The lilies had long died as the daily Gospel readings were preparing us for the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. On Monday before Ascension, we were still singing “At the Lamb’s High Feast” and various “Alleluia” hymns at the 7 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
The Communion hymn seemed to help transport me to Divine Mercy Sunday, the second Sunday of Easter. I could smell the lilies again at St. Dominic’s Monastery in Linden, Virginia, where I attended Mass that Sunday.
Part of the mystery of the cloistered life is how present the nuns seem to the reality of Christ’s presence in the world, and if you’ve ever been around them, he can draw us closer to him through the witness of their life of prayer.
The “Alleluia” recessional had us singing, “This is the feast of the victory of our God. Alleluia! Alleluia!” “Alleluia” is “the hymn of all creation.”
Back at St. Patrick’s, as the morning commute was getting into high stream outside, this was what we sang:
Let the holy anthem rise,
And the choirs of heaven chant it
In the temple of the skies;
Let the mountains skip with gladness
And the joyful valleys ring,
With hosannas in the highest
To our Savior and our King!
In the variety of “Alleluia” hymns there includes lyrics that should be revolutionary cries for the lives of freedom that are authentically ours as Christians:
Now the iron bars are broken,
Christ from death to life is born,
glorious life, and life immortal,
on the holy Easter morn.
Christ has triumphed, and we conquer
by His mighty enterprise;
we with Him to life eternal
by His resurrection rise.
And, from “The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done”:
Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee,
from death’s dread sting thy servants free,
that we may live and sing to thee.
Here we were weeks into Easter on a Monday morning doing what we were born to do: sing of the good news of Christ’s victory over sin and death.
And yet, on Saturday night I found myself in a suburban church where the celebrant began his homily pointing out that it was the sixth Sunday in Easter, asking how many Sundays there are in the Easter season.
Even taking into account those in the congregation opposed to interactive homilies and the painfully shy, the inability for someone to even hazard a fallback biblical number seven exposed something we’d already admit to if we were being honest: We do not typically live as Easter people. We don’t overwhelm people with our alleluias in the way we live our lives.
This is where Pope Francis would be such a gift to the Church if we’d let him teach us more about Jesus as he is begging and pleading to.
In his much-overlooked apostolic exhortation on holiness, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and be Glad”), he tells us about opening our whole lives up to God. He writes:
“Do not be dismayed, for the power of the Holy Spirit enables you to do this, and holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life. When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: ‘Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better.’ In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness. The Lord has bestowed on the Church the gifts of scripture, the sacraments, holy places, living communities, the witness of the saints and a multifaceted beauty that proceeds from God’s love, ‘like a bride bedecked with jewels’ ”(Isaiah 61:10).
What if people looked at us and saw this? That we are sinners who want to be saints? That our lives speak to that? That our lives are love songs to him? The mountains skipping with gladness is some unmistakable testimony to joy and gratitude.
What is it in our lives that would convey something of the same? Our lives haven’t just changed, our eternal lives have. And yet in the way we’re living our lives, was Easter just another passing Sunday of another year and the season practically lost on us?
We spend a lot of time in the Church these days debating Pope Francis. How about embracing Easter? Maybe after 50 days, Pentecost can help. If we surrender and trust.
Notice that Pope Francis issued that uber-practical document on holiness this year on the feast of the Annunciation — that is, the feast of Mary’s momentous “yes” to the Holy Spirit. He reminds us of our power and responsibility as Christians.
He has a section in it where he focuses on how small gestures can express such love in your life and the lives of others. We don’t realize some days how many times we turn away from God. An Easter people must work to reverse the trend. And so he gives a little example — something that makes what seems insurmountable doable:
“A woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbor and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: ‘No, I will not speak badly of anyone.’ This is a step forward in holiness. Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness. Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness. Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.”
This year, by instituting the new feast of Mary, Mother of the Church, on Pentecost Monday, Pope Francis is trying to get us to take the Upper Room seriously. At that aforementioned sixth Easter Monday morning Mass, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan was the main celebrant and said, essentially:
The apostles had the greatest teacher who ever was and will be. And yet we know what a struggle it was for them to fully realize who Jesus was and what was happening before their eyes. But one thing they did know after Easter was: They had better get praying. Mary, mother of the Church, joined them there. And thanks be to God for that.
So what are we to learn from this? What are we to imitate? Worried about the world? Worried about the Church? Worried about your family and your friends and a whole host of things, many of them overwhelming you? Get praying!
The Holy Father knows just as so many of us have let seven weeks of Easter come and go, we could miss Pentecost, too! Come to the Upper Room and stay there!
In 1997, during one of his Wednesday audiences, St. Pope John Paul II talked about Mary’s role at Pentecost in a particular way:
“Mary’s prayer has particular significance in the Christian community: it fosters the coming of the Spirit, imploring his action in the hearts of the disciples and in the world. Just as in the Incarnation the Spirit had formed the physical body of Christ in her virginal womb, now in the Upper Room the same Spirit comes down to give life to the Mystical Body.
“Thus Pentecost is also a fruit of the Blessed Virgin’s incessant prayer, which is accepted by the Paraclete with special favor because it is an expression of her motherly love for the Lord’s disciples.
“In contemplating Mary’s powerful intercession as she waits for the Holy Spirit, Christians of every age have frequently had recourse to her intercession on the long and tiring journey to salvation, in order to receive the gifts of the Paraclete in greater abundance.”
Pope Benedict, too, in 2010 talked about how “there is no Church without Pentecost” and “no Pentecost without the Virgin Mary.” He explained how without the “effusion” of the Holy Spirit on the Church, “it would exhaust its forces, like a sailboat lacking wind.”
Mary’s powerful role as intercessor did not begin or end in the Upper Room as a moment in history. If we take this great gift of a new feast seriously, we may just find ourselves imploring hearts of disciples today and the world right alongside her.
Incessant prayer. That’s what the world needs from us. Starting one Monday at a time. Even if you missed Easter. Now is the time. Mary, mother of the Church, pray for us.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a contributing editor of Angelus and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.
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