I am sure that most of you know that the liturgical year is the Church’s way of reminding us about the important events in the life of our Lord. In the course of the year we go from His birth at Christmas, His public life, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, His resurrection from the dead at Easter—and, just this past Thursday, His bodily ascension into heaven. In my remarks on Thursday, I quoted Pope Saint Leo the Great, who spoke about the Apostles being “reinvigorated with great joy ... for in their presence ... human nature was lifted up and exalted above the dignity of all heavenly creation....” And “we have the hope that the body will be summoned whither the head has preceded it in glory.”  That is to say, that as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we can some day expect to be taken up to heaven in a similar way.
No doubt Pope saint Leo was correct in speaking about the Apostles being “reinvigorated.” But, if we put ourselves in their place, it is easy to imagine that the Apostles soon began to feel something of an emptiness. On Thursday they saw the Lord taken up into heaven, but that feeling of “reinvigoration,” soon enough, had to give way to a feeling of loss. Many of them had been with our Lord since the beginning of His public life, perhaps three years or so, and they seemed to live together under rather close conditions—something like a three year “camping trip,” sharing their meager resources. Our Lord always knew what to say: to the Romans, to the Pharisees, to the Sadducees, to the scribes, to the rulers of the synagogues—whoever it was that came along looking for an argument.
But here it is, Sunday, three days after our Lord had gone up to heaven. They had had some time to realize that they were without His presence for the first time in years. They had been instructed to “remain in Jerusalem ... for they would be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” But to be quite honest, this concept of receiving the Holy Ghost probably didn’t mean too much to them until they actually experienced it—and on this Sunday the descent of the Holy Ghost was a full week in the future.
The Gospel we read this morning is actually an account taken from the Last Supper, some forty-odd days before. They remembered our Lord’s words with some comfort, for He explained that He would be sending Holy Ghost to them—an “Advocate,” someone who would speak for them, or at least give them the right words to say for themselves. He would be the “Spirit of Truth” who proceeds from the Father; just as our Lord Himself was the Truth, the Word of God, who was God from before the beginning of time. That, of course was encouraging, but there was also a rather troubling part in which our Lord predicted that they would be “expelled from the synagogues,” and perhaps even be killed by those mistakenly thinking that in so doing they were “offering worship to God.”
We can ask ourselves: How did they cope? That is a question of personal interest for us, and not mere historical curiosity, because, more and more, we are finding ourselves in the position of the Apostles—having to cope with fellow citizens and even fellow Catholics who are hostile to the teachings of the Faith. In the modern world, and even in our own country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to speak the Truth of Jesus Christ without being subject to legal penalties, or at least to social pressure. In this upside down world, error and immorality have every right, while truth and morality have no rights at all. How did they cope—and how can we follow their example?
We know from the Acts of the Apostles, that on Thursday, after the Ascension, the disciples returned to the Upper Room, together with Mary the Mother of Jesus, and a few other friends and family close to Him—and they devoted themselves to constant mutual prayer together. We can conjecture that they offered the Sacrifice of the Mass—the scriptures are silent about this particular occasion, but we know that the practice of (at least) Sunday Mass took hold very early on. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that after Pentecost (just a week from today) the Christians “continued steadfastly in the teaching of the Apostles and in the Communion of the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.” We can only conjecture, but it seems possible that this Sunday—the first Sunday our Lord was not with them since the institution of the Mass—may have been the first time the Apostles offered Mass on their own. This day certainly brought a compelling reason to do what Jesus did at the Last Supper, and to have Him truly present with them under the appearances of bread and wine!
We must not too quickly pass over the mention of spending time together with Mary, and each other, steadfastly in prayer. The nine days from the Ascension until Pentecost can be thought of as the first novena, and serve to remind us that the most compelling way to place our prayers before God is to approach Him through His holy Mother.
Saint Peter reminds us in today’s Epistle that a hallmark of the early Christians was this “constant mutual charity,” and being “hospitable to one another without murmuring.” He was writing to those being persecuted by the pagans in Asia Minor, but in every case of persecution it makes sense for “those who are of the house of the Faith” to band together, and to put aside our trivial differences. The greatest crime in times of persecution is called “apostasy,” or giving up the Faith—but the second biggest crime is “schism,” creating discord among those who should be like brothers and sisters in the faith. Faithful Catholics can no longer afford to argue about minutia.
If you have been reading Saint Peter’s epistle (in the Parish Bulletin, it was the recommended Scripture this past week), you know that just before today’s selection, Peter cautions his readers against copying any of the practices of the pagans. If Christ suffered for us, we can suffer with Him, by giving up all delight in the riotous behavior and idolatry of the pagans. Throwing in with the pagans can be what we call a “slippery slope.” If we join in with them in the relatively harmless, it is often quite difficult to refuse to cross the line between harmless and harmful. Often enough, just being with the wrong person in the wrong place can force one into serious trouble.
Finally, with our hindsight, we know that the Christians would receive great grace and power when they received the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. We will have more to say about that next week on the feast day, but suffice it to say that the Holy Ghost empowered the Apostles to go out and preach and to make thousands of converts to the Faith.
So how do we cope with the pagan world around us? Let us summarize:
Figuratively, we return to the Upper Room. There, together with the Apostles, and in the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we offer Holy Mass and receive our Lord in Holy Communion; daily if possible, certainly every Sunday and Holy Day.
Even when we cannot be together, we pray together. We try to know each other’s needs and to place them in prayer with our Lord’s Blessed Mother. When we are together, we are good to each other, putting aside every foolish difference. We do not leave one another to go and run with the pagans.
Finally, we must learn to draw strength from our Advocate, the Spirit of Truth who makes our souls His temple as long as we remain in sanctifying grace.
The Holy Ghost.