Sermon for the Sunday within the Octave of the Ascension – May 13, 2018 by Fr. Sretenovic
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Father began the sermon by reciting a Hail Mary.
Today is the Sunday within the Octave of the Ascension, one week away from Pentecost Sunday. Liturgically we are on a par with Easter; Easter being the central Mystery of our Faith in terms of our redemption. Yet in association with Easter, Pentecost Sunday also is incredibly important as it is the birthday of the Church. We need to prepare ourselves for Pentecost and we do so by seeking a renewal of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost. We have received these seven gifts in our Baptism. We’ve had them strengthened in our Confirmation but we have neglected them. They are basically waiting to be used. They are there, they’re not absent but unless we learn how to make proper use of them and obtain a greater fervor in their exercise, ultimately we will be that much more accountable at the judgment.
We should be as the apostles were, preparing themselves for the coming of the Holy Ghost at the first novena in the cenacle where they were with Our Lady. For nine days, starting the day after the Ascension and until the day before Pentecost Sunday, these days were incredibly important that they might not receive the grace of God in vain. But that they might prepare to receive the Holy Effect, knowing that grace is not magic. With the parting of the tongues, they became fearless preachers of the gospel and they were willing and ready to die any death and suffer whatever might befall them as Our Lord had prepared for them.
So we too need to be ready to die but that cannot happen unless we are making use of these seven gifts. Our Lord says, “These things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that, when the hour shall come, you may remember all that I told you”. Of course, if we should have that opportunity to suffer and die, we don’t know how much of a struggle that would be to persevere. Remember March 10, the Feast of the 40 Martyrs, where one of them gave up? He was so close to being a very great saint, but then left the freezing water because he despaired, but then he died soon after in the hot bath that was prepared for him by the pagans. And then the one who was responsible for making sure they died, the guard, wound up becoming the fortieth martyr as many of you are already aware. But we have no idea just how much of a trial that would be to be able to persevere to the end, to be a martyr. So we need the gifts of the Holy Ghost.
Also given that this is the 101st anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, we recall that the triumph of Our Lady will bring about an increase in the action of the Holy Ghost in the souls of those who are alive at that time; an increase in the actual graces and also in our readiness for the sanctifying graces of the sacraments. So today in recalling the first apparition of Our Lady and remembering the six times when Our Lady appeared to these three children of Fatima, we remember that Our Lady promised that in the end her Immaculate Heart would triumph. A part of this triumph is the renewal of the graces of our baptism of which, of course, is the receiving of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.
We remember also, Our Lady is the Spouse of the Holy Ghost; she is the daughter of God the Father, the mother of God the Son and the spouse of the Holy Ghost. She has special power in obtaining for us the dispositions of humility and detachment in order to make us ready to experience this enkindling of the fire of the Holy Ghost in our souls. So we want to be thinking and meditating these days, this week now upon us, To spend time in prayer with Our Lady, detaching ourselves more and more from the world. In fact, it was Fr. Leonard Goffine who wrote different reflections for each of the Sundays of the year as a resource of preaching for priests. He instructs us to do the following in preparation for Pentecost, that we should withdraw after the example of the Blessed Virgin and the apostles to some solitary place or at least avoid communication with others as much as is possible. Speak but little and apply oneself to earnest and persevering prayer.
So at this time we apply ourselves deliberately to spend our time less in the way we would like in order to make ourselves ready to receive God. In a way, as St. Alphonsus Ligouri says, “It is in the weaning from the world that God gives the science of the saints”. So during this week we should fill the times which we do have outside of the work that we have to do and the duties that we have otherwise, to withdraw, at least in a manner of speaking, from creature comforts.
(Baby crying) (I was told I would recognize that cry if it happens today. I just baptized this child yesterday so she’s getting me back. Father laughing!)
We are to speak but little. Try spending some time quietly in prayer each day, not praying the rosary, nor doing anything else; but just spending time with Our Lord – making ourselves available to Him, reflecting on the gifts of the Holy Ghost. If you aren’t used to doing so you might get discouraged. But if you could persevere each day, every day this week in doing so, maybe by Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, suddenly God will give the Gift because He was testing whether or not we really wanted it. If we really want it, we will not be discouraged by the fact that it seems difficult to acquire.
That which we desire first, oftentimes is possessed last. As is the case in sports or in life in general, whatever we really want sometimes takes a while to get to but if you keep your eyes focused, eventually you get it. And of course the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost we already do have, but because we have not exercised them properly it’s going to take a special effort to be able to make ourselves more understanding of what these gifts actually mean and what they do in our souls. And in regard to that I’ll skip here to the fourth reason of Father Goffine. We should fervently desire to receive the Holy Ghost and should give expression to this longing by frequent aspirations to God making use of the prayer, “Come Holy Ghost”. Also pray the novena – even if you have not started it yet – we are on the third day – we can get it on line and we will be praying it today after Mass. Pay special attention to what it says about the gift of the Holy Ghost, whatever the gift of the day is between the second day and the eighth day you get the seven gifts. The first day is preparation and the ninth day is the completion. But those days in between go through each of the gifts of the Holy Ghost and what they mean. And we need to acquire an increase in them, a knowledge of what they will do for us and how they will help us to love God and be able to persevere to the end in suffering if God should so will it.
We should purify our conscience by a contrite confession, become reconciled to our neighbor if we have lived in enmity, for the Holy Ghost. As Father Goffine says, a spirit of peace and purity lives only in pure and peaceful souls. So we pray especially to oppose any of the temptations against the sixth and ninth commandments and maybe in this time of silence while we are waiting for the Holy Ghost in that cenacle of prayer with Our Lady and the apostles, maybe we pray for a special understanding of the horror of that sin of impurity under any guises, and then also for a spirit of peace. Bearing wrongs patiently oftentimes gives us a spirit of peace as we remember the wounds and how we have been wounded by others. Rather than offering that to God, we tend to dwell upon it, come back to it, even if we’ve already forgiven the person sometimes it will come back and will start really eating at us. So the Holy Ghost will only dwell in us if we overcome that temptation and from the Sermon on the Mount when Our Lord says to forgive our enemies, “What good is it if we love only our friends?” But also to overcome those temptations to bitterness and wounded pride. That is something we can be focused on this week if that is a problem. I think for many it can be. And part of the reason we have such a problem is because we don’t have that foundation in prayer.
We should give alms according to our means for it is said in the Acts of the Apostles of Cornelius that by prayer and alms deeds he made himself worthy of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. So if you could put aside a little extra money that you would use for something else this week and give it to either to the church or to some cause (another little plug for the school, right?) During Lent when we are giving alms there was mention of giving supplies to those less fortunate among our students or our families. You can still do so and something like helping those in need to be able to get a Catholic education, can, in fact, be a good application of this. That’s just one possibility. We are assisting Him when we assist those who do not have the same means that we do. So He takes it as an act toward Himself.
Again, finally, pray to the Blessed Virgin, spouse of the Holy Ghost, to teach us humility as I said before, with the detachment necessary to make a home worthy of these divine gifts. Turn to her repeatedly during this week that she may help us to overcome any bitterness of soul and also any pride in all of its’ manifestations because pride is ultimately the biggest obstacle to Divine Union, whether it’s wounded pride, whether it’s just pride because of what we want, digging our heals in, whatever it is, pride is associated with the devil himself because the first sin was one of pride. And, of course, the sin of Adam and Eve was the sin of pride. For us today we pray more than anything for humility, and that gift can be ours if we study the disposition of the Blessed Virgin and we see that just as her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart triumphed in the cenacle of prayer, that Immaculate Heart will triumph again in us and make us like the apostles as they were in the early Church. As Tertullian said, the blood of the martyrs is seed of the Church. We will be prepared to be martyrs if God should require it of us and this may be what is necessary to bring about the reign of Mary. We cannot do that if we are not ready and that is what this week is about, getting ready.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.