Before Jesus left his disciples, he told them he would not leave them comfortless, but would send a Comforter, the Holy Spirit (John 14:18, 26). The Greek word that’s translated “Comforter” in the King James Version is also translated as Counselor, Helper, Companion, Friend, Advocate, Helper in Court. The Amplified Bible adds Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby. The word is “Paraclete” and means literally “one who comes alongside to help.” Amazingly, Jesus said to his disciples that it was better for their sakes that he himself leave them, so he could send the Holy Spirit.
So here’s my confession. This verse is telling me I have a constant companion who is looking out for me, who “has my back” in all situations. With such a great Comforter and Advocate (and I am reminded of this every year in the Scriptures before Pentecost), you would think that the Paraclete would be the first place I turn when I’m in distress. I don’t. I try to figure everything out on my own. If that doesn’t work, I go to friends. I might ask them to pray for me, but then try to Google the answer. All the while, the Source of Comfort is right in front of me, waiting for me to ask. I’m a slow learner, but this year, Jesus, help me to learn!
from the Greek Pentekostos or Fiftieth Day
It was an amazing display of God’s creative power: wind, fire, and a musical cacophony of many languages. But it was so much more than an event, an anomaly to be discussed, misunderstood, and sometimes discredited, by the gathering crowd of pilgrim Jews. Thousands were in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Shavuot, which honors spring harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Peter, often first to seize the moment, raised his voice and addressed the crowd. He quoted the prophet Joel, who some 850 years prior, described the coming of this day: And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days. It was an important and necessary component to the fulfillment of Jesus’ death and resurrection. God united Christian followers then and forever by sending the Holy Spirit to fill their hearts. A foundation was laid for His church; indeed, some refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the church, where all find equal access to the gifts of the spirit and all that His love offers.
When the Day of Pentecost had come, they (the chosen disciples and Mary, the Mother of Jesus) were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Acts 2:2-4
Pentecost at the Community of Jesus
From the Prayers of St. Pachomius:
O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who are everywhere present and filla all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.
Pachomius was a soldier in the Egyptian army in the 3rd century when he first heard the call of Christ. He was inspired by Christians who voluntarily visited the soldiers and daily brought them food. Upon discharge from the army he was baptized and went to live an ascetic life in the desert. He soon turned to communal life with other monks and established the first organized structure for monastic communal living as we recognize it today. He also wrote the first monastic rule that is still in use in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and at his death in 346 he was abbot-general over 11 monasteries with 7,000 monks.
“As to the soul, we must develop her power by faith and knowledge” — attributed to St. Matthias by Clement of Alexandria
In the nine days of waiting between Jesus’s ascension and the day of Pentecost, the disciples remained together in prayer. During this time, Peter reminded them that the death of Judas had left the fellowship of the Twelve with a vacancy. Two men were nominated, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. After prayer, the disciples cast lots, and Matthias was chosen to join them. And with that, Matthias disappears from recorded history.
Clement of Alexandria, however, included several sayings of St. Matthias in his writings, and Abbot Gueranger, OSB comments on these in The Liturgical Year.
We must subject the body to the spirit in order to be restored to the image and likeness of God unto which we were created. But the soul has inclinations towards evil…what is to be her protection? Faith and knowledge. Faith humbles her, and then exalts and rewards her; and the reward is knowledge. — The Liturgical Year, Abbot Gueranger O.S.B., adapted
St. Matthias, Cloister Saint — Community of Jesus
On this Feast, our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven; let our hearts ascend with him. Listen to the words of the Apostle: “If you have risen with Christ, set your hearts on the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God; seek the things that are above, not the things that are on earth.”
— St. Augustine from a Sermon for the Lord’s Ascension
We are commemorating the day on which our human nature was carried up in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. Today we have been made possessors of paradise, having gained more through Christ’s unspeakable grace than we had lost through the devil’s malice. Our enemy drove us out of the bliss of first abode, but the Son of God has placed us at the right hand of the Father, with who he lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
— Adapted from a sermon on the Ascension of Leo the Great (c.400-461)
My father has been gone for quite a while now, but I’m still learning things about him.
While I was growing up, I remember him as having quite a temper, and I’ve often wondered how he mellowed so as he aged. Recently, I was going through one of his Bibles, and a typed prayer, that had been sent to him from a friend, fell out.
It said, “Lord, You know how I am angry and hurt over what this person has done to me. I would like to make them suffer the way they have made me suffer. But I can’t be close to You and hold this anger at the same time and I want to be close to You more than I want to get even. I know You are always having to forgive me for how I wrong You and others around me, so I confess my pride to You, my haughtiness, and in Your Name and with Your Power, I forgive this person. I believe that You love them as much as You love me. Into Your hands I release them and the consequences of whatever they have done. Help me to continue to release them each time that I think about them. I desire Your peace and healing within my heart. In Your Name I ask this. Amen.”
The note went on to say, “Is it enough to pray this once, or twice, or seven times? Probably not. But you can be assured that before you have ever reached the 490th time (which is ‘seventy times seven’), you will be changed; you will be free of the anger; and you will see this person in a very different way. Hope this helps.”
What a gift to come upon such a powerful prayer. I have to think he must have prayed it often, for he was a changed person.
Who is the good shepherd? Do I believe in him? Do I trust him? My fears and worries belie my ambitions — every day I do not do as I want and I do what I do not want to do! But do my feeble ways change the Good Shepherd? Does my inability to hold my temper, to always forgive from my heart, to be generous to all who cross my path, change anything about the promises of God?
G.K. Chesterton once wrote:“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” The scriptures state plainly that with God nothing is impossible. If we have faith, impossibilities are possible. Yet how many times each day do I not even give God a chance? Instead of looking to the Good Shepherd for guidance, I allow little nagging thoughts to guide me:
-here we go again, this person drives me crazy, I should avoid him…
-this situation makes me nervous, maybe God doesn’t want me in it…
-I’ll never change that habit, I’ve been stuck with it for years — it must not be possible…
These little fledgling un-beliefs lay the ground work for a mindset that doesn’t truly trust the Good Shepherd. It may acknowledge the Good Shepherd, but is not comfortable in letting him have free rein. Perhaps like me, we all need to be trained into a deeper trust of our true shepherd so new habits of faith can grow. Through this faith our appetites for wanting can be quenched when we allow Jesus to be our Shepherd.
We celebrate these two apostles together on the same day because their relics were brought together from the Holy Land to Rome in the 6th century.
We have just a few references to these apostles in the scriptures. James is often referred to as James the Less in order to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee, and from James “The brother of the Lord,” or perhaps to indicate youth or lack of stature. He is believed to be the first bishop of Jerusalem, and early church historians state that he drank no wine, wore no sandals, was celibate and prostrated so often in prayer that his knees hardened up ‘like a camel’s hoof!’ He died as a martyr in Jerusalem in 62 AD.
Philip had a “go-getter,” zealous type of personality. One of the first chosen disciples, he obeyed immediately when Christ found him and said, “Follow me.” Philip then found his friend Nathanael, and told him that he was sure that Jesus was the One that Moses had written about in the Old Testament. Nathanael replied famously “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and Philip simply responded “Come and see!” Philip also had the gift of saying out-loud the things that were in everyone’s mind. He questioned Jesus about how he was going to feed the 5000 with no money to buy food, and at the Last Supper, in his fervor, he asked Jesus to show them the Father.
O God, who gladden us each year with the feast day of the Apostles Philip and James, grant us, through their prayers, a share in the Passion and Resurrection of your Only Begotten Son, so that we may merit to behold you for eternity.
St. Athanasius lived in the fourth century (297 – 373), just a few hundred years after Christ. Christian faith was a part of Athanasius’ life from a very young age. Rufinus (who later became Bishop of Alexandria) relates that he saw two boys ‘playing baptism’ on the beach. One was Athanasius. Rufinus encouraged the two youngsters towards the priesthood.
Athanasius may be best known for his steadfast belief in the doctrine of the Trinity and his extensive biography of St. Antony of Egypt, who died just forty years before Athanasius was born. Athanasius and Antony both believed that to love Christ meant to resist the devil and wage spiritual warfare. Athanasius definitely had his share of spiritual battles as he waged war against the Arian heresies for many years.
Athanasius also wrote letters to the other bishops of the time, listing the books of the Bible that should be considered part of Scripture. That list has become the New Testament that we all use today. His Old Testament list of books is identical to that used by most Protestants.
This antiphon from the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) for the feast of St. Athanasius can be an inspiration. “The law of his God is within his heart, alleluia, alleluia. And his footsteps will not be moved.”
I’m convinced that the most difficult question one can be asked is, “How are you?”
“Who me? How am I?” I freeze. I mind-stumble over words and can’t speak. I ponder—perplexed and suspicious of an ulterior motive. Why? I have no idea. I mentally sub-divide this one question into three of my own: Do I lie? Do I care? Do I even know? Moment of truth: the one with an ulterior motive is me — my aim is to please the asker. Should I be fine? Have a problem? Or maybe they’d be relieved with a simple “okay.” They do, after all, need to move on with life.
The situation escalates in importance. I search for truth like a bloodhound who knows he buried a raw-hide bone somewhere. Sounds crazy, I know, but this is my process. I’m caught in a self-made trap of how I wish to be perceived (generous, earnest, grateful, serene). I want to at least portray a person who’s really trying. Finally, I reach out in sympathy to the caring person who asked. I speak. “How are you?” I ask.