Friday, June 02, 2006

The First Novena

Pentecost is almost here. It is one of the greatest feasts of the Church’s liturgical year, and it crowns the whole Lenten-Paschal cycle that takes up at least a third of the year. So what are you doing to get ready for it? God the Holy Spirit is coming. Are you prepared to receive that Divine Fire? What happens when He shows up and you are not even paying attention?

It’s a little late for me to suggest that you begin a novena to prepare for the feast, though this, of all times, is the most appropriate time to make one. Novenas aren’t part of the Byzantine spiritual tradition, but in this case I’d be willing to make an exception, for it is because of this very period of the liturgical year that novenas exist at all. The Mother of God and the Apostles and other disciples were the first ones to make this pre-Pentecost novena.

Pentecost occurs ten days after Ascension, so there are nine days to pray between Ascension and Pentecost (yet another reason not to have “Ascension Sunday”!). All novenas take their name from this original nine days of prayerful watching and waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they would be clothed with power from on high, when the “Promise of the Father,” the Holy Spirit, would be given. So “all these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brethren” (Acts 1:14).

They didn’t know they’d be “making a novena,” since Jesus didn’t tell them just how many days they would be waiting. But they may have been able to guess, since Pentecost (already an Old Testament feast celebrating the giving of the Law on Mt Sinai), was just around the corner. In any case, they were eagerly awaiting this Gift, of which they really didn’t have much knowledge, only a few rather obscure sayings of the Lord. We actually have more information about the Holy Spirit than they did, due to the last two millennia of Holy Tradition and the testimonies of the saints, but I for one would gladly trade what I know about the Holy Spirit for the intensity of the prayer and fervor of those first disciples of the Savior.

But we don’t need to settle for one or the other. We can both know about the Holy Spirit and know the Holy Spirit personally, and this is what the Lord wants. Everything that God does in our lives is done through the Holy Spirit, so it is in the best interests of our spiritual growth and salvation that we become as full of the Spirit as possible—in knowledge and in love and in personal life and communion.

So hurry up and get ready! The time is almost up. Pray fervently with Our Lady and the Apostles and Saints so that the Holy Spirit will find a warm and open place in your heart. The world is already full of all kinds of phony and even destructive “spiritualities,” and some people think they are accessing various cosmic energies when they are only playing into the hands of demons—who are spirits, all right, but unholy ones who laugh derisively at the naïveté, ignorance, or spiritual confusion of those around whom they are tightening their grip. So repent and cleanse your hearts, and invoke the Holy Spirit of the True God, the All-holy Trinity, and you will receive the Promise of the Father and the spiritual gifts that will enable you to do his will. For the spiritual life is not about seeking paranormal sensations or cosmic vibrations, but rather “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit—he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God” (Romans 14:17-18).