Friday, May 16, 2008
Bp Vasa, Pentecost
Spirit of Pentecost, Mother's Day marks the sign of faith
By Bishop Robert Vasa
BEND — “Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit, O Lord, and they shall be created and Thou shall renew the face of the earth.” The Solemnity of Pentecost, this year, coincided with the celebration of Mothers’ Day. This provides us with two very appropriate topics upon which to reflect.
Mothers’ Day this year was just a bit different for me in that it was the first such day since the death of my mother in November. Nonetheless, there was not even the slightest hint of sadness about the absence of my mother on this day for the honoring of mothers. I hope that the absence of sadness is a mark of the tranquility and peacefulness of the mother-son relationship itself. As I write this, I am reminded of the scene of the death of the mother of Saint Augustine. Not that I would dare make any comparison between myself and this great saint but rather because of the ultimate tranquility with which Monica faced her final end.
Several days before she died, Augustine reports that she said: “What more I have to do here and why I am still here I do not know, since I have no longer anything to hope for in this world.” Then as the day of her death neared, she informed Augustine and his brother that they were to bury her where she was, namely at Ostia in Italy. Augustine’s brother protested that she should die in her own country and be buried there. She replied: “See what he is saying! You may lay this body of mine anywhere. Do not worry at all about that. All I ask you is this, that wherever you may be you will remember me at the altar of the Lord.” (Confessions, IX, 11)
This was amazing for Augustine and his brother for Monica had often expressed worry and anxiety about the question of her death and burial and this peace at her death was seen as a great gift from God. Several days later, on the day of her death, she expressed a bit of the reason for her tranquility. “Nothing is far from God, and there is no reason to fear that, at the end of the world, He will not recognize the place from which to raise me up.”
There are perhaps as many of us whose mothers have died as there are of those whose mothers are still alive. We have a bit of responsibility to both. For those who are alive we owe reverence and respect and a duty to live as they would have us live. For those who have gone before us “marked with the sign of faith” we owe that which Monica asked of Augustine, that is, to remember them at the altar of the Lord. It is a good and holy thought to remember the dead in our prayers and this most especially applies to those who brought us to life and nourished in us the life of faith. Trusting in the hope of future resurrection Augustine writes that “we did not think it right that a funeral such as hers should be celebrated with tears and groans and lamentations. These are ways in which people grieve for an utter wretchedness in death or a kind of total extinction. But she did not die in misery, nor was she altogether dead. Of this we had good reason to be certain from the evidence of her character and from a faith that was not feigned.”
I was most fortunate that something very similar could have been said of my mother’s death and funeral. Nonetheless, Augustine prayed for his mother and I pray for mine. May we all extend to our mothers the wishes of a happy mothers’ day and, if applicable, promises to remember them at the altar of the Lord.
It was also Pentecost. The birthday of the Church. The day of that special coming of the Holy Spirit. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles, detailing that first Pentecost, is in sharp contrast to the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel. They have always struck me as polar opposites. In the Old Testament, men quite capable of understanding one another embark on a concerted plan to build a tower to heaven and make a name for themselves. The unanimity of speech gave rise to a pride which led them to seek to “be as gods” and to be independent of the One who was God. The Lord’s response, aimed at disrupting their plans was simple, “Let us then go down and there confuse their language, so that one will not understand what another says.” (Genesis 11:7) How different this is from the Acts of the Apostles where we read that the people were confused by the speech of the Apostles at Pentecost “because each one heard them speaking in his own language.” (Acts 2:6)
I sometimes wonder if the spirit of our age is the spirit of Pentecost or a spirit of Babel. There is such a cacophony of voices each claiming to be speaking the truth about the meaning of the Gospels that it sounds more like Babel than the Church. One voice, claiming the inspiration of the Spirit, contends that there is not one truth in God but many truths, indeed one for each person. Another voice proclaims that there is such a thing as one objective truth. One claims that what we do and how we live does make a difference to God. Another asserts that all that is important is the we love God in our hearts and that we are conscientious. One insists that some things are always evil and ought never to be done while another maintains that every decision about good and evil rests with the intention of the person. Some hold that it is unfair, unjust and judgmental to insist upon some kind of standard of conduct in order to be “worthy” to receive Holy Communion while others hold that no such standard should be considered.
Thus, instead of a unity wrought by and of the Spirit there exists a Babel of opinions each contending for its position in the marketplace of ecclesial ideas. Such a state of disharmony exists that it is not even possible for all who claim membership in this One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to agree that the innocent life of the pre-born child ought to be assiduously protected always and everywhere. If we cannot even be certain of the sanctity and inviolability of the life of the tiniest babe in or outside of the womb of its mother, then we cannot all be listening to the same Spirit.
So we pray, certain that the Holy Spirit has come, but doubtful about how well we have listened. Yet, we pray and we are hopeful that He might come again and that we might be properly responsive to hear and understand His words: “Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit, O Lord, and they shall be created and Thou shall renew the face of the earth.”
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