Like when I haven’t worked out for several days, my writing muscles feel tight, in need of a stretch. I’ve been unusually busy, mainly because of our daughter’s graduation and accompanying events (and shopping for the necessary wardrobe for such functions and getting the house ready for a big party!). But the deterioration of the Church has me all knotted up, questioning whether I should even continue practicing Catholicism, and I’ve found it hard to write. I’m simply unable to rationalize away the recent condemnation of women religious, coming as it does on the heels of so many other things, like the missal, the harsh treatment of theologian Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, and the ongoing sex abuse scandal, to name just a few examples. I’m asking myself to what extent attending mass constitutes an endorsement of the hierarchy and whether I should leave.
The approach of Pentecost is normally an uplifted time, but the present discouragement illuminates for me how I’ve tended to sentimentalize that event. It has been a sort of “happy ending” to the whole story of Jesus. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and dispelled their fear; of course they were empowered to go out and preach and thus the Church came into being, end of story. The reality is that the casting out of fear led to a lot more upheaval, but ultimately something new was born. I long for a mighty wind and tongues of fire, come what may!
Oddly, the idea of a novena has been persistently stirring in my thoughts these past weeks. A novena is a prayer repeated nine times, which can be successive days or once a week for nine weeks, etc. They can be different prayers each day or the same each time. Such devotions are not at all usual for me, but the idea just won’t be dismissed. A little research turned up that the number nine is associated with sorrow and that the first novena is considered to be the nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday when the disciples were gathered together in the upper room, praying. Usually a novena is a prayer of petition, often with a sense of urgency, but can also be of thanksgiving. Though previously unfamiliar to me, a novena does seem to fit the situation.
I composed the prayer below to be my daily intention from now until Pentecost, next Sunday, May 27. (Technically the novena should have started yesterday to finish on the day before, but I’m going to count today as the first day and complete it on Pentecost.)
Please join me! Compose your own prayer, if it would be more helpful, and feel free to share it here.
Novena to the Holy Spirit 2012
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Alight upon us now, in this time, in this place.
Inflame us once more with the fire of passion.
Breathe in us fresh wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.
Send us forth today; inspire our courage.
Come, Holy Spirit, renew us!
The church can be such a hard place to be sometimes. Maybe all the time. I recently heard a wise pastor talk about his frustrations with people saying they don’t go to church because they find God in nature. It’s easy to find God in nature, he laughed – it’s much, much harder to find God in church. I was intrigued by your “sentimentalization” of Pentecost b/c for me it’s always been the opposite: I picture it as a terrifying time, a sending-forth, a leap into the unknown. But accompanied by a deep memory of the love for Christ that gathered the early disciples together, and spurned on by the Spirit’s power. I wonder what Pentecost means for our church today, especially in a time when we seem to be speaking so many different languages. Can we understand each other, and is the Spirit speaking to (in/through) each of us?
Perhaps the Pentecost story has become overly familiar for me. I resonate with your picture of terrifying when I stop and consider it, but from the present day vantage point, I think the founding of the church seems inevitable and the terrifying aspect is less immediately apparent. I fervently believe that the Spirit is speaking to and through each of us — just wish there were clarity on what the Spirit is really saying!!!
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