Posted by: frroberts | September 27, 2017

Pentecost and Eucharistic Graces

Monsignor Charles Pope gives us a challenging observation to ponder today: “Many Catholics expect more to change in them when they take a Tylenol than when they receive Holy Communion.”

In hearing this statement, it is very easy for us to become defensive. It is easy to become defensive because the statement is demonstrably true. The Last Supper gives ample evidence as to how the statement is empirically verifiable in the life of Church. All Twelve of the Apostles received the Body and Blood of Christ on that fateful evening. Judging by the results, they did not do a great job in allowing the graces of that first Eucharist to change them.

Judas left the first Mass early in order to complete his act of betrayal of our Lord. He was the first follower of Jesus, but definitely not the last, to leave Mass right after communion. The Last Supper had run a bit long and Judas had more important things on his schedule.

Peter, James and John slumbered rather than keeping watch with our Lord as His soul was so troubled that He sweat blood. Of those three closest to the Lord, Peter, the one who Jesus had chosen as the first Pope, denied that he even knew his Master three times when questioned. The rest of the Apostles fled.

The good news is that, with the exception of Judas, we are in good company if we struggle to be open to the grace offered us in the Eucharist. Despite a very lackluster start, Eleven of the Twelve ended up getting it together. They learned that God only asks that we have the humility to admit our mistakes and let Him pick us up after we fall.  Our denials, our stubborn evasions of admitting that our sins are in fact sins can be one of the most significant barriers to this humility. The only way for us to become saints is to come to the realization that each one of us is a sinner who is loved by God.  Both parts of this sentence go together. If we want God’s love without confessing our sinfulness we won’t get it because God loves us as we are, not the make-believe self images we create in which we are nearly sinless.  At the same time, if we find pleasure in wallowing in our sinfulness without being aware of God’s passionately intense love for us, we are missing out on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That is exactly what Peter, James, John and the rest of the Apostles had to do. After three years of being with Jesus twenty-four seven, they turned their backs on Him when things got difficult. After three years of styling themselves to be courageous leaders in Jesus’ Messianic movement, they acted like spineless cowards. In the language of a Twelve-step program, they hit bottom on Good Friday.  The Eleven recognized the seriousness of their sins and trusted in God’s love, which is always merciful and patient for those that seek it.

Fast forward from Good Friday to Pentecost. It is apparent that a lot has changed for the Apostles.  Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven. Despite these events, the Apostles remain huddled in the Cenacle praying rather than going out and proclaiming the Resurrection. Only when they were clothed with power from on high, only when they were bathed in the Holy Spirit, could they proclaim that Jesus is Lord.

Too often our experience as Catholics is pre-Pentecostal. We are huddled up praying, practicing our private spirituality and we put up barriers to the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.

What does the Holy Spirit working in us look like?

The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, gives us a list of the fruits of the Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, humility, fidelity, modesty, self-control and chastity.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit should grow up naturally in the soul of every Christian. The Holy Spirit plants the seed, waters it and gives the growth.  Unfortunately, our experience is not that the fruits: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, humility, fidelity, modesty, self-control and chastity just sprout up in our lives like produce does in a garden. Why not?

In my mother’s garden in Logansport, there are several reasons why what is planted and watered might not make it to the dinner table. Weeds and pests are one. The deer who come into the garden for a snack are another. Since gardening is important to my mother, she takes the time to ensure that her plants bear fruit. This involves spraying and weeding  her garden regularly as well as keeping on my father’s case so that he makes sure that the fence around the garden is secured with enough barbed wire so that the deer are not able to jump into it.

How often do we stop and take time to protect the work of the Holy Spirit in the garden of our souls? Could we identity those things in our lives that threaten to destroy the fruits of the Spirit? What steps have we taken to make sure that these spiritual weeds, pests and deer are unable to ruin them?

The Holy Spirit plants the seed, provides the rain and gives the growth, but He has entrusted the rest of the keeping of the garden to our free will. He will help us in this task if we ask Him, but He cannot do so without our cooperation. If we decide to ignore the garden, it will become wild and overgrown, full of pests and weeds. The deer won’t even bother with it, because its fruit will be so poor.

In a garden, each plant grows differently and requires special care. It would be foolish to treat corn like tomatoes or beans like cucumbers. To be a good gardener, we have to know the proper care of each particular plant. The same is true with the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We have to take time to understand how to tend them properly. We need to get to know what our faith tells about how to cultivate charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, humility, fidelity, modesty, self-control and chastity. There will be some surprises. We may find that we have some serious work to do to make the garden of our soul suitable to bear fruit in abundance.

Pentecost reminds us that our faith is not just about personal spiritually. If our faith doesn’t transform our attitudes and actions in a radical way, we are missing the point of our Catholic faith. If we come to Holy Communion and don’t expect God’s grace to do marvelous things for us and through us, we are missing the point of our Catholic faith. If we are not bringing forth the fruits of the Holy Spirit abundantly in the garden of our souls, we are missing the point of our Catholic faith.

On this feast God is inviting us to live our faith more fully and generously. We have been given everything we need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.  Practically speaking, we should do something like the following in order to be open to these graces:  Make a list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and put it on the mirror in the bathroom. Look at the list when brushing our teeth and grooming in the mornings and evenings.  When receiving Holy Communion, ask God to make us aware of the weeds, pests and deer in our lives that threaten these fruits.  Make the decision to take time to protect the garden of our souls from these threats.    If we do these things, we just might begin to expect God’s grace to change us when we receive the Eucharist.  And it will!

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