According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 675, “Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.” This Sunday Catholics across the world celebrated the feast of the Ascension. Until recently, this high feast was celebrated on a Thursday—forty days after Easter. From a traditional standpoint normally a 10 day period existed from Ascension to the Coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. Regardless, of the precise days, the main point is that for a brief period, the Apostles and early disciples of Jesus lived in a transition period from when Jesus no longer visibly existed in the similar manner that he did previously and the official descent of the Holy Spirit.
Suffering from a severe dryness in my spiritual life this Easter season got me thinking: maybe I am in a transitory period myself whereby the descent of the Holy Spirit is not apparent in my life. I feel like my desert is dried up. Obviously, my situation is not exactly the same as the 1st century Christians who had to live for an awkward [and maybe apathetic] period before the official reception of the Paraclete. Nevertheless, maybe your life is at a stage similar to that awkward week and a half—pondering the return of Christ, experiencing doubt in Divine Providence, or possibly even living in fear or distress. Reflecting on Acts 1-2 and wisdom from the tradition of the Church—through the Catechism and the saints—I came up with three methods [not really earthshattering] to avoid awkwardness and apathy in your spiritual life in the days after the Ascension!
- Wellspring of Worship: The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). I have probably cited this paragraph more than any other passage, yet it is vitally important to the Catholic faith. What sustained the Apostles in the early Church while waiting for the Paraclete? The body of and blood of Jesus Christ in the form of the Eucharist—it is the wellspring, the origin of worship!
Although Jesus’ physical existence did not appear the same after his Ascension, he is still present to the Apostles [and to us] body, blood, soul, and divinity in the sacrament of the Eucharist. St. Pope John Paul II mentioned the importance of this sacrament in his encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “Her [The Church] foundation and wellspring is the whole Triduum paschale, but this is as it were gathered up, foreshadowed and “concentrated’ forever in the gift of the Eucharist” (no. 5). During periods of spiritual dryness we may be able to sojourn to the spiritual oasis of the Mass.
- Hail, Mary: Mother of Perpetual Help, Mother of Good Counsel: Josemaria Escriva declared, “Love our Lady. And she will obtain abundant grace to help you conquer in your daily struggle.” I imagine the days following Jesus’ Ascension was a perilous time for Peter and the rest of the Apostles. During the most confusing and perilous times in my life it appears that Jesus is not present—the most difficult days lands in the middle of the work week when I lack the time to attend daily Mass or ability to go to Eucharistic adoration. Here is where my devotion to Mary is key to sustaining me during the staleness of my spiritual life. Jesus augmented Mary’s motherhood in John 19:27 with a simple command, “Woman, behold your son!” This is a reciprocal relationship as a mere verse later Our Lord urged the Apostle John [who represented humanity both individually and collectively] with the charge: “Behold, your mother!”
From my own experience, I normally contact my mom first [when my wife is not available!] after an incredibly stressful and frustrating day. This is not to downplay the role of my father, but there is something unique, almost mysterious about the ability for mother to sooth children in need. The Blessed Virgin Mary is no different. Mother of Perpetual Help pray for us. Mother of Good Counsel pray for us.
- Trust in the Holy Spirit: The great scientist Isaac Asimov once purported, “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” While the first two points of his statement may be debatable, it is quite difficult to argue that turning points in life, no matter how large or small, pose a challenge for everyone. Transitioning from physically seeing the Resurrected Christ to the age of the Church would have been a tough transitory event as well!
Jesus prepared his followers of the coming of the Holy Spirit prior to his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. According to Christ in John 14:15-19, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate* to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.”
While the Holy Spirit did not formally descend upon the Apostles in the Upper Room until Pentecost Sunday, the power of the Holy Spirit allowed Jesus to be substantially present in the sacrament of the Eucharist and also guided Peter and the other Apostles in selecting a worthy replacement for Judas. Moreover, just before his Ascension Jesus repeated his promise to send another Helper to fortify his followers: “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you,g and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Although you may in a spiritual dry spell [if not now you most certainly will encounter aridity and acedia—spiritual sloth– sometime in your life!], please do not despair. Hope is always on the horizon. Through the sacrament of the Eucharist, guide of Mary, and promise of the help of the Holy Spirit we receive strength and sustenance make it past any awkward and apathetic period in our spiritual journey. Never give up—hope in the Lord always!
The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity (CCC 1818).