Saturday of the Seventh Week of Paschaltide
Acts 28:16–20, 30_31
Psalm 10:4, 5 and 7 (R. 7b)
John 21: 20–25
The Forty–Ninth Day of The Pentecost
We have come to the 49th day of The Pentecost! We have come to the close of Paschaltide, to the end of the Acts of the Apostles, and to end of the Gospel according to Saint John. These days have been but One Day: the Day which the Lord has made (cf. Ps 117:24). The past 49 days have been the Church’s yearly spatium laetissimum, her “space of surpassing joy.”
The prayers of today’s Mass make it very clear that we cannot close Paschaltide without making a firm resolution to persevere in the grace of conversion and in newness of life. Today’s Collect already speaks of the paschal festivals as something in the past; at the same time it makes them the fulcrum of an effective conversion of life. If by the grace of Christ, we have indeed celebrated Paschaltide worthily, then certain things have changed in our lives, and must continue to change.
Grant, we beseech you, Almighty God,
that, having celebrated these paschal festivals,
we may, by your gracious gift,
hold fast to them in our conduct and in our life.
The Holy Spirit and the Forgiveness of Sins
The Prayer Over the Oblations calls the Holy Spirit “the forgiveness of all sins.” To stand in need of forgiveness is to stand in need of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, may your Holy Spirit, by his coming,
prepare our minds for these divine sacraments,
since he himself is the forgiveness of all sins.
The Holy Spirit and the Eucharist
The Holy Spirit prepares us for fruitful participation in the Eucharist by cleansing our minds and hearts of sin. There is a long tradition of praying to the Holy Spirit before Mass. In monastic and cathedral choirs, the Hour of Tierce, evoking the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is sung before the celebration of Mass. The liturgical Preparation for Mass includes six orations in honour of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, Comfort of Repentant Sinners
Christ’s glorious triumph over sin in our lives is something that must be worked out day by day and hour by hour; this is our personal participation in “the combat stupendous” of the Prince of Life (Easter Sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes). Paschal joy is not incompatible with spiritual combat; it is the fruit of it. And for those who are stricken in battle and fall into sin, there is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter who is everywhere present and fills all things. The Holy Spirit is sent for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit descends to heal our wounds, to renew our strength, and to lift us when we fall.
Having Cast Aside What is Old
The Postcommunion Prayer refers to sinful patterns of behaviour, to all those ways of thinking, and speaking, and acting, that belong to the old self.
Lord, in your mercy, listen to our prayers,
that we who have been brought from the former things
to the sacraments of new life,
may thus, having cast aside what is old,
be renewed in holiness of mind.
No one of us wants to end this Paschaltide as if he was never touched by the Precious Blood of the Lamb, as if he had never receiving the life-changing kiss of the Holy Spirit. The liturgy assumes that we have cast aside what is old, that is, sin.
Leaving Sin Behind
Today’s Gospel gives us just one example of the kind of sin we must resolutely leave behind. Again, it is at poor Saint Peter’s expense that we are given the lesson. Peter is curious. He cannot mind his own business. He compares himself to others. He wants to know what is going on, even when what is going on in no way concerns him. And so, referring to Saint John, the beloved disciple, Peter says to Jesus: “Lord, what about this man?” (Jn 21:21). This, of course, is the classic question: “What about him? What about her?”
Learning to Trust
Our Lord says to Peter: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me” (Jn 21:22). In other words, Jesus is telling Peter to mind his own business, to stay focused, to trust Him not only with his own life, but with the life of others, with their past, present, and future. Underlying Peter’s question is a lack of trust in Jesus, an unwillingness to surrender all things and everyone to Him. Peter is unwilling, even now at the final hour of our risen Lord’s earthly presence and on this last page of Saint John’s Gospel, to relinquish control, to let go.
Immediately after this exchange between the Lord and Peter, the apostolic rumour mill begins to churn away. The Apostles are like children playing the old game of “telephone.” The message gets distorted. “The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say that he was not to die, but ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (Jn 21:23).
The whole episode is an example of what happens among any group of people whose conversion of life is a work in progress. One observes another. One wants to know what is going on. One asks Saint Peter’s question: “What about him?” or “What about her?” One pries, or spies or, not always very subtly, pumps for information. One gets an enigmatic answer. One repeats it. Others, hearing it, begin to interpret it and, unfailingly, get it all wrong.
The One Thing Necessary
In the end, the Evil One has a merry old time because, in this way, he succeeds in troubling our peace of heart, in robbing us of our joy, and in introducing suspicion, doubt, and useless fretting among us. The energy we invest in fretting is energy taken away from prayer. We squander on many things the energy that Our Lord would have us invest in the One Thing Necessary (cf. Lk 10:42).
Quickening of Trust in God
What is the remedy for this sort of sin. It is the mortification (i.e., putting to death) of trust in oneself and the quickening of trust in our Lord. Whenever the Holy Spirit enters a soul He brings about a quickening of trust in God: the spirit of childlike abandonment. Cardinal Newman understood this and expressed it beautifully:
I believe, O my Saviour,
that thou knowest just what is best for me.
I believe that thou lovest me better than I do myself,
that thou art all-wise in thy providence,
and powerful in thy protection.
I am as ignorant as Peter as to what is to happen to me in time to come;
but I resign myself entirely to my ignorance,
and thank thee with all my heart that thou hast taken me out of my own keeping,
and, instead of putting such a serious charge upon me,
hast bidden me put myself into thy hands.
I can ask nothing better than this, to be thy care, not my own.