Ask for the Holy Spirit
by Rev. Oetjen
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
The risen Lord spent 40 days with his disciples before he ascended into heaven. But eventually the time came for him to go. On this year's observance of the solemnity of the Ascension, we hear from the Gospel of Luke, which records Jesus' last instructions to the disciples before he ascended: "And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." They are not to leave the city of Jerusalem. At least not yet. Their instructions are to stay and wait. The reason for this post-Ascension waiting is that Jesus is going to send the "promise of his Father," that is, the Holy Spirit, upon them. The reason for this waiting, then, tells us something about why Jesus had to ascend in the first place. Jesus explained elsewhere, "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7). Jesus wanted to ascend to the right hand of the Father before sending the spirit because this shows that both the Father and son, together as one, send the Holy Spirit. This in fact teaches us something about the inner life of the blessed Trinity. The way that the divine persons of the Son and Spirit are sent into the world mirrors the way they eternally proceed from the Father.
Just as the Son is begotten eternally by the Father, so also the Father sends the Son into the world in time. And just as the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the son, so also the Father and the Son together as one send the Holy Spirit into the world in time. St. Thomas Aquinas noticed that this is what the book of Revelation shows when it speaks of the Holy Spirit as the "river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev 22.1). St. Thomas also noticed that this is why sometimes Jesus says that he himself will send the Spirit, and sometimes he says that his Father will send the Spirit. But whenever he speaks about the Father sending the Spirit, he does no do so without also mentioning himself (for example, in Jn 14:26: "the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name"). And whenever he speaks of himself sending the Spirit, he does not do so without also mentioning the Father (for example, in Jn 15:26: whom I will send to you from the Father"). This is because both the Father and Son, together as one, send the Holy Spirit. And this is why Jesus first ascends into heaven before he sends the Spirit. He wanted even his risen humanity to be at the right hand of the Father when the Spirit was sent. One good thing you can do during this time of post-Ascension waiting is to read Chapters 14-16 of St. John's Gospel. There is much to meditate on in those chapters about the Holy Spirit whom we await. Let Jesus' words increase your heart's longing for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost. And the other good thing to do during this time of waiting is to pray for the Holy Spirit. Pray for a deepening of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus taught us about perseverance in prayer, he taught us that we should most fundamentally be asking for the Holy Spirit. "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you . . . If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Lk 11:9, 13). You can pray the novena to the Holy Spirit. The text of the novena can be found easily online or in many prayer books. During this time of post-Ascension waiting, we join together with Mary and the apostles as they did for that first novena, and together with the whole church as we ask for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost.