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Friday, July 25, 2008

St. Philomena: Child Saint from Roman Times Works Wonders in the 20th Century

by Susan C. Fox I learned to know St. Philomena as most people do - by testing her intercessory power with God. I had been working all summer to start the Legion of Mary at St. Philomena's Catholic Church in Des Moines, Washington, and it wasn't proving to be an easy task. There was a statue of St. Philomena in the back of the church - she held a lily and an anchor. And I thought, "Well, I wonder who she was?" Then I addressed her, "St. Philomena, if you had a devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, when you were alive, will you please help me start Mary's army here in this parish dedicated to you?" This was August, 1994. The Legion of Mary was up and running by September. And very little further effort was required by me as the most amazing group of Filipino Catholics joined the Legion there and they began the serious task of door-to-door evangelization. So this started me wondering. Who is this lady in the back of the Church holding an anchor? How is she so powerful with the Mother of God? And with God Himself. Unknown to myself, I had stumbled across a spiritual gold mine that had been specially reserved by God for our times. On the feast day of Mary, Help of Christians, May 24, 1802, the bones of St. Philomena were uncovered in an underground cemetary on the road from Rome to Ancona. She had laid there in total obscurity for over 1600 years. But once her relics were transferred to a shrine at Muganano, Italy (near Naples), the miracles abounded. And as a result, her popularity spread to such a degree that within 35 years, she was declared a saint and named the "Wonderworker of the 19th Century" by Pope Gregory XVI. It is the only instance in which the Church granted the public cultus of a saint from the Catacombs of which nothing was known except her name and the bare fact of her martyrdom, according to Fr. Goodman, M.S.C., "Saint Philomena, Virgin, Martyr and Wonderworker." The bones that were uncovered on that fateful day were those of a 13-year-old girl. The burial stone held several symbols testifying to Philomena's virginity and martyrdom. The Roman emperor Diocletian wanted to marry Philomena, but he was already married, and she refused. So he tied her to an anchor and threw her in the Tiber River - a common form of martyrdom in Roman times. However, the rope tying her to the anchor broke and she did not drown. Two arrows on her tomb pointing in opposite directions apparently signify that he tried to kill her by arrows, but they turned around and struck the archers. And finally after she still refused him, he stabbed her in the back of the neck with a spear, and the bones revealed that was her actual means of death. Those symbols on her tomb, and the vial of her martyr's blood buried with her, were the only record remaining of Philomena's life when her remains were unearthed. Three separate apparitions to a nun, a priest and an artisan have since confirmed these facts, plus the information that Philomena may have been the daughter of a Greek prince, who converted to the faith just prior to her birth. As a result of his conversion, she was named Lumena in allusion to the "light" of faith her parents were given. And at her Baptism they called her Filumena or "daughter of light." And yes, according to these private revelations about Philomena, she had a great devotion to the Mother of Jesus, who even came to succor her while the Emperor held her in his dungeon. The most illustrious miracle worked by this little saint was the healing of Pauline Marie Jaricot, a French girl from Lyons, who started the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Pauline had suffered a heart attack and was near death when she came to Rome in 1835 for an audience with Pope Gregory XVI. However, at the last minute she was too ill to go to the Pope, and he came to her instead. Believing the girl was not long for this world, the Pope asked her to bring an intention of his to the courts of heaven. But Pauline wasn't ready to give up. She was on her way to Mugnano to ask for a miracle from Philomena. "If on my return from Mugnano I were to come to the Vatican on foot, then would Your Holiness deign to proceed without delay to the final inquiry into the cause of Philomena?" Pope Gregory agreed to this bargain immediately, "for that would be a miracle of the first order." Nevertheless, he blessed the girl never expecting to see her again in this life. Pauline lingered in Rome for another month too ill to move, but suddenly got the strength to make the journey to Mugnano. On Aug. 10, 1835, during Benediction at the Shrine of Philomena, Pauline collapsed. Tears crept under her eyelids, a tinge of color returned to her cheeks, and her icy feet and hands were warmed. Pauline was cured. And she returned to Rome on foot where the Pope immediately began the inquiry into Philomena's sanctity. The date Aug. 10 is significant because this is the day, Philomena's relics arrived in Mugnano in 1805, and she was installed in the Church there in the early hours of Aug. 11, which is now her feast day. Philomena also played a significant role in the life of the Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney, who had a relic of the saint and dedicated a chapel to her as soon as he heard of her canonization. The humble Cure seemed to understand instinctively St. Louis Marie de Montfort's fourth principle of True Marian Devotion that it is more humble to have an intermediary with Christ: "It is more perfect because it supposes greater humility to approach God through a mediator rather than directly by ourselves." St. John translated that into a special relationship with St. Philomena. Many miracles were recorded by his biographers - the healing of the sick, the obtaining of money for worthy causes and the acquiring of knowledge. The humble Cure attributed these miracles to the intercession of his special friend, St. Philomena. "He could not bring himself to believe that miracles could be operated through his intercession, and he was unwilling that others should attribute them to a merit which he was certain he didn't possess. He himself ascribed them to the intercession of St. Philomena," according to Bruce Marshall's "Saints for Now." When the sick came to him for a healing, he told them to go and pray before the altar of St. Philomena, knowing that their recovery would be ascribed to her and not to him. The Cure became famous as the priest of the confessional, spending as much as 15 hours a day there. Always, he relied on Philomena for the answers. The book, "Saint Philomena: Powerful with God" by Sister Marie Helene Mohr, S.C. is basically the story of the numerous miracles that have occurred due to the intercession of this child saint who probably lived about 160 A.D., died a horrible death, and remained in total obscurity until 1802. I reflected on why a young girl whose life is almost totally unknown would capture the imagination of so many people in the 19th and 20th centuries - so many people in fact that there are shrines and churches dedicated to her as far away from Italy as Des Moines, Washington. I believe the answer is the fact that Philomena in her life imitated so perfectly the purity and suffering of Christ. Jesus is the innocent Lamb of God. Jesus is sinless, but nevertheless He took on the sins of the world that we might have life eternal. Philomena was one of Christ's innocent lambs, who died in union with Him, in order that sinners might be converted. According to the three private revelations of her life, each public attempt to kill her represented another opportunity for the pagan spectators to convert, and they did in great numbers. God dwells most perfectly in those without sin. Mary was born without original sin. Hence she was full of grace. There was not one speck of sin in her. Mary therefore also has a special relationship with those who are martyred to give themselves exclusively to Christ. Think about the modern Marian apparitions in Scottsdale, Ariz. They are occuring in a Church named after St. Maria Goretti, another virgin-martyr, but one from our times, who died to avoid the sin of impurity. Nothing happens by coincidence, but everything is gifted to us providentially by God. In 1802, God could foresee the needs of our century clearly. He could see the confusion about values that would leave many souls literally starving for God's grace. He could see a time when sexual immorality would be taken for granted, witnessed daily on television, in movies and newspapers. This is a time when getting married is an anachronism for most people, when abortion is an accepted means of birth control, and divorce is literally distroying the family. For this time, God saved the knowledge of a 13-year-old girl, full of the light of faith, who would endure arrows, drowning, and a spear rather than give up her vow of virginity to her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. (P.S. St. Philomena's Catholic Church of Des Moines now has a Junior Legion of Mary for kids age 8 to 17. It has about 12 members. These kids are from all over the world - American, Vietnamese, Hispanic and Filipino. At their second meeting, I told the children of the life of St. Philomena, and how she helped bring the Legion of Mary to life in their parish. I ask St. Philomena to guard these and all of our children, and bring them into the pure light of faith.)

St. Anthony of Padua -- He found the Pearl of Great Price

by Susan Fox

"If you would be perfect, go sell what you have and give it all to the poor and you shall have treasures in heaven, and come follow me." 

These words of Jesus caused the rich young man in Matthew's Gospel to go away sad. He had kept all the commandments from his youth, and wanted to know what yet was lacking in his life. But he wasn't prepared for the answer, for - as Jesus told the disciples later - it is easier for a camel to pass throught he eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. But confronted with the same conundrum, not every man in history has responded the same.

This is the story of the rich young man who left everything to follow Jesus. He came to be known as the "Hammer of Heretics" and "Wonder Worker" for the converts he made and the miracles he performed.

He is St. Anthony of Padua. Born in the year 1195 to a rich Portugese family, Fernando de Bulhom was the beloved child of a knight in the court of King Alfonso II of Portugal. As the only child of Don Martinho de Bulhom, Fernando was expected to marry and take over the running of the family castle. He shocked contemporaries when he chose instead at the age of 15 to become a priest in the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. There he was given floors to scrub, trained in the art of preaching and ordained at the age of 25.

But the happiness of littleness and the path of humility that he sought eluded Fernando in the Canons Regular near his home in Lisbon. Like Christ Himself, he was accused by his friends and relatives of being mad, and worse, selfish for abandoning his parents. Never mind that his parents approved of his vocation. 

When he was 17, he transferred to the priory at Coimbra because visits from his friends were disturbing his peace. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1219, he was assigned to be guestmaster at the priory in Coimbra. He was bitterly disappointed as his basic job was to greet the wealthy patrons of the monastery, using his family name and connections. 

But God was prepared to present Canon Fernando with a call within a call. Only 10 years before, Francis of Assisi - another rich young man who had given up everything to follow Christ - had started his religious order dedicated to a life of simple poverty. It had grown rapidly. Since Francis's great desire was to convert the Saracens, some of his brothers, including former nobles, came into contact with Canon Fernando in Coimbra on their way south to Northern Africa. Many of Fernando's contemporaries regarded these "religious beggers" as mad because of their radical poverty. They slept on the ground, begged for their food, and in the beginning there were few priests among them. This challenged the assumption of the time that the life of holiness is for priests and nuns only.

Canon Fernando was moved when these little Franciscan brothers came and begged for his blessing as a priest. He began to dream of joining them and going off to become a martyr like the five Franciscan brothers killed by Muslim heretics about the time of his ordination. Fernando had a great hunger to win souls to Christ and the life of sanctity. And he saw that the five martyrs caused the half empty churches in Coimbra to fill up suddenly. Not only that, but he heard the confessions of many who changed their lives as a result of the examples of these Franciscans killed by the Saracens.

Canon Fernando was a brilliant preacher, but he saw that words alone weren't enough to win priceless souls. He saw clearly that one's whole life had to become a living example of the life of Jesus. And in the Canons Regular such a life was not possible as the order was living in comfort. He won approval to leave the Canons Regular to join the Franciscans in 1221. This was no easy task as he had to have the approval of every member of his house. And they were reluctant to let a member of the de Bulhom family leave the order. By this time, his father was governor of Lisbon, and possibly the most powerful man in the city.

But Fernando's passion was to imitate the life of Christ, to be scorned by the world and counted as nothing. Once and for all, he shed the de Bulhom name, and became simply Friar Antonio of the Franciscan Brothers. When he was younger and still living at home, Fernando had hoped to become a knight rather than a lord. His father had not prepared him for that vocation because he wasn't physically strong. But when he left home to join the Canons Regular, Don Martinho de Bulhom's faithful young squire, Don Ruggiero had followed Fernando into the order. Ruggiero had been training to serve the de Bulhom family as a knight. Now when Fernando became Father Anthony, Ruggiero chose to follow him and become a Franciscan. 

It was perhaps a sign that God had chosen Anthony to be his knight-errant, and Ruggiero - a big strong lad - became the saint's squire. Anthony believed his vocation was to be a martyr in Africa, like his namesake St. Antony the Great, who had wrestled demons and founded western monasticism. But he had something to learn yet about humbly doing God's will. 
Arriving in Morocco, he was too ill to preach to anyone - let alone die of martyrdom. He tried to return to Portugal which would mean humiliation and failure, but the ship he was on went astray and he ended up in Assisi, Italy in 1221 in time to participate in a general chapter meeting of his order. He met St. Francis of Assisi there. Francis would have been 40 years old, and Anthony was 26. Out of the chapter meeting in 1221, Anthony was assigned to preach all over Italy. 

At the time, Europe was plagued with the Waldensian heresy, which denied the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the validity of the Sacraments if not administered by a holy priest. One of the hotbeds for this heresy was the Province of Romagna in Italy. And the source of the heresy was the city of Rimini. It was to Rimini that St. Anthony was sent to preach first. He was accompanied by his faithful squire, Brother Ruggiero. 

Everywhere else his eloquent sermons drew large crowds, but in Rimini, no one listened. After a time, Ruggiero began to argue that it was foolhardy to continue. One day about three months after arriving in Rimini, Anthony stood on the edge of a bluff overlooking the sea. And he thought that it was true. No one was listening. He prayed. At that moment, thousands of fish thrust their heads above the surface of the water. They seemed to wait. Anthony thought how much their ordered ranks looked like people who had stood quietly to hear him preach in the past. "Then hear the word of God!" Anthony cried, "O fishes of the sea and of the river, hear the word of God these heretics refuse to hear!" And so he began to preach to the fish about the mercies of their Creator. 

As he spoke, a crowd of 50 people gathered behind him. And at the end of his talk, he blessed the fish and dismissed them. They disappeared underneath the water immediately. The people who gathered were afraid. Some were still holding onto their stubbornness. But the following day when Friar Antonio preached, there was a large crowd assembled to hear him. Rimini was on its way back to the true Church. 

God was generous with His miracles. When Anthony was preaching one day in Rimini, he was challenged by one of the leading heretics of the town, Bononillo, to prove the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Perhaps sensing that Bononillo believed, but wanted an excuse to drop his well-known objection to the Eucharist, Father Anthony calmly accepted the challenge. Bononillo's donkey was not fed for one day, and then he was brought to the village square. Father Anthony said Mass in a nearby chapel, and after the Consecration, he took the host out into the town square, held Our Lord up, and then bent to put the Body of Christ on the tongue of Brother Ruggiero. The hungry donkey was released to eat from his basket of feed. But at the moment Ruggiero received Communion, the donkey awkwardly bent his forelegs and knelt beside the big Franciscan brother. Bononillo dropped heavily to his knees and Father Anthony returned to the chapel to finish the Mass. Bononillo left his donkey in the square eating the feed, and he ran to confession.

Do not believe that Our Blessed Lady played no role in the life of St. Anthony of Padua. For a time Anthony had been assigned to Toulouse, France. There his preaching to the heretics had drawn large crowds as usual. However, the radical poverty of the Franciscan order again challenged the corruption within the Catholic Church itself. The French bishops ordered Anthony to preach a sermon on Our Lady's Assumption on the Feast of the Assumption, Aug. 15 at a council of bishops assembled in Montpellier, France. It was a test of his orthodoxy. At that point in time, the Church had not definitively stated that Our Lady had been bodily assumed into heaven at the end of her life. Some believed in the Assumption, some were neutral and others opposed it. A group of French Franciscans - fearing the order would be thrown out of France because of the topic - pressured Father Anthony to deny the Assumption. Commissioned to preach by St. Francis himself, Father Anthony refused to recognize their authority. On the eve of the feast of the Assumption, Our Lady herself appeared to him in the church of Sainte Marie, and assured him of the truth of her bodily assumption into heaven. The next day, he preached such a tender sermon on the Mother of God that none of the bishops assembled dared question him afterwards. 

At the time that Anthony was sick in Africa, St. Francis had been fighting his own battles. There was a movement to mitigate his original rule of simplicity, humility and poverty. The chapter meeting held in 1221 that sent Anthony out preaching ended in Francis' favor, but Francis retired from the running of the order a couple years later, received the stigmata in 1224, and died in 1226. God had not called just one saint from the early Franciscans. Anthony took up Francis's cross after he ceased to run the order. And by living the example of radical poverty managed to keep the original vision of the founder alive. He was appointed minister provincial of Romagna, and succeeded in bringing his Franciscan brothers back to observing the rule by counseling them on their vocation and by living the rule himself. When he sat down to dinner, and cut himself small portions, and ate silently, he forced the other brothers, who might otherwise have ate well and noisily, to do the same. Anthony settled in Padua in 1226 after St. Francis' death. He died on June 13, 1231 from exhaustion and dropsy at the age of 36. 

St. Anthony of Padua was a man who was never satisfied with taking the easy way out as a noble, a preacher or a priest in the order of St. Augustine. He felt deeply the need to imitate Christ by owning nothing and even extinguishing his own noble background. He was called to imitate Christ's humility. During his life he was tempted to pride and almost lost his vocation when a family friend accused him of shirking his responsibilities toward his family by becoming a priest. But he escaped the temptation by moving to Coimbra. By going to Africa, Anthony was tempted to do good - even great things for God by dying as a martyr among the heretics. But he learned the value of doing God's will alone by returning to Portugal, then Italy where his true vocation as a preacher and miracle worker lie.

In short, St. Anthony of Padua lived the example of the life of Christ. As such he was an early reformer of the fledgling Franciscan order and a fiery defender of the Blessed Virgin Mary. His miracles imitated those of Christ Himself. He raised the dead, healed the sick, preached the gospel and helped the poor. He worked to abolish debtors' prisons and worked unceasingly to bring the truth of Christ's message to the heretics. It is perhaps not surprising that he is always pictured as a bald man in Franciscan garb holding the Christ Child. During his lifetime, witnesses saw St. Anthony holding the Infant Christ, who seemed to be teaching him. Perhaps the greatest lesson taught by the Christ Child was the one in Matthew's Gospel about the rich young man who could not give up his possessions to follow Jesus.

"Amen. I say to you .. . Everyone who has left home or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for my name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting. And many that are first, shall be last: and the last shall be first." (Matthew 19:28-30)

Baptism: Work of the Son and Holy Spirit

By Susan C. Fox
I do a lot of walking in my own neighborhood. In passing my neighbor’s gardens, I have often noticed that God’s plan for
their life is revealed in the way they keep their yard. Some hunger for great perfection, real holiness, and this is revealed
Image of the Holy Trinity 
in the fact that not a blade of grass in their lawn is out of place. There isn’t a single weed. Others may have weeds, but to look on their flowers is to see a riot of color, revealing a love for Beauty that could only be satisfied in seeing the Face of God. Others, like me, plant nothing unless it is fruitful. Beauty is secondary. We plant tomatoes, potatoes, carrots and corn. These Gardeners desire great fruitfulness in the Holy Spirit.

But have you ever wondered why people put those wishing wells in their garden? I did. And finally one day, I understood that my neighbors with wishing wells were hungering for goodness -- a goodness from another or a better time. Pure and simple, they were longing for the Goodness of God. Well, I thought, that settles that question.

Walk with God

But God wasn’t done with the garden image yet. Shortly after that, near Christmastime, I was walking past my neighbor’s yard, and I saw that he had displayed a very large Nativity scene in his wishing well. He stood Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus on the well. It was very clear that the goodness that he longed for was the Birth of Christ. But not just the
Birth. The Nativity scene represents the whole longing of humanity for the Incarnation – the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. My neighbor had unexpectedly put a face on that longing for Goodness with a capital “G.” He taught me that after the fall of Adam and Eve, the whole of humanity is groaning and searching to recover that beautiful relationship – that real friendship – that we had with God when we walked with Him in the Garden of Eden. Only Baptism in the Holy Spirit through the Birth, Life, Death and Resurrection of the Incarnation will restore us to God’s friendship and make us His children. Here the whole of salvation history was summarized by one family’s decision to put a Nativity Scene atop a wishing well, a decision I may well add, inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. 

The Holy Spirit is First to Welcome Us into the Kingdom of God

 It is interesting to note that the Holy Spirit is the first to bring
us to faith and to give us new life. This new life is to ‘know the Father and one whom He has sent, Jesus Christ.” (John17:3) For this reason, the Church calls the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life. But He is the last Person to be revealed in Scripture, and often the most hidden. It seems like I am always noticing that He was there, not that He is here. I can see His effects, His work, but not His Presence. I was teaching my godson the catechism one day, and he said something so profound I knew the author was the Holy Spirit. 

I wanted to grab the Holy Spirit

I wanted to grab the Holy Spirit on the spot and hold onto Him, but the boy had already spoken, and there was only the echo of His words remaining in my heart. So also in Scripture we see the Author is almost silent about Himself. He reveals God and makes known to us Christ, His living Word, but the Spirit does not speak of Himself. The Spirit who has spoken through the prophets makes us hear the Father’s Word, but we do not hear the Spirit Himself. When the Father sends His Word, he always sends His Breath. The Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct but inseparable in their joint mission of redemption. 

Christ is Visible; The Holy Spirit is Hidden

But in the Gospels, it is Christ who is seen. He is the visible image of the invisible God, but it is the Spirit who reveals Him. The Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life, is the same spirit of God who moved over the waters at Creation bringing everything into being. He is the Breath of God, breathed into man, making him into the image and likeness of God. And He is the Uncreated Gift, who now offers us the friendship of God through Baptism. 

Heart of Stone changed to Heart of Flesh

Ezekiel prophesized about this future restored friendship with God, when he wrote: “For I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 37:24-28) With the prophets of the Old Testament, we can pray, “Oh Lord and Giver of Life, give me a new heart. Write your law of love upon my heart.” 

The Law of the Holy Spirit

This is the law of the Holy Spirit: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, with your whole mind, with your whole strength and with your whole being. And you will love your neighbor as Christ has loved you.” The Blessed Virgin Mary -- she who was full of the Spirit of God from conception -- had this law written on her heart. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, she exclaims mightily, “My whole being proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”(Luke 1:46) 

So in the entire Old Testament, the personality of the Holy Spirit is completely hidden. We see the Father clearly, shepherding His people, parting the Red Sea, bringing them out of slavery, meeting Moses in the burning bush. But the Holy Spirit and the Messiah are only hinted at. The biggest hint that both were coming and would have a joint mission of redemption is in Isaiah. Isaiah is sometimes called the Fifth Gospel, or the Gospel of the Old Testament. He wrote: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1-2) This is a veiled prophecy of the coming of the Messiah, the One who will be anointed by God Himself. 

The Anointed One

Jesus “is the Anointed One in the sense that he possesses the fullness of the Spirit of God.” (Dominum et Vivificantem by Pope John Paul II) The Spirit is the Anointing. The Father
does the anointing. And Jesus Himself will be the mediator in granting this Spirit, this Uncreated Anointing, to the whole People of God. That is why when Jesus was given the job of reading in the synagogue in Nazareth, he opened the book of Isaiah, and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant. All eyes were fixed on the Lord, and then He said to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

Aha! He was telling them He was the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, the one in Whom the Holy Spirit dwells as the gift of God Himself, the one who marks the new beginning of the gift of life, which God makes to humanity in the Spirit. Later on Palm Sunday, the crowd would cry, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Luke 19:38) The Pharisees recognized that this came from Psalm 118, which refers to the kingship of the Messiah. And they urged Jesus to silence his disciples. 

And Jesus answered that if they are silent, the very stones would cry out. What would the stones say? “Jesus is the Christ! He is the kingly Messiah! He is God’s Anointed One.”
The very stones would cry out!
And who would cause the stones to cry out? The Holy Spirit. It is His job to reveal the Messiah. St. Gregory of Nyssa said that the notion of anointing suggests that there is no distance between the Son and the Spirit. “Indeed, just as between the surface of the body and the anointing with oil neither reason nor sensation recognizes any intermediary, so the contact of the Son with the Spirit is immediate, so that anyone who would make contact with the Son by faith must first encounter the oil by contact. In fact there is no part that is not covered by the Holy Spirit. That is why the confession of the Son’s Lordship is made in the Holy Spirit by those who receive him, the Spirit coming from all sides to those who approach the Son in faith.” (De Spiritu Sancto) 

So my neighbor with the Nativity scene in his wishing well was wishing and hoping for the coming of the Messiah and His Holy Spirit. When the infant Christ was presented at the temple, the Holy Spirit drew the righteous and devout Simeon to the side of Mary and Joseph. St. Luke tells us Simeon was looking for the “consolation of Israel.” That’s an Old Testament code word for the Holy Spirit. The New Catholic Catechism tells us: Two prophetic lines developed in the Old Testament, one leading to the expectation of the Messiah, and the other pointing to the announcement of a new spirit. These converge on a small Remnant of the Jews, the poor people of Israel who return from the Exile and await in hope “the consolation of Israel” and the “redemption of Jerusalem.” (Paragraph #711) 

My Eyes have seen Your Salvation

The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death until he saw the Christ, God’s Anointed One. So with the Holy Spirit upon him, Simeon took the baby into his arms, and said, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”(Luke 2:29-30) 

Many signs accompanied the Birth of the Incarnation, and the beginning of his public ministry. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, St.
St John Baptist
John the Baptist foretold the mission of the Incarnation when he said, “I baptize you with water; he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16-17) In the Old Testament, God led his people at night as a pillar of fire. He appeared to Moses as a burning bush. On one occasion, the prayer of the prophet, Elijah, brought down fire from heaven on the sacrifice of Mount Carmel. The New Catholic Catechism tells us that this event was a “figure” of the fire of the Holy Spirit, who transforms

what He touches. And finally, when Jesus came he said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled.” (Luke 12:49) He refers to the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit, which will burn and consume us until we are transformed through a new birth in Baptism into a new creation, remade in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Transforming Suffering into Redemptive Love

And now we get to the heart of the Holy Spirit’s work in the crucifixion. For when we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. We are made priest, prophet and king. A priest is a sacrifice. So the next time they hold up one of those cute little babies at Mass and pray that he or she be made a priest, prophet and king, remember you are asking that the child be martyred. I don’t think most parents know that. In his encyclical on the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World (Dominum et Vivificantem), Pope John Paul II speaks of the Holy Spirit’s work in the crucifixion, a work of transforming suffering into salvific love. The pope says, “In the sacrifice of the Son of Man, the Holy Spirit is present and active just as he acted in Jesus’ conception, in his coming into the world, in his hidden life and in his public ministry.” He cites the letter to Hebrews, where the author after recalling the sacrifices of the Old Covenant in which the “blood of goats and bulls” purifies man from sin, adds, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13) 

Specifically, in the fervent prayer of His Passion, Christ enabled the Holy Spirit to transform his suffering into redemptive love. There is a paradox at work here. We cannot say that the instruments of torture, the cross, the nails, the whips, etc. are the work of the Holy Spirit. These are a work of the devil. Sin has caused the suffering of Christ. In Christ crucified, there suffers a God who has been rejected by His own people. On the eve of His Passion, Christ speaks of the sin of those who do not believe in Him. He complains, “They do not believe.” (John 16:9) It is a distant echo of that earlier sin of man’s first parents, who through disobedience turned away from the truth contained in the Word of the Father. But from the depth of God’s suffering, His rejection by his creature, the Holy Spirit draws a blessing. 

In the Cross, Love is at Work

In the depth of the mystery of the Cross, love is at work. Love brings man back again to share in the life of God Himself. For, that is the gift that is restored to us through the cross. The Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, takes the suffering of God and restores God’s Life in us through Baptism. St. Paul said, “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Think of the freedom of the Immaculate Conception, who – without any sin or blemish – was free to say, “Yes!” when the angel invited her to be Mother of God. The Holy Spirit, through St. Elizabeth, cried out, “Blessed is she who believed that God’s promises to her would be fulfilled!”(Luke 1:45) Blessed is she who believed.

Jesus complains about the sin of those who don’t believe, but Mary, the new Eve, is the one who believed, and in the freedom of her faith, said “Yes!” Baptism is the means by which the Lord and Giver of Life restores to us the freedom of sons and daughters of God. Without it, Jesus said, we cannot enter heaven. “Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know when it comes or whether it goes; so it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8) 

That is what is meant when we pray, “Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.” Our new birth occurs when God the Father “sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” Then we receive a spirit of adopted sons by which we cry, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6) Therefore, this new birth in Baptism, this divine sonship planted in the human soul through sanctifying grace is the work of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, the Spirit, who gives life to man and the whole universe – visible and invisible – now renews the life of man through the mystery of the Incarnation. 

In the prologue of the Gospel of John, the Evangelist explains that the True Light, Jesus Christ, came into the world through the Incarnation. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) But “He was in the world that had its being through Him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him. But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, children who were born not out of human stock or urge of the flesh or will of man but of God himself.” (John 1:10-13) That is the effect of Baptism in Christ Jesus. We have a new birth! We are purified, given a clean heart! Never let anyone tell you that the Sacrament of Baptism is not important. 

Never leave anyone with the impression that it is okay to let your children chose or reject Baptism when they grow up. Baptism is the seed of eternal life. It is the spring of living water welling up in your hearts unto eternal life. And God went to an awful lot of trouble to bring you Baptism. Remember Jesus said, “I am the vine. You are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. . . If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:5-13)

Love as Christ has Loved

Notice that Jesus does not say, love your neighbor as yourself. Now that you know Christ, now that you are baptized into his love, you must love as Christ has loved. You must have total self-consuming love that will even give its life for a friend. You must follow Him to the cross. This kind of branch is full of lots of green sap. Implicitly, the Holy Spirit is the sap of the Father’s vine, which bears fruit on its branches. The Father is the vinedresser. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes so it might bear more fruit. The Holy Spirit is the sap bearing fruit on the vine, and Jesus is the vine. St. Stephen, one of the first seven deacons of the Church, like all the martyrs of the Catholic Church, bore this kind of sap within him. 

The Acts of the Apostles describes Stephen as “full of grace and power” with a face shining like an angel. Despite the threat of stoning, he did not hesitate to tell the truth, to
declare to the Israelite people their whole salvation history, how they rejected the prophets and finally the Christ, the Righteous One, the Lamb of God sent to them to save them from their sins. This last One, the Messiah, they betrayed and murdered. “You stiff-necked people ... you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it,” (Acts 7:51-53) Stephen told them. They ground their teeth when they heard these things. But St. Stephen, “full of the Holy Spirit,” gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55-56) And they stoned him to death. But as he died, he prayed that God would not hold this sin against them. A man named Saul watched the whole proceedings, and in his heart agreed to the murder of Stephen. But Stephen had prayed for Saul when he asked forgiveness for his persecutors. St. Augustine says that “if Stephen had not prayed to God, the Church would not have had Paul.” Saul became St. Paul and in the end enjoyed the same happiness as Stephen, the happiness of martyrdom for Christ. 

In our own time in China, a young 15-year-old girl named Anna Wang enjoyed a similar martyrdom for the faith. She was offered the chance to repent of her belief in Jesus Christ, or be killed. She refused, even though her step-mother urged her to renounce her faith. So her tormentors cut off her arm, thinking this would deter the girl from persisting in her faith, but still she refused to renounce Christ Jesus. She seems to have had a similar vision to St. Stephen’s for near the end she said, “The gates of heaven are open.” It was almost as if she were telling her tormentors that they, too, could have heaven. They were welcome. And then they killed Anna Wang. 

Precious in the eyes of God is the Death of His Saints

“Precious in the eyes of God is the death of his saints. Victory and power and empire forever have been won by our God and all authority for his Christ, now that the persecutor who accused our brothers day and night before our God has been brought down. They have triumphed over him by the Blood of the Lamb and by the witness of their martyrdom because even in the face of death, they would not cling to life.” (Revelation 12: 10-12) We have all heard there is one Lord and there is one Baptism, and this is the reason that the Catholic Church does not re-baptize Protestants converting to the Catholic faith. But in researching this topic, I actually found that Jesus talks about three kinds of baptisms. 

There is the Baptism of water and the Spirit, which each Christian receives in the Sacrament of Baptism. There is the baptism of fire and the Spirit, which each Catholic receives at Confirmation, and there is the baptism of blood and the Spirit, which the holy martyrs experienced at their death. All are works of the Holy Spirit, and all evolve from the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism means immersion in Greek. It means to “go under.” The first immersion we experience – most of us were baptized as children – is the immersion in the waters of Baptism. 

Water -- Outward Sign of Inward Grace

The water is an outward sign of an inward grace. Noah and his family escaped through a purifying worldwide flood to begin anew the human race as children of God. At Baptism, He, who is called the Spirit of Adoption, descends on us and makes us sons of God. We who were far away from Him because of sin are reconciled to the Father through the joint mission and work of the Spirit and the Son. This first immersion is the Baptism of water and the Spirit of which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus. Our Protestant brothers and sisters think of this as an emotional experience in which they are “born again” and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. But it is not an emotional experience; it is a supernatural experience, a sacrament of the Catholic Church, a work of God the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life. 

This baptism involves a purgation. The Holy Spirit’s job is to convince the world of its sin. This is a necessary step for salvation. If you confess your sin in human society, you are punished. But if you confess your sin to God, you are saved.
On Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles as tongues of fire, the apostles were confirmed in their faith, and were given the courage to proclaim it. Peter exclaims, “Let the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) The crowds – through the power of the Holy Spirit -- were smitten with remorse, and they asked the apostles, “What shall we do?” And Peter responds, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) 

You Shall Be My Witnesses

Here we have the crowd on Pentecost invited to both the first and second baptism, and Peter has already received both. The second baptism is into fire and the Spirit. Jesus spoke of this baptism by fire when He said, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I long that it be enkindled.” And after the Ascension, while staying with the apostles, Jesus charged them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father. “For, John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit ... You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:5-8)

It’s interesting, but one of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us is to clarify and prioritize. He calls us to a spirit of repentance and confession of our sins, but he also ends confusion. The miracle of Pentecost is that when the apostles preached, various peoples who spoke a multitude of languages understood them. This is the opposite of what happened when the languages were confused at the Tower of Babel, which was the punishment for man’s pride and infidelity.

Pentecost is the reversal of this confusion of tongues thanks to the clarifying grace of the Holy Spirit. Now this second baptism is given to us in the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Catholic Church teaches that our initiation into the Catholic faith is only completed once one has received this important sacrament, which confirms us in our faith, and gives us the courage to proclaim it. I wondered why it is that when we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation today, many times it seems like nothing. That was my experience. No one sang in tongues, and I felt very uncomfortable through the whole ordeal, and afterwards wondered what had taken place. My husband said the problem is poor catechesis. I think he’s right. People are not properly prepared for the sacrament, so very often the grace of Confirmation is recognized and understood later in life. 

The Baptism of Martyrs

The third form of baptism follows from the second. It is the baptism of blood and the Spirit. Jesus’ apostles were arguing among themselves as to who was greater in the Kingdom of God. James and John asked if one could sit at his right hand and the other at his left hand when He came into his glory. Jesus replied, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” He meant the cross. He was asking, are you willing to give your life? This baptism is the obedience unto death that Christ gave to His Father on the Cross. It is the complete submission of your mind, heart, and will to the Will of God. It is St. Paul saying, “It is no longer I that live, but God that lives in me.”

Out of this kind of immersion in the will of God, the Holy Spirit is revealed and made present as the Love that works in the depths of the Paschal Mystery, as the source of the salvific power of the Cross of Christ, and as the gift of new and eternal life (Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit). God offers us, who are less than nothing, the opportunity to associate ourselves with the Paschal Mystery through our death to self.

When Jesus died on Good Friday, it was the day before the Jewish Sabbath. And the Jews requested that the bodies of the three crucified men might be taken down from the crosses that day, so they would not remain up on the high holy day. “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him.” Breaking their legs insured their swift death due to suffocation. “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”

The Birth of the Church

St. Augustine comments that this moment actually represents the birth of the Church, the Bride of Christ, who will be revealed at Pentecost. “Here was opened wide the door of life, from which the sacraments of the Church have flowed out, without which there is no entering in unto life which is true life. . . Here the second Adam with bowed head slept upon the cross, that thence a wife might be formed of him, flowing from His side while he slept. O death, by which the dead come back to life! Is there anything purer than this blood, any wound more healing!” 

This third kind of baptism is closely associated with God’s plan for the life of the witness. St. John the Evangelist identified St. John the Baptist as the “witness to the Light.” Remember St. John was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. For when Mary visited Elizabeth, she opened her mouth and spoke, and the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy. In the prologue to John’s Gospel, he says John wasn’t the Light, but came to “bear witness” to the Light. And, of course, we know that this witness – like St. Stephen’s – involved giving his life. For St. John the Baptist was beheaded. 

Faithful and True Witness

Jesus, the High Priest in the book of Revelation, is called the Faithful and True Witness, for he gave his life for his friends, all mankind of every generation and nation. And the apostles are called witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection. Most of them were martyred as well. The Church, as bride of Christ, is called to continue to witness to the Resurrection in every generation. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’” They say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” “And let him who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.” (Revelation 22:17) This witnessing closely mimics the work of the Holy Spirit. 

For, while John witnessed to the Light, and the apostles to the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit is also called a Witness to Christ. Jesus tells us that many times in the Gospel of John. And in fact that is why it is difficult to get your arms around the Holy Spirit because as soon as you reach for Him, He draws you to Christ and the Father. He is the Uncreated Witness to the Incarnation, which is His greatest work. 

Ironically, his holy spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mary acts in an identical self-effacing way. You say, “Mary.” She says, “Jesus.” St. Louis Marie de Montfort declares that “because Mary remained hidden during her life she is called by the Holy Spirit and the Church, ‘Alma Mater,’ Mother hidden and unknown.”

To encounter the Uncreated Witness to the Incarnation is to go through a purification. This Witness draws us close to God, and on such a journey of longing we must decrease, so He can increase. The Holy Spirit inspired people to repentance at the preaching of John the Baptist, and made them seek baptism in the River Jordan. Going down into that water was a humiliating exercise as it meant that those baptized were admitting they were sinners. Standing in the confession line is the same kind of exercise, and it is the Holy Spirit who draws us to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Let Him draw you often to the waters of Reconciliation. 

That’s what happened to the woman at the well. Christ offered her a spring of water welling up into eternal life. But first she had to confess, “I have no husband.” (John 4:17) In fact, she had five. The Holy Spirit inspired people to repentance at the crucifixion. Jesus in his final baptism of blood, cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46) And after this He breathed his last. When the Roman centurion saw what had taken place, he said, “Surely this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54) And all the multitudes who stood around to see Jesus die, went home beating their breasts, a sign of repentance. On the way up to Calvary, the women wept for Jesus. This was a dangerous thing to do because it was forbidden to cry for a condemned criminal. 

It was the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Apostles, who brought the first converts to baptism on Pentecost. It was the Holy Spirit, who inspired my grandmother to press my mother to have me baptized when I was an infant. I’m sure if you undertake to read the Gospels with the idea of finding the work of the Holy Spirit, you will be shown where He is hiding Himself. I’m sure if you look at your own life with the idea of finding where the Holy Spirit moved decisively on your behalf, you will also see the effects of his work, and perhaps along the way you will meet the Lord and Giver of Life, recognizing Him, as the disciples met our Lord, Jesus, on the road to Emmaus. 

Susan Fox
The second Vatican Council called for a new study of and devotion to the Holy Spirit as a necessary complement to understand the work of that council, which sought to explain the ever-new, but never-changing faith handed down from the Apostles in a way that the modern world could understand. May the Holy Spirit accompany you in that journey. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Want to learn more about the spiritual formation that led to this piece? Go to Disciples of Jesus and Mary

Enjoy this piece? A New Poem on the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit is available to read at LESSONS THAT LEAD TO GOD