Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
Novenas are not as common of a form of popular piety as they once were. But, they are still with us. The practice of praying a novena, which is a prayer of petition that spans nine days, often has been used to seek special favors or to prepare for major events or special feast days. In the days leading up to my installation as the Archbishop of Oklahoma City, the archdiocesan family was invited to pray a novena seeking God’s blessing upon the ministry I was about to undertake.
The first novena, which set the pattern for subsequent novenas, was the nine-day period of prayerful anticipation following the Lord’s Ascension and leading up to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Jesus had urged the apostles not to leave Jerusalem, but to await the promised gift of the Father for “in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5).
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended with power upon the apostles and disciples who had gathered in one place. Accompanied by the sound of a driving wind and tongues of flame which settled upon each of them the Holy Spirit transformed this band of timid believers into bold missionary disciples. Immediately, they went into the streets of Jerusalem and began to bear witness fearlessly to the Resurrection of Jesus.
It was on the day of Pentecost that the mystery of the Church was made manifest. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. That day, the Holy Spirit gave the decisive impulse to the apostolic mission of proclaiming Good News to the nations. That mission continues to this day.
The Church’s mission is to evangelize, that is, to announce the Good News to all persons. What is that good news? Pope Francis expresses the heart of the Gospel message beautifully in his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel.”
“Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (164).
In our time, the mission to evangelize is receiving a renewed emphasis.
We are each being called to embrace our role in a new evangelization. We’ve been hearing a lot about this, but still we may wonder, “What’s new about it?” It is certainly not the content or the message that is new. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever! But, it is new because it calls for a new ardor, for new methods and a new way of expressing that age old message in language and a witness that is fresh and credible to people in today’s cultural settings.
Perhaps the most startlingly new element in the new evangelization is its focus is on the baptized. In Baptism, we have received the supernatural capacity to believe, but in many cases, faith has become dormant. Many of the baptized have become functional atheists. That is, though many may claim to believe, they do not act or live in a way that demonstrates that they have really given sovereign control over their lives to Jesus Christ. The new evangelization recognizes that the evangelizer (you and me) also has to be evangelized! Our faith needs to be reawakened!
Evangelization is principally the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit who is the source of our joy when we have encountered the mercy of Jesus in a personal way.
If our efforts in service of a new evangelization are to be fruitful, we need a new Pentecost. Pope Francis writes, “Spirit-filled evangelizers means evangelizers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit.
At Pentecost, the Spirit made the apostles go forth from themselves and turned them into heralds of God’s wondrous deeds, capable of speaking to each person in his or her own language. The Holy Spirit also grants the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition.
Let us call upon him today, firmly rooted in prayer, for without prayer all our activity risks being fruitless and our message empty. Jesus wants evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence” (259).
As we approach the end of the Easter season, we again are preparing to celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the liturgical feast of Pentecost (May 24).
Like the apostles and disciples during that first novena leading up to Pentecost, I invite you to pray expectantly for the coming of the Holy Spirit to renew our hearts. The Office of New Evangelization has prepared a simple novena to the Holy Spirit. Please use it to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a new Pentecost in our lives and in the Church.
To print or download a free novena booklet in English, Spanish or Vietnamese, click here.