The season of the Resurrection of the Lord is 50 days, and in these fifty days, the Scriptures for Sunday Mass (and daily Mass, during the Easter Octave) not only present to us the appearance of the Risen Lord to the apostles, disciples, and others, but the readings also include accounts from the Acts of the Apostles after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them, in which their lives were transformed , so that they courageously carried the “Good News” of Jesus Christ out to the world. We find these accounts, at times, speaking of the Holy Spirit (e.g., Jesus to the Apostles in John 20: “Receive the Holy Spirit”; St. Peter in Acts 11: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us in the beginning, and I remembered the Word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water but you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit.’ “
In his second book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Pope Emeritus Benedict makes numerous references to the Holy Spirit, among which is “It is faith that gives us the ultimate certainty upon which we base our whole lives – a humble commonality of belief in company with the Church of every age under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” Thus, in this time of the year there are many visible, pastoral and Scriptural reminders of the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, especially now as we move closer to the celebration of the Descent of the Holy Spirit – Pentecost Sunday, which is called the “Birthday of the Church.” The liturgical color of the Holy Spirit is red, coming from the tongues of fire which descended upon the Apostles and the Blessed Mother in the upper room (Acts 2). The color red is visible in many areas of southern California the present time with the flowers in bloom everywhere. The presence of the Holy Spirit is also very evident during the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation in so many parish communities around the country. Pictured here are photos from St. Joseph in Santa Ana, and more recently, St. Anthony Claret in Anaheim.
Thank you to our young people for their witness of Faith in saying yes to the Holy Spirit in their lives, and in the dedication and ministry of all involved in preparation for Confirmation: our parish priests, Confirmation catechists, sponsors, parents, and so many others. “COME HOLY SPIRIT AND FILL OUR HEARTS WITH THE FIRE OF YOUR LOVE”
When one takes a tour under St. Peter’s Basilica, in the area called the “Vatican Grottos” one will find many chapels dedicated to different saints and countries (Mexico, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Ireland, etc.) It was the enlargement of these grottos years ago that resulted in the discovery of the long known of, but hidden, cemetery on the Vatican Hill where the tomb of St. Peter would eventually be discovered.
Before we left Rome, Fr. Binh and I celebrated Mass in the Chapel of St. Columban. This would be the chapel dedicated to the Church in Ireland. This chapel, along with the others, were restored and renovated for proper liturgical celebration during the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II. There is a mosaic of St. Columban and some of his monks, and a Latin expression which translated says “If you take away liberty, you take away dignity.”
As I was celebrating Mass, I could not help but reflect on these words and how they reflect the current challenges for the Church in many parts of the world to freely live, and proclaim the Gospel. These struggles have occurred in every age and time of Faith. Many of these struggles have given us (and still give) the heroic witness of Saints and Martyrs, who refused to deny or compromise their Faith.
The current challenge of restrictions upon religious freedom could not have better been expressed earlier this Spring by a heroic group of women religious, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are known for their care for the poor, and especially the elderly. In their testimony during the comment period of the HHS Mandate, the Sisters said “Because the Little Sisters of the Poor cannot in conscience directly provide or collaborate in the provision of services that conflict with Church teaching, we find ourselves in the irreconcilable situation of being forced to either stop serving and employing people of all faiths in our ministry – so that we will fall under the narrow exemption – or to stop providing health care coverage to our employees…Either path threatens to end our service to the elderly in America. The Little Sisters are fervently praying that this issue will be resolved before we are forced to take concrete action in response to this unjust mandate (Catholic News Service, March 8).
The words of these Women Religious clearly spell out the current struggle and concerns about religious freedom here in the United States. The modification of the definition of a religious institution, that has been so problematic, has been noted by the Catholic Health Association and others. At the same time, the working out in practical terms of what are termed “accommodations” for hospitals and universities is the challenge of the current moment. As we continue to pray and work together on this issue, we remember the words in St. Columban’s Chapel under St. Peter’s Basilica, “If you take away liberty, you take away dignity.”