Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

‘Ut Non Scandalizemini:’ a Homily for the Sunday After Ascension

These things I have spoken to you, that you may not be scandalized (John 16, 1).

The discourse that we hear in today’s Gospel was spoken, not at the time of the Ascension, but during the Last Supper. We might wonder what exactly the Apostles were thinking when Our Lord spoke to them of the Holy Ghost, there and then, on that fateful night. After all, there was so much they would have to endure between the Last Supper and Pentecost; there was a great density of mystery and grace in his last words to them—chapters fourteen through seventeen of St John’s Gospel—such that we may indeed wonder how much they would have grasped at the time.

But Christ never disappoints; and he knows what he is about.

‘These things I have spoken to you, that you may not be scandalized;’ that is, so that you may not be led into sin; that your feet may not stumble as you serve me. Behold the solicitude of that Divine Heart: in his last hours before the Cross, how much time he spends in reassuring the Apostles. He warns them of the sufferings ahead, and this in no uncertain terms: ‘They will put you out of the synagogues . . . whosoever killeth you will think that he doth a service to God.’ And at the head of all these warnings, he speaks of the Holy Ghost.

But there is more. At the very same moment he is promising to send the Holy Ghost, Our Lord’s betrayal is being transacted. We cannot miss that; it bears repeating.—Christ’s promise regarding the presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church is given at the moment when one of his own is in the very act of betraying him. What does this tell us about presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church and in our souls today?

It certainly demands, at very least, that we think of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Catholics should call to mind the grace of that day, when they received the sacred chrism upon their foreheads. Catholics should think of the patrons they adopted that day. In so doing, Catholics young and old should realize that God has been laying up for them a storehouse of graces by means of each and every Sacrament they have received. Yes, Divine Providence has permitted in so many places this strange stoppage of the Sacraments. But nothing can erase the mark placed upon the Catholic soul on the day of his or her Confirmation.[1]

If ever we wondered about what exactly Confirmation was for, we need only look around. Confirmation is for times such as these; it is for all times. “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit,” said the bishop on that day. This is how the Catechism puts it:

A seal is a symbol of a person, a sign of personal authority, or ownership of an object. Hence soldiers were marked with their leader’s seal and slaves with their master’s. A seal authenticates a juridical act or document and occasionally makes it secret. . . . This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service forever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial.[2]

Thus, our Confirmation is no trifling matter.

Today, the Church continues her anticipation of Pentecost, a week hence. On that day, will not receive our Confirmation again, of course—but the activity of the Holy Ghost is promised to us anew all the same. It is a law of the spiritual life: a grace remembered is a grace renewed. Remember, therefore, your Confirmations; the good God is as close to you as that. And this we can do with grateful happiness and utter confidence. For it is the Holy Ghost who will preserve us from betrayal, scandal, and danger during scandalous and dangerous times.


[1] Cf Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn 1304-1305, 1317.

[2] Ibid, nn 1295 and 1296.

{Art Credit: detail, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669), Judas Repentant, Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver, 1629}

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