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Transcription of Homily
Detail from Dutch Manuscript
Translation of the Holy Gospel according to St. John:
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, when the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me. And you shall give testimony, because you are with me from the beginning. These things have I spoken to you, that you may not be scandalized. They will put you out of the synagogues: yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth a service to God. And these things will they do to you; because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things I have told you, that when the hour shall come, you may remember that I told you.
The saving words of the Gospel.
When the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We are left in a rather uncomfortable predicament. Our Lord has ascended into heaven. The Apostles had grown accustomed to having Him. They lost Him for a couple of days in the Passion, and then He comes back to them. He appears to them almost on a regular basis, and then He leaves them once again, with a promise. I can imagine there was some grieving, there was some sorrow, there was confusion. They’re rejected by the Synagogue. They’re rejected in society and now it seems almost that Our Lord has rejected them; He has left. No longer do they see His sacred humanity. And I can imagine this was a sorrowful time.
It is nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost. This is the first novena. This is where the whole tradition of a novena comes from, the idea of praying for something for nine days. Our Lord told the Disciples, ‘Go to Jerusalem and stay there; await the coming of the Holy Spirit.’ And so we’re in this period of trustful, waiting. Why did our Lord ascend?
Imagine they had probably grown accustomed to having Him, and nonetheless, whatever words He said to them were gold. They could go to Him for counsel. When they had questions, doctrinal or spiritual, whatever the nature of the question was they could ask Him and get a ready answer. Sometimes perhaps in parables, but get an answer nonetheless. And He would be there, He’d walk over there, and now He’s over in this place, and He’s moving about on Earth just like one of us. And then He’s gone.
And we have this introit from Psalm 26. My heart had said of the I have sought thy face. Thy face oh Lord, I will seek. Turn not away thy face from me. And so there’s this longing to see Him and He’s gone.
A longing means desire; means that the wanted good is not present. That’s the whole nature of desire, that what I deem good, I don’t possess. And so our Lord has instilled this longing in us. He’s instilled this desire in us and this is therapeutic. Think of how people try to satisfy that longing in so many different ways, with something that is less than Christ. How many people have submitted themselves to addictions whether of substance or something that somebody sees, like videos, or news, or blogs, these things they satisfy the passions. There’s a certain mechanism in these things that piques our passions. It could be curiosity, it could be lust, it could be some form of sensuality, it could be anger; especially when we think of blogs and news it could be anger.
Notice how there’s a sort of a demonic inversion in which our intellect and our will end up serving the passions, which is not the way our Lord set us up. Our passions are there. We have passions of concupiscence. We have passions of anger. But they’re morally neutral. They’re not our enemies. We don’t demonize our passions, but also not our gods. Unfettered, those passions will demand totality. And therefore, that’s what an addiction is. It’s a fault. It’s a form of false worship.
On the other hand, faith, hope, and charity also demand totality. The moment we condition our faith, it’s no longer supernatural. If I believe everything the Church teaches except for one tenant of the Church, I don’t have supernatural faith. The rest is just some sort of intellectual assent. I’ve come to an agreement. I’ve accepted that because of for whatever reason, you make sense or culturally I always thought that but I no longer have theological virtue. It goes further: If I accept everything that the Church teaches, but just because it makes sense. In other words, there’s a primacy of the intellect there. It’s no longer theological virtue because, ultimately, I am the final arbiter. I’m the one who’s deciding what is acceptable. So I’ve put myself above the doctrine, I’ve put myself above the Church, and I’ve made myself the arbiter.
So there is a primacy of will in all of this. What does that mean? That if I know what the Church teaches, I accept it with my will, but then, with my intellect, I tried to understand. This is what St. Hillary calls faith seeking understanding. So there’s nothing irrational about the content of faith, rather it’s meta rational; there’s something that’s beyond my abilities. If you understand the Trinity, explain it to me please because I don’t. St. Augustine wrote in his De Trinitate, you know, an 800-page treatise on the Trinity. And at the end, said, ‘Well, actually, you cannot give an explanation.’ Well, I could have saved myself 800 pages to get to that. But it’s, you know, it’s certainly worthwhile reading. Why? Because he, in a brilliant way, is exposing what is humanly capable, in a brilliant way of explaining this ineffable mystery, the same with the incarnation, the hypostatic, union. These are things that go beyond our reason. But they don’t go against it. Therefore, there has to be a primacy of the will. So I accept the content of the doctrine, and then I do my best to study, to pray, to understand, to immerse myself in it in this whole atmosphere of not seeing Christ, of longing for Him, of having this longing in my heart. And if I don’t have this longing for Him, I should ask for it. When God the Father spoke to St. Catherine of Siena, He said ‘You’re fasting and your penances are pleasing to Me finitely. Your longing for My Son is infinitely pleasing to Me.’
So notice the dynamics of that: When we are in a state of grace, with our smallness, with our littleness, with our brokenness, we latch on to Divine Charity dwelling within us, and we join our imperfect little love to this perfect Divine Love. He becomes the protagonist working through us. And so that’s why these virtues are called theological. Faith, hope, and charity are called theological because they have God as one of the actors, but not without our consent. And when we partition it, when we parse it, when we say, “Yeah, but..” it ceases to be theological. That’s when He checks out. And we’ve made it just a human endeavor and it’s not salvific, it’s not sanctifying. So what do we do?
We’re in a similar situation of these Apostles, or are we? No, because the Holy Spirit has come. With the Holy Spirit, who makes of us living temples, He becomes the actor. He’s the one who makes all of these superhuman things such as faith, hope, and charity possible. It is super-human. These are theological actions. And so we’re not set up for failure. It may have seen so in that novena, those nine days of longing for the Holy Spirit, and might have seemed like a hopeless situation. And nonetheless, what happened? Our Lord, who is the Truth, sends them the Spirit of Truth because He said He would and we know whatever He says is so.
Imagine all of the joy, the Easter joy, that our Disciples, the Blessed Mother, they all experienced and, all of a sudden, they’ve got this desert period, much like when the Jews left the slavery of Egypt. They didn’t go right into the Promised Land. They went to this desert experience.
When somebody is enslaved to whatever addiction they may have, confess your sins. You say, “I’m not going to do that anymore.” It’s not immediately 72 and sunny. Okay, there is a withdrawal. There’s a desert experience. There’s a suffering, and this is all therapeutic. Why? Because the things that we enslaved ourselves to are clamoring for attention. And our task is to simply allow our passions, allow our intellect, our affections, all of these things to be oriented towards the heart of our Savior. And so even our passions, they end up serving our Lord’s purposes because they remind us that, actually, they’re at the service of the truth. They’re at the service of our intellect, of our will, in God’s project. And so we don’t pretend they’re not there. We don’t squash them. We don’t demonize them. We don’t divinize them. We put them in the proper place, channel them towards our Lord. And so, this is only possible with our Lord’s help.
And we’re not left to our own devices because the Holy Spirit is sent to us and He becomes the primary actor. And so our Lord doesn’t set us up for failure. He gives us all of the tools and it’s up to us. Our glorious task is to simply use these tools. And it is a glorious task, but we have to learn the language of truth.
If the Holy Spirit is the spirit of Truth, we have to immerse ourselves in it. And this is going to come through intimate knowledge of Him, not just study. Not just head knowledge, but above all, spending time with Him in prayer, in adoration, and heading His voice in our conscience. And as we accustom ourselves to His voice, it becomes clearer and we realize how He had always been speaking to us, but we hadn’t attuned our ears. It is a relationship. We’re constantly going deeper. We’re constantly renewing it. We’re constantly grateful for it.
And so in these last days of preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit, we ask Him, to help us to attune our ears to what it is He says, to give us hearts that are made for Him and Him alone.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, of the Holy Ghost. Amen.