With the celebration of Pentecost behind us, we now enter a long stretch of Ordinary Time on the Church’s calendar, but I am still pondering three messages from the Easter season.
Easter begins with the Resurrection, after which Jesus’ first words to the disciples are, “Peace be with you.” This message is for us, as well: At Mass every Sunday we ask for peace and unity with ourselves, the Church and the whole human family. Yet I am struck by a contrast. Immediately after rising from the dead, Jesus has a message of peace, unity and courage for those who do his will, but at the same time he cautions Mary Magdalene not to cling to him. One interpretation of this warning is that Mary wants to keep the Savoir on earth with her and the other disciples, but Jesus, as he says, must ascend to the Father.
This leads us to the Feast of the Ascension, which is celebrated on the 40th day of the Easter season. Scripture tells us that after commanding the disciples to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth, Jesus “was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God” (Mk 16:19). Watching this, the disciples remain standing there until two angels come and ask why they’re still looking up at the sky. Shaken out of their wonder, the disciples return to Jerusalem, where Jesus had told them to wait until they received the advocate whom he had promised would give them power from on high.
The disciples received this power at Pentecost, when they were all gathered together in a room that was suddenly filled with a noise like a driving wind, and tongues of flame rested on each of them. In later books of the New Testament, St. Paul teaches that although there is one Spirit, different kinds of spiritual gifts are given; there is only one Lord but there are different ways to serve here; there is only one God, yet he is at work in different ways within people.
The Catholic Church teaches that there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. We receive the grace of the Spirit at baptism, the sacrament that brings us into unity with Christ and through which we enter the Church. This grace is enhanced by the Sacrament of Confirmation, which increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit. With Confirmation, too, comes strength from the Holy Spirit that allows us to use words and actions to spread and defend the faith. Our union with the Lord and with the Church also is renewed at the Eucharist, when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Through the Eucharist God grants us spiritual and temporal benefits, and preserves us from grave sin.
All of this grace is ours through the sacraments, but to employ this grace we must first stop clinging to Jesus. It is tempting – oh, so tempting! – to keep him as the great preacher and healer he was before the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The problem is that following that man, even divine as he was then, allows us to depend upon him to do all the work. We also may be tempted to stand looking up into the heavens, wondering about the place he has gone to prepare for us. After Pentecost, rather than blindly following or simply standing, what we are called to do is accept that from on high Jesus has sent to us the Holy Spirit. The Paraclete within us gives us the power to observe Christ’s command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison, open wide our hand to those in need.
Let us then move into Ordinary Time, enacting our baptismal call to proclaim the gospel and respond to the cry of the poor.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.