Come Holy Spirit: Our First Novena

early Church

The Holy Spirit comes where He is loved, where He is invited, where He is expected. (St. Bonaventure)

One of the joys of being Catholic is the adherence to the beautiful, natural, and organic flow of the liturgical calendar, and, by doing so, falling ever more deeply into the rhythm of God’s life force here in this world.

We began our year with Advent—waiting in hope and anticipation for the birth of the One. He comes not as a monarch or an emperor, but first as a vulnerable unborn baby, in the womb of a simple rural girl. With His birth, we celebrated Christmas into Epiphany for 40 days, with all of its special feasts, traditions, and related saints. That led us into the first part of Ordinary Time, in which the Church traditionally examines the early ministry of Christ, and slowly counts down to Lent. Then we begin our countdown to Ash Wednesday, and the terrible sadness of His persecution and death, until that sunrise on Resurrection morning.

The Ascension

Now we have recently completed Eastertide, for as with all Catholic celebrations, one day is not sufficient. For forty days after His resurrection, it was documented that our Lord visited hundreds of people on earth, until His Ascension on the 40th day—Ascension Thursday. And while we often think of Jesus physically “ascending” up to Heaven similar to a rocket soaring into space, the more likely occurrence, based upon Jesus’ words and theological interpretation, is that Jesus “dissipated” into the atmosphere. In effect, He dissolved and became part of everything we see, hear, feel, and touch so that He can be one with each of us. Now we no longer think of Him in our limited human terms: He is now one with all of us as a life force underpinning our Church and our daily lives.

As Bp. Robert Barron states, “Too often we read the Ascension as the moment when Jesus ‘went away,’ when he left us on our own and went off to heaven, where we hope someday to join him. But the Ascension is not Jesus going away; it is Jesus assuming his position as leader of the Church’s life.”

Father Steve Grunow continues further:

This is the reason that an angel tells the Apostles and disciples to stop looking off into heaven for the Lord Jesus after the Ascension has taken place. He is not off “out there.” Christ is present in the world in a new and surprising way. Once, he revealed himself in the body of his human nature, and now, he reveals himself in a new kind of body—this body is called the Church.

The Loop of Grace

This makes perfect sense, for Jesus promised us that He would never leave us. In fact, after His ascension, He is closer to us than ever before. He is all around us, in every living thing, and even, through the Eucharist, inside of us. And He promises us an additional help—a Paraclete who brings us the grace to draw closer to Him and then to share Him with others. Bishop Barron refers to this as the loop of grace.

What God has wanted from the beginning is to sit down with his creatures in a fellowship banquet, sharing life and laughter, giving and receiving and giving back again. This is the loop of grace that I’ve often spoken of. The more we receive the divine life, the more we should give it away and thereby get more of it.

God loves us so much that He never forces Himself on us. If we want Him, we open our hearts to Him through prayer. After watching Jesus disappear, the Apostles demonstrated their acute awareness of this. They immediately returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and commenced to pray (cf. Acts 1:14).

The First Novena

From the day of His ascension until the time of Pentecost, nine days, about 120 disciples prayed and prepared. It is during this time that they selected Barnabas, “who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us” (Acts 1:21-22), to replace Judas. These nine days of prayer and preparation was recognized by the early Church in the first novena (novem = “nine” in Latin), which we continue to pray to this day.

As we celebrate the transition of Jesus as the man walking on Earth to the omnipresent guide of our Church, there are three important points to take away from this seemingly anecdotal time between the Ascension and Pentecost.

First, Jesus promised them and still promises us, time and time again, that He would never leave us alone, even before specifically telling them that “you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8). He will be with us always, just in a different format. Brother Richard Hendrick of the Irish Capuchins at Ards Friary frames it in a very captivating way: Jesus is like a frequency into which we can tune our radios at any time. He’s always there, hovering close, and just waiting for us to connect and listen. Are we tuned to Him?

Second, “why are you standing there looking at the sky” (Acts 1:11)? They stood staring as Jesus disappeared in shock, amazement, awe, and bewilderment, and “two men dressed in white” challenged them. Do we expect that the Holy Spirit simply drops in on us uninvited, unbidden, or uncalled? No, just as Jesus knocks and we must actively open the door to Him, the Holy Spirit must also be invited in. As always, God loves us so much that He never forces Himself on us. Are we preparing ourselves to receive the Holy Spirit?

Praying Unceasingly

Third, we must pray unceasingly in word, action, and thought.  The early disciples, just as Jesus did, always turned to prayer, both in community with others and alone. By seeing God in all of His creation, knowing that Jesus is always present, and relying upon the graces of the Holy Spirit, we can live a prayerful life in every way, no matter what our vocation. As 17th century Carmelite Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection explained:

We do not have to be in church to be with God. We can make of our hearts an oratory where we can withdraw from time to time to converse with him, gently, humbly, and lovingly. Everyone is capable of these familiar conversations with God, some more, some less. … In the ways of God thoughts amount to little whereas love accounts for everything. … I flip my little omelette in the frying pan for the love of God.

Are we living in prayer? Are we making room for the Holy Spirit to grow in us? Are we inviting Him in?

Be still, pray, and listen. Tune out the other noise to hear Him, and then welcome Him in.

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2 thoughts on “Come Holy Spirit: Our First Novena”

  1. Thanks for email.
    In the context of the way God chose to bring the Messiah into the world—in a backwater town to a manual laborer and his betrothed—Mary was seen in that moment as indeed a simple (she was not part of the educated or royal classes, and certainly was part of the emperor’s family) and rural. This does not denigrate the other heavenly attributes of Mary, but only emphasizes the position in which God placed her.

  2. To describe Mary, the Mother of God as a “simple, rural girl” smacks of Protestantism. From her conception to her eternal reign as Queen of Heaven and every moment in between she is the indescribably unique, the pinnacle of human enlightenment and the unfathomable depth of human emotional, spiritual and psychological experience. She is the only human being of her echelon, living from the moment of her conception to this present moment experiencing the Temporal and Eternal simultaneously. She has, for every moment of her existence dwelt in the Presence and in total communion with God. There is nothing simple or rural about that.

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