nazareth on earth ended at Jerusalem on earth. We may safely say that the Person who came down on Our Lady at Nazareth was the same Divine Person who came down on those awaiting His coming in Jerusalem. At Nazareth the Angel told Our Lady that the Holy Spirit would come upon her so that she would conceive and bear a Son who would be the Son of the Most High. Thus the Holy Spirit began the work of the Incarnation. As the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, Mary became the Mother of God become Man. That was the beginning. Some thirty-three years intervened then the purpose of that first coming of the Holy Spirit on Our Lady was finally fulfilled when He actually descended and the term we should use descended on the Church and has been descending ever since. I've checked my sources - one Pope after another for centuries back says it was because Mary was with those people in Jerusalem. It was her intercession, her prayer that obtained the coming of the Holy Spirit that her Son had promised but I repeat had promised indeed but conditioned on Mary's intercessory prayer.
Our First Responsibility - To Understand What We Believe
Our purpose in this meditation will be first, to identify, in some sequence, the main events that took place on Pentecost Sunday; then, choose three aspects of the Mystery of Pentecost that we should more deeply understand. Our first responsibility as Christians, and surely as priests and religious, is to understand what we believe. We will choose three aspects of the Mystery of Pentecost for special attention and deepening of our understanding. And then, finally, apply what the Holy Spirit wants to teach us right now about the meaning and the need for Pentecost.
Acts of the Apostles - Gospel of the Holy Spirity
We start, then, with the New Testament narrative. As you know, the one who gives us the whole story of Pentecost was the disciple of St. Paul, namely, Luke the Evangelist. This is so true that we may correctly say that St. Luke wrote two Gospels- the one that commonly goes by his name at the end of which, remember, he recalls Christ's promise of the Holy Spirit. And the second Gospel commonly called the Acts of the Apostles which is a continuation now of the life of Christ just before His Ascension and then of the work of Christ in first sending the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The standard name, going back to the early years of the Church, for the Acts of Apostles is the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. The marvels which the Holy Spirit who first came on Pentecost Sunday, the marvels the Holy Spirit achieved in that early Church are a litany of miracles, miracles especially in the moral order. And how we need to believe that the same Holy Spirit who began His marvelous work of converting the pagan world in the first century, shall we say it, needs to convert the modern pagan world as we come to the close of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century. Altogether St. Luke gives us no less than forty-one verses - it's the first forty-one verses of his second chapter in the Acts of the Apostles, all about Pentecost. Here is a sequence, very briefly, of what occurred.
Making Retreats is Part of Divine Revelation
First, there came a sound from Heaven, and Luke says the sound came from Heaven like a violent wind. It filled the whole house where Mary and the Apostles and the disciples of Jesus were gathered. Why? Because He told them to. The first novena - if you set off Ascension Thursday - it's nine full days till the coming of the Holy Spirit; also, and not incoincidentally, the first retreat. Making retreats is part of Divine Revelation. It might be well to just mention that there were about a hundred and twenty people, Luke says. He's always precise. He mentioned there were men and women called disciples - good to hear.
Third happening. Suddenly, first the wind, violent. Suddenly there appeared parted tongues of fire and they settled on all a hundred twenty. And each one as a result, so Luke says, was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak (I'm still quoting Luke) in foreign tongues. Before we go any further, it might be well worth mentioning that what are now called popularly the charismatic gifts; an authentic charismatic gift is never received for the benefit of the one who receives it. An authentic charismatic gift, by the Church's definition, is either apostolic and then comes from the Holy Spirit or it is not apostolic and then is not from the Holy Spirit. And very shortly the purpose of receiving what we might say was a strange gift to receive - foreign tongues - for whom? Surely not for the hundred and twenty gathered in Jerusalem. As I've been telling people over the years, my friend there is work to be done and you need the means to, well, do the work. Like what? If we're to proclaim Christ, we first must know Him! But then we've got to be able to communicate to those to whom we wish to bring Christ.
God Works on a Schedule
Third event. At the same time, remember, this was an even fifty days after - for us, Easter; for the Jews - after the Passover. In fact that's what Pentecost means. We've been saying all along God works on a schedule. He plans things to the day to the hour and as I sometimes embarrassingly found out - to the second. And you be on time. On whose time? On God's time. So we repeat at the same time, all planned - this being fifty days after the Passover - there were thousands of Jews in Jerusalem. The Jewish historian who we mentioned before Josephus estimates on an average around nine-hundred thousand Jews descended on Jerusalem during the Passover season. Where did all those Jews come from? Luke names some of the places; all over, all over the then known world. We read the Acts, every continent except, understandably, North and South America. Asia, Africa and Europe - all carefully planned to the day, to the hour by God; when the Second Person would send the Third Person into the world.
He is the Divine Soundmaker
Fourth significant event: The Holy Spirit meant that sound, watch it, not only or mainly for the people in, well, that Cenacle in Jerusalem. We've no idea how loud it was. I dare say as loud as a tornado. When the Holy Spirit wants to make noise; He is the Divine Soundmaker. I like the one passage from the letters of Theresa of Lisieux. She was just enraptured when there was a loud thunderstorm - for me, she said - that is the Voice of God speaking. Remember on Sinai? Oh, this is much more important than Sinai. When God wants us to pay attention to Him, leave it to Him. People all migrated to where that sound was coming from, when they got there another, this time, strange sound. There these people speaking, as we now say, with tongues. St. Luke says there were two kind of reaction. Some were stupefied, amazed! Others - these people are drunk! They even explained their intoxication - new wine.
Peter Gave the Model of the Perfect Homily
Next event: All of this, mind you, is the whole Holy Spirit's planned scenario. Peter then stood up and Luke specifies, He and the other eleven Apostles and he calls them Apostles, stood up. Remember how they got the twelfth Apostle? I have to say it, I trust St. Peter will appreciate what I'm saying. He anticipated the coming of the Holy Spirit - this is Peter; well, he said to himself; gosh when the Holy Spirit that the Lord promised comes, there'd better be twelve of us. So he called a special chapter; a Chapter of Election. Would you believe it? They threw dice - I'm not recommending following that example. There were then eleven besides Peter and they stood up. What Luke evidently wants to tell us, or better what he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to teach us; while all receive the Holy Spirit, including Our Lady, only twelve received the Holy Spirit for the purpose for which they were ordained. Peter got up and I've been telling the priests over the years, gave the model of the perfect homily. Not too long, not too short but most important the homily got Peter's listeners to do something! What did Peter do? He first explained, remember he's talking to Jews; he first explained how the Holy Spirit had been foretold. In the words there are two kinds of prophecies in the Old Law. They are the messianic prophecies foretelling the coming of Christ and there are the pentecostal prophecies foretelling the coming of the Holy Spirit. The first prophecies were fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and today the pentecostal prophecies were also fulfilled.
Invisible Mission of the Holy Trinity
Then Peter summarized the life of Jesus: His preaching, His miracles, His being unjustly condemned and crucified and then this One who was crucified rose from the dead. All of this led to Peter saying and this was the purpose of that first homily: that Jesus sent by the Father had Himself promised to send the Holy Spirit. What the people then heard among the hundred and twenty was the audible manifestation of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit, theologically speaking, is identified as the invisible mission of the Holy Trinity. Mission means sending. Where the Incarnation is theologically identified as the visible mission of the Holy Trinity; the Third Person, unlike the Second Person become human flesh; there is no Incarnation of the Holy Spirit. There is, however, a manifestation of His Descent. And the verb descend should apply doctrinally speaking both to the Second Person descending (being sent) by the First Person; and to the Holy Spirit descending (being sent) by the Second Person.
It Was Peter Who Preached the First Gospel
Peter then concluded by telling the people they should know and here's what he told them - they should know that this Jesus who they crucified is two things; two basic Names - He is Lord, therefore, God and He is Christ and therefore the One sent by the Father to redeem the world. The Name by which he was known by His contemporaries was Jesus. He was sent by the Father as The Anointed One, and anointed by the Holy Spirit give Him, therefore, the Name the Anointed One. That's what Christ means, anointed, in English, Christos, in Greek and Christ the term that we commonly apply to Jesus. Ah, but He was One with the Father in Nature and therefore Lord of Heaven and Earth. On hearing this Luke says, the people were pierced to the heart and then, hear it, go back and check it for yourselves. The people asked Peter and the Apostles, get it? Peter and the Apostles, what shall we do? Then Peter, speaking for the other eleven- anyone, anyone who questions the Primacy of Peter in the Catholic Church today simply does not believe in what happened on Pentecost Sunday - it was Peter who preached the first Gospel. Analysts of the Scriptures have studied down to the smallest detail the Gospels of the Four Evangelists. Every one of them, or taken together in their root, contain only what Peter first said on Pentecost Sunday. More details, embellishment, but the heart of the New Testament is in that short sermon of Peter. You might say they asked for it - what shall we do? He told them. This is the Peter who just a few weeks before, remember, had denied his Master? He told them three things. First, repent - that was a safe statement to any audience. You sinners, repent - number one. Second, be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And then, a promise and - but that conjunction follows only on the first two conditions being fulfilled. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. St. Luke tells us about three-thousand people received Peter's words, they believed, were baptized after they had repented of their sins. So much for part one.
Three Main Mysteries Revealed on Pentecost
I suggest we now reflect, prayerfully, on at least three main mysteries that were revealed on Pentecost Sunday. First, that Christ had fulfilled His promise. He did send the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. I will just identify the mysteries first and then go back and more elaborately explain each. Second, that the conditions for receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit are Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God; second, repentance for one's sins and thirdly, the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism. Faith, repentance and Baptism. And almost two-thousand years the Catholic Church has not budged one millimeter from those three conditions for receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And third, that the reception of the Holy Spirit confers on those who receive Him extraordinary knowledge through Faith, extraordinary courage in the will and extraordinary charity in loving God and one's neighbor.
Holy Spirit is the Divine Communicator
Now we go back. If we look more closely at these three Mysteries we see how dramatically they were both revealed on Pentecost Sunday and had been manifested by the Holy Spirit ever since. Jesus promise was fulfilled. He didn't wait too long; by the way, nobody knew how long they had to wait. It was then soon after Christ's Ascension. And Jesus made sure that the Descent of the Holy Spirit comes right there, where what happened? Where He had been crucified and from whose environs He ascended into Heaven. The Holy Spirit descended at a specific time, in a specific locality. When the Third Person came, and He came invisibly. Remember we said this is the invisible mission or sending of the Holy Trinity. However, to make His Presence manifest, His coming was audible quite unlike, we should remind ourselves, the silence of Nazareth because, you see, by the time Pentecost came the work of Jesus Christ had been accomplished. And now that Church, which we said was born on Calvary, began to propagate herself on Pentecost Sunday. The Holy Spirit is the Divine Communicator, the Master of the media of communication. He made sure that His coming, the coming into the hearts of those who believed; His coming would be audibly (what a cheap adverb) audibly, thunderously manifest. The effect, we have to keep insisting, the effect of the coming of the Holy Spirit was deeply interior. And one last observation - with the coming of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the purpose for the coming of Christ was fulfilled.
Necessary Conditions - Faith, Repentance and Baptism
The second feature that we wish to specially look at - the necessary conditions: They were spelled out by Peter. Faith with the mind, repentance with the will and Baptism by water. We are not told, because it did not certainly take place; we're not told that everybody believed - even three-thousand people gathered around one residence - that's quite a crowd. But judging by what happened within days of Pentecost, once the enemies of Christ realized they were aghast because, remember, those three-thousand converts having received the Holy Spirit, needless to say, they were zealous converts. You try to convert an unwilling person and you've got problems. You're going to arouse opposition. They sure did! But the first condition for conversion is conversion of the mind, of the intellect. I can't believe it, but it's mathematically true; I've been teaching for forty years, honest! Forty years of twelve months each. Can't believe it! All I know is that the hardest change to effect in a human being is a change of mind. The fundamental conversion, therefore, that Peter required of those who listened to him on Pentecost Sunday and the fundamental change that is required for a person to really, and not nominally or verbally, to really become a follower of Christ - is a change of the mind. To believe with the intellect what the intellect does not comprehend, namely, that a Man by the Name of Jesus had a human mother, was nursed, cared by her, slept, ate, was tired and died - that that Jesus is the living God. My friends, I've struggled with too many people, including nominal believers, who had never really come to grips and converted their minds to believe - Jesus is my God.
Repentance for Sin Must Be a Lifetime Conversion
Then repentance: As we know the early converts in the Church were necessarily adults.
And over the centuries there have been millions of adult converts who had themselves repent of the sins they had committed. Did I give you figures for the continent of Africa? The number of Catholics at the turn of the century? Maybe somebody does not remember, let me repeat, three-hundred and sixty thousand Catholics in the whole continent of Africa in 1906. Eighty years later, 1986, the number of Catholics in the continent of Africa was seventy-two million. The most astounding growth in the history of Christianity and you know why? Because those who became Catholics at the turn of the century had a strong, simple, childlike Faith and they suffered for their Faith. The most traumatic persecution of the Church ever has been Her persecution in Africa since 1900. By whom? Mainly by the followers of Mohammed. Pray for the Muslims of the world. But we know that even though as, more commonly in our experience now Baptism is administered to children. Does someone have to make an act of Faith for that child? Yes! In the absence of Faith there is no valid Baptism. And the repentance for sin, as we know, must be a lifetime conversion because no less than what Peter told the audience to whom he was speaking on Pentecost Sunday, "Repent of your sins, then you will receive the Holy Spirit." All right, all right, if a person repents and then was baptized, he or she would receive the Holy Spirit. Ah, but the Holy Spirit can be both be received and, listen, can be lost! And when lost they have to be regained. In other words, in order to insure the gifts of the Holy Spirit we must not only have repented when, say, any of us was baptized in adulthood. Although, baptized in infancy, those gifts of the Holy Spirit depend all through life on our living lives of repentance for sin. These, then, have been the conditions which the Church has set down for becoming a Catholic ever since.
Special Gifts - Understanding, Courage, Charity
Now the special gifts received. They are mainly as we said three. The gift of Understanding not merely believing, accepting something as true because God has revealed it but understanding what I believe - understanding who God is, understanding who we are, understanding what the creatures among whom we live what they are. And how important this is - in understanding our purpose in this life - in a word, our destiny. And as we come to the end of this retreat, let's make sure we don't lose sight in the purpose of making a retreat - to come to grips with these principles of our Faith. There is a God. He made us only because He wants us to be happy to be with Him for all eternity. But this God has set down conditions for our reaching the Heaven for which we were made. Simply stated, we are to know, love and serve God. We'd better know that because everything else we know in life is not only meaningless but can be disastrous unless it is measured against the background of our understanding why God exists, why we exist and how we can reach our heavenly home.
Confirmation - Our Individual Personal Pentecost
Secondly and this is especially emphasized by the Church in modern times. I would say, particularly, for the last four hundred years what we may call a development of doctrine in a clearer understanding here, listen, of the Sacrament of Confirmation. When we're baptized we receive the Holy Spirit but when we're confirmed we receive - and this is the Church's teaching especially in modern times - our Confirmation is our individual, personal Pentecost - when what do we receive? We receive from the Holy Spirit - courage! Courage to do what? Courage to profess the Faith we believe, to defend this Faith and to share it with others.
Charity - Hallmark of a Follower of Christ
One more gift besides understanding and courage. The Church tells us the Holy Spirit when we're baptized we receive, hear it, we received the infused virtue of Charity. What does that mean? It means that we are enabled, thanks to the Sacrament we received; we are able to love one another so selflessly, so generously and so effectively that it was the hallmark of a follower of Jesus Christ. Except for the virtue of Charity which the newly baptized on Pentecost Sunday received, there would never have come into existence that Church which is called by the Church as the Community of Charity.
Roboratio Spiritualis - Spiritual Strengthening
One concluding reflection: Apply all that we've heard to our own spiritual lives. We mentioned that the Church teaches that our reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation is our own individual, personal Pentecost. We also believe because the Church so defines this Sacrament - She defines the Sacrament of Confirmation listen - the Sacrament of spiritual strengthening. Good to hear the Latin - just two words, roboratio - strengthening, spiritualis - spiritual. How does our individual Pentecost strengthen us when we were confirmed? On what, therefore, can we bank as having received from the Holy Spirit when we had received Him in His special outpouring when we were confirmed? We strengthened in Faith, we were strengthened in Hope and we were strengthened in Charity. What are we saying? Having received our own and personal Pentecost, our Faith should stop at nothing in professing what we believe and being afraid of no one. Having our Faith strengthened in defending the Faith and strengthening our Faith in sharing what we believe with others. How this needs to be said and emphasized! Almost two-thousand years since Pentecost - over five billion people in the world today. At most, at the very most a million and a half are nominal Christians. Clearly, someone has not been using the strength of Faith that the Holy Spirit conferred on all of us when we were confirmed. When we received our own personal Pentecost, our Hope was strengthened. How dare we, how dare we be afraid of anything or anyone having received the Holy Spirit in such abundance as to be willing to suffer and die for the Name of Christ. Reread, I almost want to tell you, I won't oblige you, to reread the Acts of the Apostles to see what happened to those early Christians who had received the Holy Spirit - nothing stopped them.
Lives of Charity can Cause us Martyrdom
And finally and with emphasis - on our own Pentecost when we were confirmed, we received a strengthening and how we needed it! Little did some of us foresee when we were confirmed whatever the age of our Confirmation - little did we foresee the heroic charity we would need in the years to come. I don't hesitate saying and with this I close the meditation - to live, patient, faithful, loving, peaceful and cheerful religious life in the Community requires - I mark my words - heroic charity. Have no fear - we have the strength given to us by the Holy Spirit to live - I hope you agree with me - lives of charity that can cost us martyrdom in death to ourselves in loving others. Why? Because we love God. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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