Today is the beginning of the traditional Novena to the Holy Spirit, nine days of prayer to the Holy Spirit, concluding on the Vigil of the Feast of Pentecost. In this way, with the original band of Jesus’ disciples, who “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with…Mary the mother of Jesus” (Acts 1:14), we might encounter for ourselves a deep and profound renewal of the life and action of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
It is my hope to offer on each day of the novena a brief reflection, guided by the daily readings from Mass, and to share a prayer to the Holy Spirit.
The last verse of today’s gospel provides us with a wonderful place to begin. There we hear Jesus say to his disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you” (John 16:23).
We need to be, first of all, very attentive to this. The “amen, amen” indicates a solemn promise on the part of Jesus to us. The essence of this promise, I dare say, is the essence of the Easter mystery. God can be trusted. Jesus passed into the depths of death to be met by the always faithful God who drew him to resurrection and eternal life. God can be trusted.
But still, this is a deep mystery. Jesus did, after all, pass through death. Most of us, perhaps all of us, have addressed desperate petitions to God many, many times, only to receive no apparent response. There is the child who prays for years for the healing of a parent from cancer, only to see mom grow worse until she dies. How many parents have prayed for a wayward child who has only gone further off course? There is the addict who has pleaded with God for freedom, only to fall again into the deadly behavior.
We touch here a disturbing mystery. “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.” Jesus’ words are sure! Yet, what do they mean for us here and now?
The early Christian patristic writers, when coming upon this verse, most often commented that what Jesus was referring to, the petition which the Christian should be addressing to the Father in his name, is nothing other than the Holy Spirit. Ask for the Holy Spirit, the very reality of divine life, and the Father will never, ever withhold it from you.
This is what we long to receive from God: the abiding indwelling presence of his divine life active through the Holy Spirit. Divine life, which is to say, indestructible, unquenchable, infinite, eternal life filled with fire and love and goodness and strength. This is the source of the peace Christ promised, a peace the world cannot give or take away. What we pray for is to know life that is eternal and ours as gift from a Father who loves us and will not refuse us.
In any present darkness, the living movement of the Holy Spirit in us communicates the assurance that God’s life is ultimate and God can always and everywhere be trusted to pour forth this life for us!
Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth you Spirit
and we shall be created
and you shall renew the face of the earth.