+ Today we are in the beginning stages of commemorating the first "novena" that was quite actually instituted by Jesus himself. Just before his Ascension into heaven (which we celebrated three days ago on Thursday) Jesus gives the Apostles the jurisdiction "to act in his name" – the "spiritual legal right" to bring the gospel all over the world, but he withheld the special power to do it effectively for the time being. He said virtually: "Go, but first wait!"
Wait for the gift that my Father and I promise to send you soon! Wait for it, gathered together! Wait for it, patiently! Wait for it, prayerfully!
And so, the Apostles and Mary, and perhaps some others went to "the Upper Room" where Jesus had celebrated his Last Supper, the First Mass - with these same Apostles - and they waited and they prayed and they were very hopeful – for they knew that God always keeps his promises! They had no idea how long this "waiting/praying" time would be –but they were committed to the task! In the end, they waited for nine complete days! (novem dies , in Latin– which is where we get the term "novena"). And then on the tenth day: the day of Pentecost, the promised Gift arrived and it was truly spectacular and amazing: but more details on that will follow next Sunday when we will celebrate Pentecost.
What is necessary for us to do, this day and all the days of the coming week is to live more patiently, more prayerfully than we might ordinarily do, more expectantly, more hopefully – waiting for God to fill us this year with gifts of the Spirit that might be even unexpected or unplanned. Everything changed forever for the Apostles and the first group of thousands of recipients of God's amazing grace. Maybe he has an amazing gift for us, individually and as a group – as a new parish - this year!
As Christians we ought to be always in a patient and expectant mode anyway – for we are living in what the scriptures call: the end times! In the first reading we read that the giver of the revelation of the last book of Scripture says: Yes, I am coming soon! And the Spirit and the Bride (that is us, the Church) says: Come! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! One day – he will come – and it will be wonderful for the faithful – and terrifying for the deliberate and unrelenting unbelievers!
While we wait, we must be willing, like St. Stephen of the first reading today, to witness completely to the realness and trueness of all of this – even by giving our lives if necessary! This however need not mean physical death – but rather a decisive, faith-filled, rational witness daily to core Christian values in the face of the world – which for the most part has left God quite literally in the dust of pseudo intellectualism and heartless philanthropy – and which will oppose us and our ideals and standards every inch of the way!
In quiet, in patience, and in prayer – we await you, coming Spirit of God: we await your strength, your courage, your gifts! Mold and fashion us as you will!