In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, Jesus tells his disciples the parable of the persistent widow — a widow lives in a town with an unjust judge who is described as neither fearing God nor respecting any human being. The widow persistently approaches the judge, pleading him to make a just decision for her against an adversary, and for a long time he refuses until he decides, “Because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.” Because, he says, the widow keeps “bothering” him. The Lord continues to explain to his disciples, “Will not the God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?”
Beginning with the apostles
Novenas are much like the persistent pleas of this bothersome widow. Derived from the Latin novem meaning nine, they are nine-day periods of prayer and meditation to implore special petitions, obtain special graces or prepare for a feast day. They commemorate the nine days the apostles, directed by Christ, prayed in the upper room between his Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Huddled fearfully, confined in the upper room, the disciples and Mary kept constant prayer. Though we don’t know their exact prayers, we can imagine they prayed in fear, unknowing, sorrow, likely seeking answers and hope, and the “power from on high” that Christ promised them.
On the ninth day, a “strong, driving” wind filled the room where the disciples were gathered and the Holy Spirit descended on them as “tongues of fire,” giving them the ability to speak and understand in many different languages. The Holy Spirit also “clothed” the apostles in many gifts and fruits, equipping them to “go out and preach the Gospel to all nations.” Into that room, they went fearfully shaking and sorrowful, clinging to their lives in prayer, out of the room were born the first Christian evangelists, a Pope’s first homily, 3,000 baptisms, a zealous desire to preach the Gospel and the Catholic Church. The first novena for the infant Church had earth-shattering results.
Outpouring of the Holy Spirit
Our Church is invited to pray this powerful Pentecost novena, also called the Holy Spirit Novena, every year as a preparation for the feast of Pentecost and to obtain for ourselves an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts in our lives, as the disciples did unknowingly two thousand years ago. In his pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Vigneron reminds us, “For the Church in Detroit, reliving the Gospel mysteries means that we continually return to the Upper Room, asking for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on us and on the whole region.” (Unleash The Gospel, Guidepost 1)
The Pentecost Novena allows us to do just that — to sit in those upper room questions with the first apostles comprehending the same sacred realities and mysteries. We can spend eight days alongside those saints in persistent and dedicated prayer, their desires and trials a not so distant echo of our own: fear about the future, a hunger for a Christ who may seem distant, sorrow for what and whom we’ve lost, a hope for something miraculous. And on the ninth day of the novena, we too can expect a Pentecost. We too will be “clothed in power” to preach the Gospel.
It’s in our hands
The Unleash the Gospel movement has been founded on the belief that God is calling each one of us to become joyful missionary disciples. The ability to transform Detroit by the Gospel lays in the hands of the faithful, powerfully motored by the Holy Spirit. And right now, insulated in these unique quarantine upper rooms, we may be struggling to perceive the Holy Spirit at work in our missionary field.
To be Catholic right now means living without our sustaining bread. We may feel spiritually parched, weary from social isolation, and fatigued from loss of sacraments. But we are in a Church that is no stranger to sacramental deprivation, spiritual dryness or the feeling of being deserted by God. We can rest assured in the restoration of our spirits and cling to the hope of this Pentecost. Our prayers will be answered, as the apostles were. We just need to be persistent. We need to “bother.”