by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The universal church is soon to enter the nine days between the feast of the Ascension and the solemnity of Pentecost — the nine days that became the very prototype for the Catholic novena.
This first novena recalls the time after Christ ascended into heaven and the Virgin Mary and disciples lived in anticipation, eventually crowded together in an upper room in Jerusalem, waiting for what might happen next.
For nine days, they devoted themselves to constant prayer until the Holy Spirit was poured out on them at Pentecost and they were empowered with God’s love.
In that moment, the church was born, and its mission of evangelization began.
On May 4, 1897, Pope Leo XIII proclaimed: “We decree and command that throughout the whole Catholic Church, this year and in every subsequent year, a novena shall take place before Whit Sunday (Pentecost) in all parish churches.”
Pope John Paul II echoed that decree on May 30, 1979, saying: “In the course of these days, [the church] invites us to take part in the novena to the Holy Spirit.”
This year, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann invites all Catholics in the archdiocese to join together in this most ancient novena.
“I am asking our priests, deacons, religious and laity,” he wrote in a recent Leaven column, “during 2018 to pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Catholic community in northeast Kansas.
“Specifically, I am asking everyone to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide our efforts to create within the archdiocese and all of our parishes and ministries a culture of evangelization.”
The archbishop is encouraging his flock to focus more on sharing the truth, beauty and goodness of our Catholic faith with others.
“I believe the archbishop’s invitation for us to pray this novena is an invitation for us to encounter God’s love so we are not afraid to go forth and bring that love to others,” said Father Anthony Ouellette, SSA, the archdiocesan liaison to the Catholic charismatic renewal.
On the day of his ascension, Jesus’ physical presence was taken from his disciples, but he did not abandon them.
At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in their hearts, they received the courage and wisdom to spread his Gospel.
“They were not afraid,” said Father Anthony. “They went out into the streets and they begin to act in a public ministry.
“And that’s the whole endeavor of what the archbishop is inviting us do.”
Emily Lopez, lead consultant for adult evangelization in the archdiocese, agreed, saying the archbishop is intent on “building a culture of evangelization” as we prepare for a large convocation of parish leaders in October 2019.
The convocation is in response to the vision of Pope Francis in his 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”).
Lopez emphasized that the convocation initiative must be founded in prayer.
“Any effort we embark on in the church needs to begin with prayer, especially to the Holy Spirit, who can give us strength and understanding for the work we do,” she said.
The archbishop has asked that we pray specifically for the Holy Spirit to help each of us become what Pope Francis calls “missionary disciples.”
But what we are asked to do as Christians at times can seem daunting.
And that’s why it’s important, as we invoke the Holy Spirit, said Father Anthony, to be open to a paradigm change in how we perceive God’s love.
“It’s not that we have loved God,” he said, “but that he has loved us. And so, that love of God for us gives us the courage to go forth.
“We do not do works so that we can be loved; we do our work and our actions based upon being loved.”
“Understanding our identity as being beloved sons and daughters of God,” he continued, “we are then able to have all our actions of life be an expression of trying to love God in return.”
The central element to the call to evangelize is experiencing the love of God in a very personal way that gives us the desire and courage to share it with others, he said.
Within our archdiocese are a large number of nonpracticing Catholics and an even larger number of individuals who claim no religious affiliation.
In light of that, the archbishop has said, “Those of us blessed with the joy that only Jesus and life in his church can bring to our hearts have an obligation to share the gift of our faith with others.”