THE NOW WORD ON MASS READINGS
for January 13th, 2014
Liturgical texts here
THERE is no evangelization without the Holy Spirit. After spending three years listening to, walking, talking, fishing, eating with, sleeping beside, and even laying upon the breast of our Lord… the Apostles seemed incapable of penetrating the hearts of the nations without Pentecost. It wasn’t until the Holy Spirit descended upon them in tongues of fire that the mission of the Church was to begin.
So too, the mission of Jesus—quietly incubating for thirty years—was not to begin until He was baptized, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. But if you’ll notice, Jesus did not immediately begin preaching. Rather, the Gospel of Luke tells us that “filled with the Holy Spirit” Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the the desert.” After enduring forty days and nights of fasting and temptation, Jesus emerged “in the power of the Holy Spirit.” cf. Luke 4:1, 14 That’s when we hear Our Savior’s words in today’s Gospel:
This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.
If you are a Catholic, you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit through your own Baptism and Confirmation. But that does not mean that one is necessarily being led by the Spirit much less in the power of the Holy Spirit. How did Jesus, this obscure carpenter from Nazareth, attract so readily and powerfully Simon, James, and Andrew so quickly? Was it intrigue? Was it the desire for change? Boredom? No, it was “through Him, and with Him, and in Him… in the unity” from the Communion Rite and power of the Holy Spirit that their hearts were opened.
The Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization: it is He who impels each individual to proclaim the Gospel, and it is He who in the depths of consciences causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood. —PAUL VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 75
Jesus forges the path for every evangelizer after Him, and it is this: in order to move in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must first be willing to be led by the Spirit. And this means being led, not only to green pastures, but through the valley of the shadow of death: the desert. The desert is symbolic of the trials, temptations, and daily struggles that, if we are docile to God’s will in them, purifies our faith and empties us of self so we can be filled more and more with the power of the Spirit.
Isn’t Hannah, in the first reading, a beautiful example of the desert that we all go through in one form or another? She is a precious soul, loved so deeply by her husband. But she cannot conceive a child, even though she is faithful to the Lord. As a result, she is picked on by others. Does it seem that sometimes God has forgotten you? That He’s picking on you? That He is blessing the wicked while you meet one trial after another? Brother, this is the Spirit leading you into the desert; sister, this is the purification and testing of your faith that empties you of self so as to be empowered by the Spirit, “for power is made perfect in weakness.”
Today’s Psalm says:
Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.
God is not a sadist. He does not enjoy seeing us suffer any more than a dad likes disciplining his children. But what is precious to the Lord is seeing His children die to self: to selfishness, pride, hatred, envy, gluttony, etc. It is precious to the Lord because He sees us then becoming who He created us to be; it is precious because He never leaves us empty and naked, but clothes us with humility, patience, gentleness, meekness, joy, love… the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Hannah eventually bore a son late in life. Why couldn’t she have a big family like everyone else? This remains a mystery, just as many of our sufferings will remain a mystery. But her son Samuel became the bridge that led to the kingship of David, which was the precursor to Christ’s eternal reign. Likewise, Jesus did not make disciples of the whole world. But His trials in the desert laid the foundation for choosing twelve men who eventually shook the entire world. And that, of course, did not begin until the Apostles themselves had passed through the desert of the upper room.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered… he emptied himself… becoming obedient to death… Because of this, God greatly exalted him. (Heb 5:8; Phil 2:7-9)
So do not judge the desert. Let the Spirit lead you. The response is not “Why Lord?” but “Yes, Lord.” And then, like Jesus and Hannah in their deserts, pray, rebuke Satan’s temptations, remain faithful, and wait for the Holy Spirit to change weakness to strength, sterility to spiritual fertility, the desert into an oasis.
…we exhort all evangelizers, whoever they may be, to pray without ceasing to the Holy Spirit with faith and fervor and to let themselves prudently be guided by Him as the decisive inspirer of their plans, their initiatives and their evangelizing activity. —PAUL VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 75
The great and firm foundation of the spiritual life is the offering of ourselves to God and being subject to His will in all things…. God truly helps us however much we may feel we have lost His support. —Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
- A series on the Holy Spirit, the Charismatic Renewal, and coming “new Pentecost”: Charismatic?
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