Sunday after the Ascension

Today we find ourselves liturgically between two great feasts, the Ascension and Pentecost. The Church has her mind on both of these mysteries. This is well illustrated by the two alleluia verses. The first points us back to Our Lord’s Ascension: “The Lord hath reigned over all the nations; God sitteth on His holy throne.” Our triumphant Jesus, after the Ascension, “sitteth at the right hand of God the Father.” The second alleluia verse looks ahead to Pentecost: “I will not leave you orphans; I go, and I come to you, and your heart shall rejoice.” Our Lord, with the Father, sends the Holy Ghost as “another Paraclete (comforter, advocate)” to continue his mission in time.

This Introit sets the pace to both these themes: “Hear, O Lord, my voice, with which I have cried to Thee. My heart has said to Thee, I have sought Thy face. Thy face, O Lord, I will seek; turn not away Thy face from me, alleluia, alleluia. The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” We seek the “face” of the One who has ascended. He will not turn from us. He will send us the Holy Ghost to console us, even though we cannot see him, we see the Holy Face through the interior workings of the Holy Ghost in our souls, and through his visible effects in the life of the Chuch.

The introit joins together the Epistle, wherein St. Peter admonishes us to prudent watchfulness, and the Gospel, where our Lord warns of His departure and the coming persecutions, and at the same time guarantees the help of the Holy Ghost. When Jesus goes, the Apostles will “seek his face” amid their persecutions, and the Holy Ghost will come and give them the supernatural courage and peace of soul they need to sanctify themselves and carry out the Great Mandate they heard of Ascension Thursday.

Epistle: Christian Graciousness. In St. Peter’s Epistle, the Apostle admonishes us not only to prudence and prayerful vigilance, but, above all to constant mutual charity among ourselves, and he assures us that such charity “covers a multitude of sins.” That is, our venial sins, and imperfections, as well as even mortal sin and its effects are blotted out by works of charity. (This does not absolve us from the duty of confessing every mortal sin.) On the other hand, those who lack this virtue, which is the highest of the theological virtues, the one that makes us most God-like, are unworthy of the Christian name. Admonishing us to perform good works “as good stewards of the manifold gifts of God,” St. Peter is reminding us that what is good in us comes from God (gifts of nature and of grace) and must be jealously guarded. The irony is that you keep these spiritual goods by giving them away generously. And all of these good acts are to honor God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Like our prayers, offered through the Son to the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, so too are all our good works offered “through, with, and in” Christ.

You might call this Epistle a treatise on Christian graciousness. We may well imagine that, during this novena between the Ascension and Pentecost, the 120 who were in the Upper Room with the Apostles and Our Lady comported themselves in this manner. After all, it is their leader, St. Peter, who gives us these directives, and he was beginning to lead the Church during those days, concluding that the traitor Judas must be replaced, and ordering that lots must be drawn. Thus did St. Matthias become number twelve.

Gospel: The Two Testimonies. We are once again reading from St. John, from Jesus’ discourse after the Last Supper. Our Lord tells the Apostles that the Holy Ghost will bear testimony to Himself (Jesus), and that they — the Apostles — will also bear testimony to Him. The Holy Ghost will lead them into all truth, will recall to their minds what Jesus wants taught to all nations. This is His doctrine, which He specifically said was not his, but the Father’s. We see here very strongly the Trinitarian nature of our Faith. For this same Faith, the Third Person will strengthen and confirm in the Apostles with his seven-fold gift. And when the Apostles bear testimony, teaching all nations, the Holy Ghost will testify in the inner forum of men’s souls. Those who hear the Apostles will also “hear” the Holy Ghost giving them divine assurance that this word is true. Their doctrine will not be theirs, but the doctrine of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

But if their apostolate is to bear fruit, the tree of life itself must accompany them: that is, the Cross. So Jesus warns them of this ahead of time that they “be not scandalized.” Those who do not want the gift of eternal life, which Jesus Himself said is “to know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” — these ill-willed ones will expel the Apostles from the synagogues and even kill them, thinking that in so doing they are offering worship to God. Such is their blindness. Note: they don’t know the Father nor Jesus, but their deeds are still the fruits of malice. Sometimes ignorance excuses us from sin, but not always. In this instance, ignorance means damnation, since eternal life, according to Jesus Christ’s own utterance, is to know the Trinity and the Incarnation.

Our Duty. Just as the Apostles gave testimony, with the Holy Ghost confirming their witness, we, too are called to give testimony. One way we are so called is to carry out St. Peter’s admonitions in the Epistle. By being prayerful, watchful, prudent, and especially by practicing charity towards our brethren — what I earlier called “Christian graciousness” — we can fulfill what Tertullian tells us was said of the early Christians by the pagans: “Behold how these Christians love one another.” This is the apostolate of edification. When combined with the Church’s preaching of the unvarnished truth, this witness is a very powerful means of evangelizing the world. And when the world rejects good Christian example and still hates us, then we exercise the apostolate of suffering, an element without which no holy work is ever crowned with success.

Without the gifts of the Spirit of Pentecost, none of it will be possible. Come, Holy Ghost…