Sunday Within The Octave Of The Ascension
I have chosen no text for this sermon, because our text is nothing more than that we should prepare ourselves to be the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost, and that we should ask the Holy Ghost with great fervor to condescend to come to us. To ask him, that is our only text. And we shall have accomplished not a little if we prepare ourselves, as we ought, to receive such a guest.
You know, of course, my brethren, that although the feasts of God are past events as far as history is concerned, the effects of these feasts are still with us. The time when Jesus Christ suffered is over. How unfortunate for us if the effects of his sufferings were over also. What would happen to us if the effects of the passion, which took place over 1,000 years ago, were not to last? But they will persist to the end of the world. And although the feast of the Holy Ghost took place for the first time many years ago, you must bear in mind that the coming of the Holy Spirit will have exactly the same effect on your soul today, as it would have had in the time of the apostles: take care that you receive him well.
Oh, who would not wish to have seen Jesus Christ when he was on Earth suffering such hardships and to have been able to ask favors of him! If when he was in the world you could have thrown yourself at his feet, you feel certain that by virtue of his mercy and his infinite charity he would not have refused your requests. Do you believe this, brethren? Believe then that he is as ready and as willing to grant you those favors today though he is in Heaven as ever he was when he lived amongst us on Earth. And if at this time in your preparation for the coming of the Holy Ghost, you do everything that is necessary, I tell you on his behalf that the Holy Ghost will come to you bringing grace, just as he did to the apostles while they were living in the world.
What a holy time this is from now to the feast of Pentecost! A holy week indeed: the Advent of the Holy Ghost. The time after our Lord’s ascension when the apostles were waiting for the fulfillment of the promise he had given them when he said to them: I go and I will ask the Father; and he shall give you another Paraclete, that is comforter. I shall send you the Paraclete who will console you for the sorrow that you will feel when I leave you. (John 14:2, 16) As they listened to these words, their eyes fixed on the sky, they waited to see what would happen. “Our Master,” they said, “told us he would send us one to console us who will make us forget the love we feel for him.” The apostles were deeply attached to our Lord and savior. He was their consolation in sorrow, their father in time of need, their teacher, a mirror in which they saw themselves. They depended on him utterly. They were one with their master. “That one shall come great enough, powerful enough, wise enough to make us forget our master. Who can this be?” Raising their thoughts and their voices to Heaven, they said, “Lord, we long for you and we do not know you; we wish you to come and we do not know who you are. Of your mercy, deign to come and console our hearts; come, Lord, for we are indeed sorrowful without you.”
Such was the attitude of the holy apostles of the Lord at that holy time; and we would do well to imitate them, since we are one with them, one church and one in union with Jesus Christ. All those who serve Jesus Christ are one, belong to the church of God and the Christian congregation. Una est amica mea, una est Columba mea. God speaks to his church and says: You are one, my love; you are one, my dove. (Canticles 6:8) And so it is right also that in this holy season we should prepare ourselves, and with the holy apostles desire the coming of the Holy Ghost. Let us raise our hearts to Heaven and our eyes full of tears, let us cry: “Comforter of my soul! Come, console me!” And during all this time let us do nothing else but desire the Holy Ghost to come to our souls.
The first requirement for the coming of the Holy Ghost to our souls is that we should be aware of his power, and that we should believe that he can accomplish marvels. However sad a soul may be, he is sufficient to console it; however worthless, he can make it valuable; however lukewarm, he can fire it; however weak, he can strengthen it; however lacking in piety, he can inflame it with ardent devotion. What is the way to bring the Holy Ghost to us? It is to be aware of his might. And it has been said of the might of the Holy Ghost: For great is the power of God alone: and he is honored by the humble. (Ecclesiastes 3:21)
The second requirement for the Holy Ghost to be willing to come into our hearts (so that we may not be rejected or found wanting) is to have the will to receive him as our guest, sincerely and anxiously to desire his coming. “Oh, if only the Holy Ghost would come! Oh, if that comforter would only visit me and console my soul!”
Know, my brethren, that attending to our bodily needs will greatly impede the Holy Ghost coming to us. Here religious are at an advantage; because whether they are in the choir, or in the refectory, or in their cells, they are always engaged in the business of looking after their souls, always praising Jesus Christ; always thanking him. And whether they are eating or drinking or engaged in any human activity it is for the sole purpose of praising God.
Married persons are indeed daring. The married woman may think that on rising she has no duty other than to take her cloak, go off to hear a sermon and get herself a good place in church. Then when her husband comes to his meal and finds it has not yet been cooked, he loses his temper and offends God. It would be better, my sister, if before you went out, you had left your house in order, and when everything was in readiness, you could come to the sermon. If you arrive a little late it does not matter, one word may well be of more profit to you than the whole sermon. Of course you could perform all these duties, but since you seem unable to do so, it would be better for you to devote yourself entirely to the obligations of the married state.
Those who marry are indeed daring, for they take on grave responsibilities. They must maintain a household, support their children, and bring them up to be virtuous; and the wife must train them to behave themselves as they should. But this is by no means all. What of the care of one’s soul and of one’s work in the service of God? All these duties can be accomplished: but the things of the world are alluring and it is difficult to free oneself from them. For this reason it is not easy for the married man with many responsibilities to be able to attend to his soul as he ought. Take care, my brother, how you live! Take care that you do not come to love your wife so much that in order to give her a present you will offend God as Adam did! “I love my wife very much. I must give her this jewel and although I know I am doing what I ought not to do, I will give it to her all the same.” And you, wife, do not love your husband so much that you will come to forget God, forget to carry out your religious duties, and forget the law of God!
Oh, what care those who are going to be married should take before their marriage! How holy the man and the woman should be! Before they come together they should have spent many years in the service of God; they should have learnt to be chaste, to be humble, to be patient, to be merciful, to keep the commandments of our Lord. Only then should they get married so that although later on they may have many worries and many upsets and obstacles, one glance at their former way of life and they will have a pattern of behavior to fall back on and will be at peace. Like a master who has a servant so well trained and so afraid of him, that he has only to look at him and the servant will get ready to serve him.
But if the married man does not know what marriage means and even less the married woman: they come together and later their marriage becomes defiled.
There are many lessons to be learnt. “How, Father, how can I look after my household and serve God at the same time?” It is very difficult. Saint Paul says: But he that is with a wife, — he that is married, — is solicitous for the things of the world; how he may please his wife. And he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin think on the things of the Lord; that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. (1 Corinthians 7:33)
Brethren, this feast will be spent in thinking how I may please my Lord. Like brides who are careful to have their hair perfectly groomed, to have their clothes neat, and who even carry a mirror about with them in case they should become disarranged, so should the reverend mothers, the nuns and novices be particular not to wear a garment that is indecorous: they must look at themselves in Jesus Christ as in a mirror to see there is neither a spot on their garments, nor any sin or stain on their soul lest their spouse should reject them.
Be devoted and faithful in the service of Jesus Christ and in your hopes for the coming of the Holy Ghost, and have no dealings with evil and meanness, because the consolation of the Spirit is very gentle. Very little will hinder its coming and it does not take pleasure in the things of this world. Saint Bernard says: “The divine consolation is gentle and exacting, and it is not given to those who accept human consolation.” Let every soul rid itself of human consolation if it wishes the Holy Ghost to console it and wishes his consolation to remain always with it. For, as we said, it is right and proper that the Holy Ghost should wish to be desired.
Listen carefully to me! If a man will not go to another man’s house because he is not sure of his welcome there, will this not also be the attitude of the Holy Ghost? He wants the man who desires his presence to desire it greatly; and he wishes to be desired by man. How the coming of our savior was desired! Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, and patriarchs all longed for his coming. Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above: and let the clouds rain the just. Let the Earth be opened and bud forth a savior. (Isaiah 45:8) The prophet Haggai said: For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet one little while, and I will move the Heaven and the Earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will move all nations: and the desired of all nations shall come. (Haggai 2:7-8) And the angel of the testament whom you desire shall come to his temple. (Malachi 3:1) The coming of Jesus Christ was greatly desired. For it is fitting that the gift of the Holy Ghost should be ardently desired before we receive it. The dish that is good of itself is wasted on him who has no wish for food. You would imagine that a chicken or a partridge would give anyone an appetite. But the sick man to whom it is offered says, “Take it away, for I have lost all interest in food! I have no taste for it.” A very bad sign indeed. You have no interest in food? It is a symptom of death.
The Holy Ghost will not come to you if you do not hunger for him, if you do not desire him. Your desires for God will bring God to you, and the proof is that if you desire God he will come to you without delay. Do not tire of longing for his presence and although you wait for him and he does not come, and although you call him and he does not answer, persevere in your desire and he will not fail you. Brethren, have confidence in him, even if he does not come immediately you call. He will come when he sees that you have fulfilled the necessary conditions. You must, brethren, compose your hearts because if you are distressed and call on the Holy Ghost and he does not come, it is because you have not yet the right dispositions. And if he does not come, it is not because he does not want to come, nor that he has forgotten you, but so that you may persevere in your desire for him. By thus persevering you will make yourself fit to receive him, and you will be able to make room for him in your heart, and increase your trust in him. I promise you on his behalf that nobody who calls on him will be left without his consolation.
As the royal prophet David says: He has not slighted nor despised the supplication of the poor man. (Psalms 21:25) Who is poor? He is poor who mistrusts himself and relies only on God: he is poor who mistrusts his own opinions and strength, his own gifts, his own powers; his poor who knows his own vileness, his own littleness; who knows he is a worm and full of corruption, and with all this relies only on God for protection and believes that God’s mercy is so great that he will not leave him without his consolation. The desires of such as these are heard by God.
And observe that merely to harbor these desires is not enough to content the Holy Ghost. You have not yet done enough, my brethren, there must be in addition action. Do you want a proof? Note what was said to the apostles when they were looking up at the sky in suspense, when the Lord ascended into Heaven. They were closely united to him. They were longing and hoping for the visit of the Holy Ghost; they were anxious to see the Holy Ghost as their master had declared they would; they were oblivious of themselves, as they looked at Jesus Christ when he ascended into Heaven. Blessed be he, who was so solicitous for our good; who did not content himself merely with looking after us and taking care of us; but when he had ascended into Heaven was so anxious about his own that he sent down two angels dressed in white garments who said to them: You men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to Heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into Heaven shall so come – with the same majesty – as you have seen him going into Heaven. (Acts 1:11) And they were told to go to the Cenacle [Upper Room], because there the Holy Ghost would come upon them. You need not spend the whole day looking into the sky; you need not spend it praying or meditating. Go, my brethren, to the Cenacle. Do not spend your time thinking on the bodily presence of Christ!
I have often said to you that the reason the Holy Ghost did not come to the apostles while Jesus Christ was in this world was because they were transported in the master’s presence, and that alone contented them, and although the presence of our Lord was so good and holy, it hindered the apostles from being perfect, and on this account Jesus Christ wished to go away. “My disciples, you are deeply attached to me, you love me greatly. I know that when you are with me you are content; but I love you even more and to prove my love, I shall go away, so that the Holy Ghost may come and make you more perfect, and bring your thoughts closer to God.” Does this not show you that the presence of Jesus Christ in some degree hindered the coming of the Holy Ghost?
The Holy Ghost is indeed jealous. Do not think he is not exacting. I am the Lord, (Exodus 20:2) said God to Moses. So that you may understand, brethren, that if you are fond of your confessor, however holy he may be, or of the preacher who gives you good advice and consoles you, the Holy Ghost will not come until you have renounced an excessive love of human beings. The Holy Ghost wishes to be alone with you.
“But, Father, he is a saint, and guides me along the road to God, and encourages me when I am in difficulties.” Jesus Christ was holier and even he hindered the coming of the Holy Ghost. The servant of God, the confessor and the preacher should not stand in the way of the Holy Ghost, who should be a staircase up which you can climb to God. Love – even innocent love – will stand in the way. Love would not do you any harm if you knew how to enjoy it properly. What you love in the confessor and the preacher let it be for God and in God. “How shall I know, Father, when this love is in God?” If you like someone very much, and God takes him from you, or separates you from him, and you continue unperturbed in the service of God, the love is in God. A little suffering is natural, but a lot of suffering is not good. If motes like these hinder the coming of the Holy Ghost, what will be the effect of evil thoughts, violent language, and the like?
What is the position? What is necessary so that the Holy Ghost may come to our souls? Not only must we desire him, but we must get ready our house and have it spotless for him. You do as much when you are expecting a guest. But since the guest that you are awaiting is infinitely pure, how much more necessary that your soul should be unspotted, that your thoughts, your words, your deeds should be free from evil and that you should be adorned with all the virtues.
Besides being necessary to call upon the Holy Ghost and to prepare the dwelling, it is essential to get ready the repast. Put your hand into your pocket, and do not regret having to spend freely. You must be open-handed and liberal! When you have a guest, not only do you not grudge buying sufficient for his entertainment but you will provide more than sufficient. That, brethren, is how we should get ready for this most holy guest; since he is so open-handed with you, be you the same with him; put your hand into your pocket and do not give ungenerously! Give charity in abundance; feed the hungry, dress the orphan and widow, be a father to those in trouble! Be a father to the poor! Holy Job performed this duty as we know from his own words. Lord, if I have eaten my morsel alone. . . . (Job 31:17) And elsewhere: I was an eye to the blind, and a foot to the lame. (Job 29:15)
Give the Holy Ghost to eat, and give him your heart: he eats flesh; but see that it is mortified flesh. How would it be if you gave your guest a live bird? “What is this?” – he would say to you – “Take it away. That bird is not fit to eat.”
Raise your heart often to Heaven and beg that it may be fired with love. Your flesh must be dead and some time dead, punished and mortified, subjugated with fasts and scourgings; it must be dead to the world. Guard your heart carefully! Raise your thoughts and desires to God! Become as a golden eagle through these thoughts and exercises: soar upwards and do not rest until you have reached the Holy Ghost: do not relax your efforts or let your mind dwell on things that are corrupt or ignoble. Remember what the dove did when it was let loose from Noah’s ark. By the time it left the ark, the flood had ceased. It flew about but did not alight upon any of the dead bodies or even go near them. It flew to an olive tree, broke off a twig with its beak and returned with it to the ark. This is what the Christian soul should do – not be preoccupied with corruption. Do not let your thoughts dwell on things corrupt or perishable or noisome, but on Heaven. “Where your treasure is, there is your heart,” (Matthew 6:21) and more especially during this season.
Seek seclusion throughout this week in preparation for the Holy Ghost! Be on your guard! Remember those servants who were waiting for their master to come from the wedding. (Luke 12:36) Do not be like those foolish and stupid virgins; do not be imprudent; do not be intoxicated by the things of the world. Imitate the wise virgins in their prudence and preparation; and, obtaining the oil of mercy for yourself first of all in attending to the needs of your soul, try to become more holy in heart. During these days find a secluded corner for yourself and stay there. Contemplate the Blessed Virgin and the holy apostles gathered together in the Cenacle. How would they have behaved? What would they do? How they would have wept thinking of the passion of Jesus Christ, sorrowful for his absence. What sighs they would send to Heaven, longing for this Holy Ghost, their comforter and their healer. Temper your desires, mortify and lower your eyes, look at nothing you would regret seeing; because if the eye sees, the eye will weep. David saw an evil sight – it would have been better for him to be blind than to have seen what he saw; for if his eyes delighted in looking at that sight, they wept later; wept so much that David, they say, had furrows in his cheeks worn by his tears.
And it is essential to observe great reverence during this week, since we are preparing for such a great feast. Do you know, brethren, how important is this occasion and what you will lose if the Holy Ghost does not come to dwell in your house? For neither the feast of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ – the principal feast of the whole year – nor the feasts of his holy birth, passion, or redemption and ascension into Heaven will benefit your soul if you do not profit by this feast; and all that Jesus Christ gained for us will be lost to you. Although it is true that with the death of Jesus Christ Heaven was opened and hell shut – how can this benefit you, if you do not receive the Holy Ghost? Without the grace of God nothing can help you. But if the Holy Ghost is within you, you can avail yourself of all those other aids and consolations.
The Holy Ghost is sufficient to console you and strengthen your weakness and bring you happiness. He has indeed the power to do so. I knew of one to whom the Holy Ghost came in small measure and he went shouting through the streets like a madman. Do you want proof? Look at the apostles: before the Holy Ghost came down on them they were so timid and so faint-hearted that they did not dare to go out, but kept the door of their house shut. After the Holy Ghost had come upon them they opened wide the doors, and went out into the streets and began to preach in the name of Jesus Christ.
Saint Athanasius – the great saint who wrote against the Arian heresy – describing the scruples from which some people suffer as to whether they possessed the Holy Ghost within them – “Am I baptized or not?” – replied to them “Do you know how you will be sure? As the pregnant woman feels the child stir within her, so will you feel the movement of the Holy Ghost.” “But Father, I am a man. Not a married woman. I do not know what the movement of a child would feel like. How shall I feel the Holy Ghost?” “I give you this sign, my brethren. You will feel your heart burning with the fire of charity and the unwavering love of God (because the Holy Ghost is fire) and you will feel this flame of love leaping within you.” “How can this be, Father?” Christ, himself, gives the answer in this conversation with the Samaritan woman: “He that shall drink of the water that I will give him. . . .” “What is this water like, Lord?” “It shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting.” (John 4:13-14) This is the sign given by Christ by which we can recognize the coming to us of the Holy Ghost. For the Holy Ghost has this quality. His presence cannot be concealed, and the Holy Ghost, himself, told us how we can know with certainty that Jesus Christ has come to us. Christ says in the gospel which is read in the mass: “When the Paraclete comes, when the Holy Ghost comes, the Spirit of Truth whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.” (John 14:26) Which means that he will console you, enlighten you, refresh you, and direct you.
The Holy Ghost is the comforter, brethren. The Holy Ghost can indeed console, since in his greatness he is called comforter. What do we want in this life? What are we seeking here below? We spend our lives striving to achieve a small measure of happiness. Then why not strive to have within us a comforter who will console us and will enrich our souls? Oh if I could only inspire you with devotion to the Holy Ghost! May he through his infinite mercy do so!
When you are sad, you may be certain that if he is within you, the Holy Ghost will console you. Saint Paul, the apostle, says: “Because if any man ask himself, ‘Who will suffice to console my sadness, who will remove my fear?’ If there are combats without, fears within, let him remember that God who comforts the humble comforted us.” (2 Corinthians 7:5-6)
The function of the Holy Ghost is to comfort those who are sorrowful. It has been proclaimed and published throughout the whole church of Jesus Christ, our Lord, that he is our comforter in affliction. A sick man will get a doctor to cure him. He who wants to go to law will get a good advocate to plead for him. He will approach the judge and say, “Give a verdict in my favor.” We are all sad. We all need someone to whom we can turn for consolation. The wicked are sad, because of the evil they have committed. Even the just find their sins weighing heavily upon them, and if they offend God and lose him, they are plunged in grief. We are all sad. And all of us need a comforter. It is the function of the Holy Ghost to console all who are in trouble. Let us ask him to deign to come to our hearts and console us.
A soul which is intimidated and frightened because it has committed a great number of sins may well say: “Father, this Holy Ghost, who you say is God, is an all-powerful, a terrifying God: I am a worm, an ant: how could the Holy Ghost be willing to come to me, whose dwelling-place is so unprepared? I fear he would not want to come.”
If you are only thinking of your own unworthiness, you are quite right. But do you know the solution? Place Jesus Christ as a mediator between you and him; and the Holy Ghost seeing what Jesus Christ suffered for you, will come for love of him. Since there is one who suffered unhappiness, so that you might be consoled, was sad that you might be happy, fatigued that you might rest, died that you might live, you have no cause for fear, if you are truly sorry for your sins and do penance for them. Blessed be Jesus Christ and may his angels bless him! Amen!
Our redeemer said: And I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none: and for one that would comfort me, and I found none. And they gave me gall for my food: and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalms 68:21-22) Our redeemer found none to console him; he was grief-stricken, disconsolate and could find no comfort; he was overwhelmed with sorrow from within and without that he said: Tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem,” (Matthew 26:38) which means that our redeemer was sorrowful unto death. We do not refer to the divine aspect of his soul which enjoyed God from eternity; but to its sensitivity. This made him sad in the extreme; but to its sensitivity. This made him sad in the extreme. What weariness he suffered! How he hungered and thirsted and sweated while he was in the world! And when the time for suffering came he was so distressed at the thought of it that he said, “If this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42) In the indescribable sufferings which he underwent, Christ, our redeemer, also said, in his weakness as man, Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me? (Matthew 27:46) So much, brethren, did our lord undergo, so great was his suffering, his scourging, his crowning with thorns, the blows which he received in his sacred face, that he, himself, said: O vos omnes, qui transitis per viam; O all ye that pass by the way, all who live in the world, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow. (Lamentations 1:12) Blessed be you, my redeemer, forever!
Why did you suffer such agony, Lord? Are not suffering and torments the penalty for sin, the punishment of the wicked?
Those who sin deserve punishment. But you, Lord, what wrong did you do that you should suffer so much? Why did you undergo such agony?
Our redeemer, Jesus Christ, said: What debt do these men owe? “Lord, they have committed many sins.” “Well, then,” said Jesus Christ, “I want their punishment to fall on me, so that the peace of Heaven may come down on them. I want to suffer affliction and grief, so that happiness may come to them. I wish to be given gall, so that they may receive honey, to suffer so that they may have peace, to die that they may have life.”
Have confidence in the merits of Jesus Christ. Do not think that no voice is raised to defend you in Heaven; the merits of Jesus Christ are there, pleading for you. Nor is he silent if you are begging the Holy Ghost to come to you. Do not doubt but that if you offer up the merits of Jesus Christ you will, through them, receive the Holy Ghost. Your offering is of equal value as what you obtain. If you receive God, you also give God, and although Jesus Christ, our redeemer, did not suffer in his divinity, nevertheless he did suffer and he is God. And in exchange for the gall which he drank when he hung on the cross, you will receive the honey of the Holy Ghost.
Your thoughts, words, and deeds will call out to the Holy Ghost, and he will come over you, without your knowing how, nor in what way, without your being aware how he entered your soul. You will find him dwelling in your heart; you will feel within your soul a great happiness, a joy so wonderful, so all-pervading that you will be transported. Holy King David said, “To my hearing you shall give joy and gladness: and the bones that have been humbled shall rejoice.” (Psalms 1:10) The heart that was sad, the soul that was cast down, will be glad and rejoice. You will hear the Holy Ghost speaking to you and advising you what you must do.
And as his function is to console you, it is also to exhort you. In the same way as he comforts you, so will he admonish you. “O cowardly and faint-hearted creature that you are, do not be timid like a child! Have the courage of a man!” The same Holy Ghost who comes to console you, will also warn you so that you may rid yourself of everything that might prevent his consolation reaching you. Paracletus means comforter.
Since then, through the merits of Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost gives himself to us, do not cease to ask for him and to desire him ardently! Dedicate yourself to him who will come to your soul and you will receive great consolation and no-one will succeed in taking him from you. Prepare your dwelling-place! Prepare the food for this guest! He deserves all you do for him, and you are under so many obligations to him. Let us give generously to the poor; let us perform works of mercy among our neighbors; let us abstain from all sin and from all imperfections in this holy week; let our senses be subjugated and let us all have complete confidence that he through his mercy will come to us in flames of love, to fortify us and bring us his gifts.