A week ago we celebrated the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, a feast which involves a mystery so deep that it is beyond understanding. However, when we arrive in Heaven at the end of our lives we will be able to know how our God is One God in Three Persons. Though it requires patience to wait until that time, I actually love this mystery, for as St. Augustine wrote, “If you understood Him, then it would not be God.” I think it is good that there is some mystery about God lest we lose our sense of wonder and awe or our sense of just how much we need Him. We must never tire of reflecting upon the fact that God is infinitely greater than we are, but that He loves us as He does. In connection, this Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Once again we ponder a great mystery in how the simple elements of bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It takes place as a work of the Holy Spirit who descends upon the bread and wine when the priest invokes the Father to send Him, begging the Spirit to come down upon the gifts “like the dewfall.” Would that the Holy Spirit would continually descend upon us and our world like the dewfall!
As I said, I enjoy the mystery of these feasts. Sometimes we get so worked up about mystery that we fail to realize that mystery is actually a good thing. On a practical level it gets us off the hook a little bit: we do not have to wrack our brains trying to understand, but rather it helps us learn to trust God. In the Letter to the Hebrews the author states that “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) Mystery involves our faith and helps us to exercise that spiritual muscle, if you will. Faith helps us to relax in the presence of mystery and simply enjoy resting within it. Mystery, therefore, is a good thing, a gift. It is not something to be feared, but rather something to be embraced. We can let it fill us and flow over us like the dewfall. This dewfall is the mystery of God’s love in the form of grace which we especially experience through the gift of Eucharist.
While the Trinity is a mystery, there are some people to whom God gives special insights, namely some of the saints.* One such person who was drawn into the mystery of the Holy Trinity is Itala Mela, (1904-1957) a mystic who was just beatified on June 10 in La Spezia, Italy. She grew up in a home in which her parents were atheists, though under the care of her grandparents she did get baptized, received first Communion and Confirmation. During her adolescence Itala lost her younger brother to illness, a tragedy which led her to atheism. But when she went off to college she found lodging in a house run by some Sisters, who eventually invited her to join them at the Mass of the Immaculate Conception, beginning a time of great confusion within her over whether or not there really is a God. After much intense inner turmoil she had an experience in which she felt a ‘great interior jolt’ while praying, leading her to feel Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. Later, after fully returning to the faith, she decided to enter religious life. It was during this time that she experienced what she called the Inhabitation: while praying in the church, a luminous ray shot out of the tabernacle and into her heart. She said that she felt the Holy Trinity enter into her soul. Soon afterward Itala received a new name from Jesus, Sr. Maria of the Trinity, which she said came unsought. She was denied entrance into a Benedictine convent due to poor health, and so she became a Benedictine Oblate, working as a Catholic high school teacher. She took private vows, including one of dedication to the Holy Trinity, and spent her time in prayer and adoration, as well as in service, dedicated to teaching about the Holy Trinity, even writing some spiritual exercises to help others to learn more through their own prayer. **
Bl. Itala taught that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, drawing on the writings of St. Paul and also on her own experience. What is most remarkable about her, however, is that she was drawn to adore God “not only in Himself, but in every soul in the state of grace.” (** pg. 71) In other words, she came to reverence God not only during her private prayer, but also in other people. In fact, she would secretly greet the Three Persons of our One God in people who approached her. Also notable is that she taught that the Eucharist led her to the Father and the Spirit. She seemed to understand the link between the Holy Trinity and the Eucharist in which the Eucharist feeds our souls and leads us continually into the presence not just of the Son, but of the Father and the Spirit as well.
During Mass there is a moment during the Eucharistic prayer in which the priest begs the Father to send the Holy Spirit so that the bread and wine might become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This is called the epiclesis. In the second Eucharist prayer, the one we hear most often, the epiclesis sounds like this: “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Therefore, the entire Trinity is invoked showing that the Three Persons are intimately connected as One God, just as Jesus taught. Bl. Itala seemed to understand this connection between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and she also recognized that the Eucharist is the great gift which joins God to us uniquely. While it is the Son we receive when we partake of the Eucharist, it is made possible by the action of the Father and the Spirit. In other words, we cannot separate one Person of the Trinity from the other two: they are always Three and One. Further, we are blessed by witnessing, so to speak, the Spirit descending “like the dewfall” upon the elements of bread and wine every time we are at Mass.
In addition to reflecting upon and resting in these mysteries, it would be good to try to emulate Bl. Itala Mela by challenging ourselves to stretch, asking her intercession to help us see and reverence the Holy Trinity in each person who approaches. Truly, it is not so strange to greet Him secretly (within our heart) in the other whom we meet, but she calls us to adore the Trinity within the other. To do so I believe we would first experience a transformation within ourselves: before we can find the presence of the Trinity within the heart of the other we will have to find Him within our own heart. We cannot give away what we do not know we possess; likewise we cannot recognize within another that which we do not recognize within ourselves. Once we begin to greet Him within our own heart, it can move us to greeting God within others, transforming how we see and experience them. Then we can begin asking for the grace to move beyond simply greeting, but to reverencing God’s presence within both ourselves and the other. This is the fulfillment of our baptismal call, which is to make God known and loved through our words and deeds, and finally, it is a call to holiness.
The Holy Trinity may be filled with mystery, but love is something we can experience, especially when we are before the altar during Mass. The Eucharist is the gift of the love of Jesus, that He gave His Body and Blood for us so that we would never be separated from Him. Though we cannot call down the dewfall of the Spirit upon the gifts as those in the ordained priesthood can, we are missioned by the common priesthood of our baptism to share the presence of the Spirit we receive at the table through our word and deed that others would also experience this dewfall. Dew is gentle, so our love and our call should be gentle. But dew also penetrates, therefore if we persist no matter how small our efforts, no matter how limited we think we might be, we all can, at the very least, join in silent prayer attuned to the words of the Eucharistic prayer, asking that the Father would send the Spirit upon us like the dewfall, that our world might be transformed in some way.
May we ask the Holy Trinity to help us grow in the ability to rest in the mysteries of our faith! May we ask the intercession of Blessed Itala Mela to help us learn how to become aware of the presence of the Trinity within our own hearts that we might begin to see Him in those we meet! May we pray for vocations to the priesthood so that we can have priests who continue to pray for the Father to send the Spirit in order that we might have the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus! May we receive the Holy Spirit falling upon us like the dewfall and may we be vessels of the same Spirit to others! And may we obtain the gift of being able to rest in the mystery of One God in Three Persons in an exchange of love offered outward to us! Let us continue to meet in the Body and Blood of Jesus, with the Father and the Spirit! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post on July 3.
The quote from St. Augustine comes from Sermo 52:6 and Sermo 117:3. See http://strangenotions.com/augustine-faith/
* There are a number of saints who had mystical experiences concerning the Holy Trinity. Two who come readily to mind are St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, (1491-1556) and St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun (1880-1906). St. Elizabeth has a lovely prayer to the Trinity which you can find here: http://ocarm.org/en/content/ocarm/trinitarian-prayer-elizabeth-trinity
** Most of my information on Bl. Itala Mela came from a book called The Spiritual Experience of Itala Mela: A Life Incandescently Immersed in the Trinity, by Aldo Piccinelli, OSB.
1. This is the most famous icon ever written, Andrei Rublev's Trinity. I chose to use it here for many reasons, the most important of which is that not only is each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity shown, but the Son is shown blessing the cup of His Eucharistic blood.
2. This is a panel in a larger work called Viriditas - Finding God in All Things. This particular panel is called Viriditas Holy Spirit Detail. I chose to use this here because it looks like the Holy Spirit is showering graces; and it made me think of the line in the Eucharistic prayer of sending down the Spirit like the dewfall. If you interested in purchasing a copy in any variety of formats you can find this panel at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/viriditas-holy-spirit-detail-william-hart-mcnichols.html and you can find the entire piece at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/viriditas-finding-god-in-all-things-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
3. This is a photograph of Blessed Itala Mela. You can find information on her, in addition to the book listed above, at http://es.catholic.net/op/articulos/63279/itala-mela-venerable.html (You will have to use a translate feature on your computer to read it unless you are Spanish speaking.)
4. I took this photo at the Mass of Thanksgiving offered by newly ordained priest Marcus Fryer, SJ. (In my last post he was pictured as a deacon, if you remember.) He is standing with Deacon Michael Wegenka, SJ who is preparing the cup for Fr. Marcus to consecrate. I chose this because it shows the part of the Mass right before the priest calls upon the Father to send the Spirit like the dewfall so that the Son might be present. (Another congratulations to Fr. Marcus on your ordination!)
5.I took this photo in a vineyard in Vaduz, Liechtenstein while on a trip to the Alps. I chose to use it here because it shows the fruit of the vine, which, of course, is also mentioned in the Eucharistic prayer.
6. I took this photo in Ireland, just outside of Killarney, while walking on a trail. It was a rather gentle waterfall, but I chose to use it here because the flowing of the water reminded me of Baptism. As the water flows over us we are immersed in the graces of the Holy Spirit.
7. This painting is called Undergrowth with a Couple by Vincent van Gogh (1890). It was painted at Auvers-Sur-Oise toward the end of van Gogh's life. I chose it because for some reason I imagined that the couple was walking through dew-covered ground. It seems to be evening which is when dew generally forms.
The Easter season has come to an end, but we know that spiritually it is not something that comes and goes. As Christians, Easter is our way of life. Nonetheless, as we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost it is important for us to keep our liturgical bearings, realizing that it is the third most important feast in our calendar. However, in contrast to Easter, Pentecost is not a season. But together with the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity the following Sunday, it is a time of joyous reflection upon the descent of the Holy Spirit and the subsequent birth of the Church. It is also a time to be reminded of the role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity, One God in Three Persons. The two feasts are connected so it makes sense to celebrate them one week apart. The Trinity who is One God labored at creating a community of believers, a work that is His body, His people, His Church. The Father planned the work of saving His people from the beginning by sending His Son, and then through the descent of the Holy Spirit, endowed us with the graces we need to stay the course as co-workers in the ‘fields’ until Jesus comes again at the end of time. (Reference to Matthew 9:37)
In his Letter to the Ephesians St. Paul wrote about this work when he stated: “We are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for
the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) Paul is indicating that God has always had a plan, but that individually and collectively we have a role in it for which He prepares us. We received entry into this way of life through Baptism, completed at Confirmation when, like the apostles, we had our own personal Pentecost, though perhaps without the speaking of multiple languages. The work of the Holy Spirit is a continuous process throughout our lives as He guides, protects, enlivens, teaches, protects, and inspires so that we might weather the storms which come at us from a world sometimes hostile to the goodness of God. Therefore, God is constantly laboring for us by helping us to grow in holiness into the people who we want to be and who we were created to be.
To reflect upon this process, let us consider what might have happened that changed the apostles so deeply during the seven weeks between the Resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. No doubt they were continuously praying over and discussing all that had transpired during the ministry of Jesus. But they were doing a lot of this in the presence of the Risen Lord, something which must have been incredibly filled with joy, wonder and awe. As during His ministry they were continuing to learn from Jesus, only now with greater clarity, understanding more deeply what He had taught, what had transpired, and how it had all worked toward His death and resurrection. Jesus also prepared them for leadership which would begin when His time to leave them arrived. This means that He explained to them that He had to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come, empowering them for the ministry to which they had been born.
We need to remember that Jesus had begun His ministry by telling His followers that the hour had arrived “when true worshipers would worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24) Therefore long before the Pentecost event took place the apostles had already been hearing about the role of the Holy Spirit and about the Spirit’s connection with the Father and the Son. They also were taught that the Spirit was intimately connected with their mission. In a resurrection appearance Jesus said to them, “As the Father has sent me, I send you.” And then He breathed upon them saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22). After He missioned them, Jesus told them to pray, waiting for the fullness of the Holy Spirit to descend, empowering them for what was to come. It is not as if they got a piece of the Spirit or as if grace is quantifiable, but rather, Jesus was preparing them so that they would be ready for what was to come on the day of Pentecost.
After six weeks of appearing to them, Jesus ascended into Heaven. It was time for the Spirit-filled Church, (koinonia, in Greek) to be born. The great orator St. John Chrysostom expressed Pentecost beautifully when he wrote: “Earth has become heaven for us today, not that the stars have descended to earth, but the apostles have ascended above the heavens, as the grace of the Spirit is poured forth. He made the world heaven, not by changing nature, but through correcting the choice. He found a publican, and prepared him to be an evangelist. He found a blasphemer, and made him an apostle. He found a thief, and brought him to Paradise. He found a harlot, and made her more chaste than a virgin. He found magi, and made them into evangelists. He cast out evil, and brought in virtue, which was provided for by the grace of God. Earth has become heaven.” * The Holy Spirit worked to prepare the hearts of the men and women who became the first members of the Church: the 120 people in the Upper Room and the 3,000 who saw and heard how the Spirit had affected them, requested baptism on that day. They went from a rag-tag group to a people with a purpose, a people who freely chose to belong to God as adopted sons and daughters, with a new relationship and a new mission.
Our vocation to live the Christian life is not all that different. We are the sinners who the Spirit makes chaste (pure of heart and body), molds into evangelists, transforms into apostles, and ultimately brings to Paradise. God does not expect us to be perfect, just as the apostles were not perfect at any time in their lives. When Jesus said “true worshipers would worship the Father in Spirit and truth” He went on to say that the Father seeks such people. This means that God has sought us out to further the work that the apostles and first Christians began. In coming before the Father in worship, we are a people whose call is shared, although our expression of it is unique. The Holy Spirit empowers us for the journey so that we might learn to see what is deep within our hearts and what we truly long for; to see with eyes of compassion, mercy and forgiveness; to see with a new sense of values; to see the hand of God everywhere; to see our weaknesses with deepened humility and reliance upon God; to see that we are all one; and like the apostles, we learn to see that each one contributes to the work of the whole Body, but that none of us accomplishes anything on our own. We simply continue that which was begun on the day of Pentecost and it is Jesus Christ who accomplishes the work.
Pentecost is the great feast of learning to see and hear the presence of God so that we might worship in Spirit and in truth. It is the great feast of becoming empowered to live as Children of the Light and also to be sharers in the work of building the Kingdom of God. Whether we are able to be active ‘in the world’ or whether we are not able to go forth from our homes, we all have a role by worshiping in Spirit and truth through our prayer as well as our deeds: we all have a role in the work of the Trinity. When we received sacramental graces, when we committed our lives to Jesus Christ, when we allowed our eyes and ears to be opened, we were filled with the very same Pentecost gifts. We are one Body of Christ, though made up of many, as St. Paul says in his letters. In the Acts of the Apostles (AA 2:9-11) it was written of the first witnesses: “We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia.…” Today we are North Americans, Europeans, Latinos, Asians, Africans, and Middle Easterners; we are men and women, old and young, ordained and lay, married and single: all are God’s handiwork and all are called to bring the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth through prayer, word, and deed. This Pentecost let us allow the Holy Spirit to enliven our hearts and minds once again, remembering the joy of His coming, experiencing it anew, and embracing the life of faith to which we have been called. In doing so, His Church will shine brightly, helping those who suffer, those who are lost, and those who are seeking to find that for which they long.
May we worship the Father in Spirit and in truth! May we seek to glorify the Son by utilizing the gifts given by the Spirit to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth! May we allow the Holy Spirit to continue to be breathed upon us, that we might have growing clarity about the gifts we have received! May we embrace and inspire others to use their unique gifts as we work together to contribute to the spreading of the Kingdom! And may we have Pentecost joy as we worship God in Spirit and truth in our church communities! Let us continue to meet as one Body of Christ embraced within the arms of God! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: The next post will be June 19.
* The quote from St. John Chrysostom can be found as part of his longer sermon at http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2012/06/excerpt-from-homily-i-on-pentecost-by.html.
1. This is an icon of the Pentecost event which comes from a church building, which is evident because you can detect the curve of a dome or cupola. I chose it because I liked the depiction of God the Father in the lower middle. He is holding the candles which clearly unite the Father with the fire of the Holy Spirit whose graces are being mediated from above. It can be found at http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/search/label/Pentecost.
2. This is a drawing by Fr. William Hart McNichols, published in 1993 as part of a book on the mysteries of the Rosary. At the time of publication there were only three sets of mysteries in the Rosary, hence the book in which his drawings appear is called The Fifteen Mysteries, by M. Basil Pennington, OSCO. I love this drawing because it is a close-up of some of the apostles and therefore it captures an intimacy that one rarely sees in Pentecost scenes. The faces of the three men appear to be filled with serenity, understanding, and love, (as I see them, respectively from left to right) and it is as if these graces are being shared with those of us viewing the scene. Gazing upon this drawing gives me a sense of peace, because in the midst of the experience of receiving the Holy Spirit there seems to be a gentleness, rather than the event being something boisterous. That is more in keeping with how the Spirit works: freely given, nothing forced.
3. I took this photo on the Sea of Galilee in Israel. I chose to use it here because it reminded me of the apostles being sent forth to spread the Good News. It also was at the Sea of Galilee that most of the them first met Jesus, and it is also where He appeared to them after His resurrection to share a meal on the beach. (John 21)
4. I took this photo in Maine while sitting dockside enjoying a meal. The sun illuminating the clouds was breathtaking. I chose it for this spot in the post because it seemed to depict how the Son and the Spirit give us a new relationship with the Father. The clouds looked different than they had just moments before, yet they were the same clouds.
5. I took this at the first Mass of a newly ordained deacon. I chose it for many reasons. First, because it shows a special ministry and the service which is part of it: proclaiming the Gospel. Second, (in the photo) it is as if the deacon was walking straight to Jesus, though it is a bit of an optical illusion since the statue was on the side of the altar and not to the actual place he was processing. But lastly, this deacon will be ordained a priest this coming week and will celebrate his first Mass on the Feast of the Holy Trinity. Congratulations to (soon-to-be) Fr. Marcus Fryer, SJ!!
6. This icon is exquisite. It is called Hagiography Icon Holy Virgin Mary With the Apostles at Pentecost and it comes from Santiago de Chile. I loved it the moment I saw it because it captured what I was trying to say in the last paragraph. We are one Church, filled with the Spirit. The tongues of fire are falling upon the entire world in this beautiful, vibrant icon and Mary is at the center, interceding for all of us. It is magnificent! If you are interested in obtaining a copy, you can find it at http://nioras.com/product_info.php/hagiography-icon-holy-virgin-mary-with-the-apostles-pentecost-santiago-chile-p-93775.
7. This image is part of a larger work by Fr. William Hart McNichols: it is called Viriditas Triptych. I chose it because the Holy Spirit desires unity, for the Church to be one, just as the tongues of fire are seen surrounding the entire globe. All that is created is renewed in the Holy Spirit and grace is offered to all. If you would like to obtain a copy for purchase in one of many different mediums, this triptych can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/viriditas-triptych-william-hart-mcnichols.html. The larger work to which it belongs can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/viriditas-finding-god-in-all-things-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Heart Speaks to Heart