The Ecclesial Mysteries complete the set of 35 mysteries for the week long rosary meditation on Salvation History. These mysteries invite us to meditate upon the foundation of the Early Church and the amazing events that God did through the Body of Christ--those men and women from whom we Catholics received our faith. The Ecclesial Mysteries call us to see who we, as Church, were, who we ought to be now, and who we will be in glory.
The first Ecclesial Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples at Pentecost:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1-4)
Although the Holy Spirit is referred to throughout scripture, it is with Pentecost that the Third Person of the Trinity enters Salvation History in a new, exciting, and personal way. There is a real sense that had the Holy Spirit not come upon the apostles and disciples they would not have left the upper room to begin their ministry of preaching the Gospel. It is for certain that without the Spirit’s gifts, they would have failed in their mission. They were, after all, ordinary men and women—mostly uneducated. Who were they to stand up in front of the diverse and sophisticated crowds of Jerusalem, of Antioch, of Damascus, of Rome, and beyond?
This mystery calls upon us to think about the radical change effected in the behavior and abilities of the apostles and disciples. They move from being doubting, stumbling sinners, to radiant, eloquent defenders of Jesus as Messiah. It also asks of us to discern what are those gifts that the Spirit has given to us for the sake of the Christian mission. Are we called to preach, teach, serve the poor, etc.? How has the Spirit helped you to be renewed and to be more Christ-like? What is your relationship to the Holy Spirit like?
Perhaps you would like to say an extra prayer, at this time, to the Holy Spirit:
"Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with your holy gifts. Let my weaknesses be penetrated with your strength this very day that I may fulfill the duties of my state in life conscientiously, that I may do what is right and just. Let my charity be such as to offend no one and hurt no one's feelings; so generous as to pardon sincerely any wrong done to me. Assist me in all the trials of life, enlighten me in my ignorance, advise me in my doubts, strengthen my weakness, help me in all needs and embarrassment, protect me in temptations and console me in all afflictions. Graciously hear me, O Holy Spirit, and pour your light into my heart, my soul and my mind. Assist me to live a holy life and to grow in goodness and grace."
If you would like to grow closer to God the Holy Spirit and learn more about the Spirit, visit the website of the Catholic group Apostles of the Holy Spirit. I used their materials to prepare myself for baptism when I was a Methodist. Their website is: http://www.aoths.org/. Their literature is mostly free, if I remember correctly. The above prayer comes from one of their prayer cards.
The second Ecclesial Mystery: The Ministry of St. Peter and the Other Apostles:
“Peter addressed the people, ‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.’” (Acts 3:12-16)
In the quoted speech from St. Peter above, we see an example of the transformation I referred to earlier when speaking about Pentecost. This fisherman from Galilee--this hick--has become a man of great courage. The one who denied Jesus now openly proclaims him to his fellow countrymen. With the help of the Holy Spirit's gifts, Peter is able to tell to other people a story that must have sounded like madness--Jesus, who was crucified, had been raised from the dead.
It's important to see in the ministry of Peter and the other apostles the reality that Jesus was raised in another way--in the ministry of his followers. Peter and John had just cured a cripple, something Jesus would have done. And now, they stand before the people to preach, also something Jesus would have done. Truly, the light that Jesus had brought into the world had not gone out. He specifically came to pass that light on to others so that they could continue the work by being a part of his body. As I said yesterday, Catholics really do teach and believe that we are members of the Body of Christ. We are in Christ and he is in us, and because of that, we must be different than other people in the world. We must be about the work of salvation. This mystery challenges us to examine our lives and to ask if we are truly living as members of the Body of Christ.
How do other see the light of Christ through us?
The third Ecclesial Mystery: The Martyrdom of St. Stephen:
"When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.” (Acts 7:54-60)
St. Stephen, like St. Peter, had been preaching fearlessly to the people. He desired to show to the Jews in the crowd the error of rejecting Jesus as Messiah, and this, of course, enraged his hearers. They are so angry, they allow their hate to run away with them, and they stone Stephen to death.
St. Stephen is the proto-martyr of the Christian faith--the first to die in the name of Jesus. He was the first to follow the example of Jesus, laying down his life rather than running away, or fighting back. His perfect imitation of Christ, down to praying for his murderers, would serve as the example for a whole generation of Christians who would suffer the same fate, including all of the Apostles except John. We hear the names of some of these (Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy...) martyrs during the Eucharist prayers. Stephen's death also is a model for us. Most Christians will not be persecuted to the point of death for our faith--and for many reasons. One reason being the general toleration afforded to religious views. Another reason, however, may be that we do not preach our faith, rather, we keep it to ourselves, so that when we know people are in moral error, we say nothing to them, or, when our faith is being challenged by someone else, we do not defend it--either because we have not learned it well enough, we have not been in relationship with God well enough, or we are afraid or self-conscious.
This mystery asks of us to examine our inner desires and motivations as concern our Christian faith. How far would we go for Christianity? Do we witness to Christ at the risk of alienation from others, or do we hide our faith for the sake of comfort?
The fourth Ecclesial Mystery: The Conversion of St. Paul:
“Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ Saul asked, ‘who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:1-9)
The Conversion of St. Paul is arguably one of the most important events in Christian history outside of events directly connected to the life of the Lord himself. The Letters of St. Paul are the earliest preserved writings of the Christian community, and they are a mix of theology, poetry, preaching, and fraternal correction. More than that, they are a testimony to an extraordinary encounter with the Risen Jesus.
The fact that Jesus calls Paul to be his preacher to the Gentiles is amazingly ironic. Paul, after all, was an approving witness at the stoning of St. Stephen, and he was on his way to Damascus to arrest other Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial and imprisonment. In short, Paul was a major enemy of the Church. Yet, Jesus knew how eloquent Paul was, and he knew how zealous Paul was--if only that energy could be used for the right cause. And so, Jesus grants to Paul a special post-Resurrection appearance. In that appearance, Jesus reveals himself,--and Paul is changed by what he sees and hears.
This mystery allows us to contemplate the power of conversion, true conversion--and the mercy of God. God is able to make out of the worst of sinners the best of preachers. This should give us all hope, and make us patient with people that we see not living a Christian life, or even ourselves, if we have not been living as we ought.
This mystery also reminds us that Christianity is not a religion about rules and regulations. At the heart of Christianity is the experience of God who is Love. God who Saves. And this experience propels us to live radically different from how we were. We do not save ourselves--so we must be open to God. We are to invite God into our lives so that our conversion may be on-going, so that it may be complete, so that sin may be as foreign to us as the dust on the surface of the moon.
The fifth Ecclesial Mystery: The Assumption and Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. Then from his mouth the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 12:13-17)
On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII solemnly and infallibly declared: “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
The Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary teaches us not only about the end of Mary’s earthly life and the beginning of her heavenly life, it also teaches us about our own hopes as Christians. Just as Christ was not just “spiritually” raised from the dead, but raised body and soul, so we Christians are to be raised, body and soul. Most of the saints in heaven await the full resurrection, but not all. Mary, like Enoch and Elijah of the Old Testament, was privileged to enter eternal life, body and soul--complete. And when she entered heaven, she received the crown promised to all the saints (James 1:12).
These two events in the life of the Virgin Mary handed down in oral tradition and now solemnly defined as dogma are joyful mysteries to meditate upon. On the one hand, we contemplate our sweet Blessed Mother's entrance into Heaven, and the jubilation that that event caused for all those already there, especially her son; and on the other, we imagine the joy that will occur in Heaven when we enter those holy gates, as well.
Why such joy? This mystery celebrates the ultimate message of Holy Scripture: GOD IS ALMIGHTY. Even though sin, death, and evil have waged a war against God, God wins out in the end. The life and glorification of the Blessed Virgin is a triumph of God's goodness over the Fall from Grace that happened at the beginning of the human story. Her glorification is only one of many, and with each added saint in Heaven, the story of the power of God's loving nature becomes brighter and brighter.
If we Catholics love the Blessed Virgin Mary so much, it's only because we intuit how much Almighty God loves her. She is his perfect daughter,--the one who says "yes" to his will with her whole being. And through her prayers, God continues to grant grace upon grace to those in need here on earth and those in purgatory, so that the Church may be gathered together on the Eternal Day--united for good in a world of light.
[*Pentecost, The Assumption of the BVM, and the Coronation of the BVM are official mysteries of the traditional rosary. I offer the other mysteries as suggested meditations.]
Br. Paul, OP~