May 15, 2016
One of my early memories…or possibly best learned and most used lessons from my early elementary years in Catholic school, was how very important Pentecost is. If the Holy Spirit had not rained down from heaven…well…possibly the easiest thing to do is use Jesus’s image: We would be left orphaned. We would be on our own…left to our own devices…street children, the target of every kind of evil. But the Holy Spirit did come, just as Jesus promised.
Bishop Ken Untener must have enjoyed the same “take-away” from his years in Catholic schools, because Pentecost truly was very important to him. In a conversation at the outset of my first assignment as a pastor, Ken asked if I had ever heard of the ancient tradition of Pentecost Novena…nine days of prayer in preparation for the Feast. Actually, I had not. He talked briefly about it, and, true to his gentle style, did not direct, order, or command, but rather, “wondered” if it would be a good thing to call an entire parish to prayer for nine days prior to Pentecost. So I did that.
As often happens in parish life, the first year was met with lukewarm response. But the word did spread, and, by the end of the nine days, there was a very healthy group of people praying for the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
The second year, the church was close to capacity almost every single evening. Looking back, I think that people came to appreciate that this is truly a very special time of year…an especially holy time. I think they came to that realization because during those nine days, they were on “watch.” They were searching for signs that the Spirit was among them. They were not disappointed, and neither was I.
Many extraordinary things happened that very well may have happened anyway…but, because we were on “watch,” we were better able to appreciate that these mysterious happenings were of and from the Holy Spirit.
I often share the memory of a dear little lady who lived just on the outskirts of the small town in the Thumb parish, where we prayed the Pentecost Novena. She was the primary caregiver for her husband, who was confined to a hospital bed set up in the living room of their home. She was a devout Catholic and made special arrangements both the first and second year to have someone care for her husband, while someone else drove her to church for the prayer.
On the ninth evening, we celebrated the Anointing of the Sick as part of the Novena. She stepped forward to be anointed. As her daughter drove her home, she noticed that her mother was holding her hands out in a peculiar way, but didn’t think to ask why. When they got home, the lady walked immediately over to her husband’s bed, caressed his face with her hands, and “anointed” him with the Oil of the Sick that had remained glistening on her palms.
After saying a brief prayer over him, she said to her daughter: “I’m really tired and I’m going to bed. Before you leave, would you please find my red sweater and lay it out for me. I want to wear red to church on Pentecost Sunday.”
Sometime during that night, The Holy Spirit guided her out of time and into eternity. When the little town gathered for her funeral Mass, after placing the pall on the casket, we dressed her earthly body in her red sweater, as a symbol of her spiritual life.
Every year, I think about that dear little lady …and how the Holy Spirit honored her…for the way in which she honored the Spirit.
Another thing Bishop Untener taught me is that: “It is never too late!” While it’s true that we can’t pray a Novena to PREPARE for Pentecost, it’s never too late to honor the Spirit with nine days of prayer…asking for the gifts and the fruits which the Spirit is so eager to give.
I wonder…if you say the prayer that follows, and if you “keep watch,”… will you see some special…extraordinary…holy things…and understand from where they came?
Grant me wisdom to know what is good and true;
Understanding to embrace your plan of salvation;
Right judgment to act according to your will;
Courage to share my faith in Jesus Christ with others; knowledge to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ; reverence to respond faithfully to your grace each day of my life; wonder and awe in your presence to enjoy your abiding love now and for all
eternity in heaven.
Inspire me with enthusiasm for my Catholic faith,
Grant me boldness to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ,
and guide me in transforming my world through
the Divine power of the Gospel!
I make this prayer through Jesus Christ, my Redeemer, Savior and Lord.
(Contact Paulist National Evangelization Association for the complete Novena)