Holy spirit

Ask for the Holy Spirit

The risen Lord spent 40 days with his disciples before ascending to heaven. But finally the time has come for him to leave. As we observe the solemnity of the Ascension this year, we hear the Gospel of Luke, which records Jesus’ last instructions to the disciples before his ascension: “And behold, I send upon you the promise of my Father; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. They must not leave the city of Jerusalem. At least not yet. Their instructions are to stay and wait. The reason for this post-Ascension expectation is that Jesus is going to send his “Father’s promise”, i.e. the Holy Spirit, upon them.

The reason for this expectation then tells us something about why Jesus had to go up in the first place. Jesus explained elsewhere: “It is for your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go away, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). Christ wanted to ascend to the right hand of the Father before sending the Spirit because it shows that the Father and the Son, together as one, send the Holy Spirit. This indeed teaches us something about the interior life of the Blessed Trinity. The manner in which the divine persons of the Son and the Spirit are sent into the world reflects the manner in which they proceed eternally from the Father.

As the Son is eternally begotten by the Father, so the Father sends the Son into the world in time. And just as the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son, so also the Father and the Son together as one send the Holy Spirit into the world in time. Saint Thomas Aquinas remarked that this is what the book of Revelation shows when it speaks of the Holy Spirit as “the river of water of life, flowing from the throne of God and from the Lamb (Rev 22, 1). Saint Thomas also remarked that this is why sometimes Jesus says he himself will send the Spirit, and sometimes he says his Father will send the Spirit. But whenever he speaks of the Father sending the Spirit, he does not do so without mentioning himself (for example, in Jn 14:26: “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name”) . And each time he speaks of himself sending the Spirit, he does not do so without also mentioning the Father (for example, in Jn 15:26: “whom I will send to you from the Father”). It is because the Father and the Son, together as one, send the Holy Spirit. And that is why Jesus first ascends to heaven before sending the Spirit. He wanted even his resurrected humanity to be at the right hand of the Father when the Spirit was sent.

One good thing you can do during this post-Ascension waiting period is to read the Gospel of Saint John chapters 14-16. There is much to ponder in these chapters about the Holy Spirit we expect. Let the words of Jesus increase your heart’s desire for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost. And the other good thing to do during this waiting time is to pray for the Holy Spirit. Pray for a deepening of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus taught us perseverance in prayer, he taught us that we should fundamentally ask for the Holy Spirit. “Ask, and it will be given to you; Seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you… If you then, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Lu 11:9, 13). You can pray the novena to the Holy Spirit. The novena text can be found easily online or in many prayer books. During this post-Ascension waiting time, we join with Mary and the apostles as they did for this first novena, and with the whole Church as we ask for a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost.

Prof. Oetjen is studying Canon Law at the Catholic University of Washington, with residency at St. Agnes Church in Arlington.