The word “novena” is rarely heard these days in the Church. When I was a little boy, my mother was constantly involved in one novena after another. She had so many intentions and people to remember along with special prayers for each one and special saints for each intention. She prayed novenas to the Sacred Heart (her favorite), the Infant of Prague, St. Jude, the Blessed Mother (of course) and one of her special favorites, the novena to the Holy Spirit. It took me some time to realize that my mother was a great client of the Holy Spirit, but when I listened to her respond to my questions about, well, anything, I understood that she had discerned through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, a certain wisdom—that first Gift of the Holy Spirit—and a way to respond to my issues in life. I was more than impressed. I was remarkably astonished; my mother was a real “spiritual director.” (In my humble and youthful opinion.) So, what does all that mean for us today? And what has my mom taught me that I can share with you?
We share the vigorous mystery of new Life in the Easter season in a particularly inventive way. God’s Son has risen from the dead—pretty amazing! It takes some serious prayer and profound thinking to “wrap our minds” around this! Only God could have thought it up, and only God can help us unravel it in our minds and hearts. The Apostles and the Blessed Mother stayed in the Upper Room—the Cenacle—after Jesus ascended back into heaven. They prayed, they discussed their thoughts, they reflected on the events after the Resurrection, and they thought about what Jesus had told them about everything they would understand when the Holy Spirit—the Advocate—would come to them. So, from the time of the Ascension to the Pentecost—nine days—they prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Nine days. That’s where the Church got the name and idea of “novena.” The Latin word for nine, novem and the intense repetition and remembrance of the particular intention became the time frame and the structure of the first and truly beloved Pentecost Novena. The custom, of course, developed and grew to include prayers and intentions directed to other saints for special mementos as needed to bring comfort and peace to all believers and closeness to our patrons in heaven.
The Pentecost Novena, of course, gave exceptional strength and courage to the infant Church that was fully realized when fear and meekness gave way to the full power of the proclamation of the Gospel in the Light of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday itself. The Holy Spirit has been empowering, protecting and guiding the Church ever since. No evil can overturn or weaken the Truth of the Gospel and the manifestation of Christ’s authority in the Church. It is guaranteed and promised by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!
The Sacrament of Confirmation is one of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation and a true emblem of the power of the Holy Spirit in the heart, mind and action of the believer in Jesus Christ. So far this year, my words in this column have been focused on the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit—the direct result of the Holy Spirit’s action in our lives through Confirmation.
We must remember that the Holy Spirit in our lives is not a spirit of timidity or fear; rather, the Holy Spirit is power and energy to speak Truth to power in a world filled with distortions and fakery. We are given the ability through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to discern—to look beyond appearances and judge (with the aid of the Gifts) the affairs of this life. We need to test them and see if they measure up to the Truth of the Gospel—the Truth of Jesus, Himself. That is more than simply making up our own truths or our own subjective way of thinking. The Gospel challenges us to believe that Christ has died and risen—ours is not an insipid message for those who seek fairy tales. It is a compelling Gospel that asserts the rights and dignity of every man and woman, it promotes the integrity of human life, it protects the rights of the downtrodden and men and women who have been objectified and abused. It is not the Gospel of the spineless followers of this world who seek some Godless utopian realm of false prophets and tin gods.
Like our ancestors, brothers and sisters, we are “locked” in the Upper Room, knowing its significance, and preparing ourselves through prayer and discernment, to bravely face the oncoming storm of contemporary society.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love. In Your Light, we shall be created and renew the face of the earth!
By Bishop William Patrick Callahan is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse
Appeared May/June 2019 issue
We must remember that the Holy Spirit in our lives is not a spirit of timidity or fear; rather, the Holy Spirit is power and energy to speak Truth to power in a world filled with distortions and fakery.