September 19: The Slow Work of God (Mass of the Holy Spirit B)

“We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.” Luke 7:31-35

A Mass of the Holy Spirit or the so-called “Red Mass” is an invocation to the Spirit that prompts inspiration, creativity, and wisdom to our efforts as students, teachers, artists, athletes, scientists, musicians, and actors.

Going back to the Twelfth century and the great European universities in Paris, Bologna, and Oxford, this celebration marks the start of the academic year for students and faculties of law, medicine, philosophy, and theology.

It’s at these times we pray for the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” seeking wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and awe before God, the source of all truth.

Several years ago, I listened very attentively to an interview with John Updike, the great American writer and “man of letters.”

At one point, the interviewer asked Updike what quote or passage from the bible was his favorite. This was perhaps an odd question, but the famous author thought for a while and then answered, “Oh, of course, from Saint Paul to the Thessalonians, Chapter 1, verse 5, ‘Don’t stifle the Spirit!'” An excellent choice, to my mind.

As a writer, he is referring to that Spirit of inspiration that animates the efforts of the writer, the artist, the composer, singer, or scientist, and I would add the athlete as well.

How do we get in touch with that Spirit? It may take a while. There may be writer’s block, piano practice, those hours in the laboratory, or soccer practice as even a few pre-season games. But that’s why we need teachers, and coaches, mentors, directors, conductors, and librarians to bring us along, point out the right research, and it may take time. That’s why we’re here at Santa Catalina!

To learn and to grow takes discernment and a reliance on the Holy Spirit, but mostly this phase takes time.

In a 1915 letter to his 25-year old cousin, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the great Jesuit philosopher, wrote about discernment:

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate steps. We are eager to be on the way to something – unknown, something new… and it may take a very long time.

Only God could say what this new Spirit was gradually forming within you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” 

Today instead of choosing readings from the treasury of scripture readings about the Holy Spirit, I relied on the prescribed text for Wednesday of the Twenty-Fourth Week, and we have listened to two very perceptive readings the tie naturally into today’s votive Mass.

In Luke’s gospel, we hear Jesus remind his listeners: “We played the flute for you and you did not dance. We sang a dirge for you, and you did not weep!” Sounds like an unusual or random comment.

The Lord was alert to the indifference of his generation to the prophecy of John the Baptist and his own consoling advocacy for healing and salvation. In effect, Jesus could be commenting as well about our modern secular age, a time of indifference to the good news of the gospel.

So in our time, we as his followers must use these gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, and awe before God to shake the rooftops and overcome the apathy and help others to journey with us to a higher realm and a spiritual life.

We go back to John Updike’s point, “don’t stifle or quench the spirit!” How do we do this?

I suggest that we listen to the advice in Saint Paul in today’s first reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians; perhaps the most poetic of all passages from the New Testament, he writes:

“Love is patient, LoveLove is kind. It is not jealous, LoveLove is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

What was on the mind of Saint Paul that prompted his writing this inspired passage? Well, that’s the Spirit speaking to him and inspiring us to rely on this same Spirit during this our school year of 2018/2019.

Love is the greatest of all spiritual gifts. It should animate all our thoughts and efforts now and in the years ahead. That’s the Spirit!

Prayers & the Spirit of Life

All genuine religious traditions seek wisdom before a loving God. I have asked one of our religion teachers, Jackie Gibbs, to help us identify the rich cultures represented by our student body.

To begin our celebration this morning, let us pray in the words and sentiments of our students.

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day of atonement. Gracie reads from the Torah:

“These are the words of the covenant which God commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab beside which he made with them in Corev. And Moses called unto all Israel and said unto them, you have seen all that God did before your eyes in the land of Mitzrayim and unto all his servants and unto all his land. The great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs and those great miracles.”

Now Uma sings a prayer to Saraswati, “Godness of Knowledge” who, in the Hindu tradition, is all around us:

“The eternal earth, air, heaven

That glory, that brilliance of the sun

May we contemplate the brilliance of that light

May the sun inspire our minds.

Om, we worship the three-eyed one, Lord Shiva.

Who has a spiritual essence and nourishes all beings. May he free us from the captivity of Samsara. And thus liberate us from the fear of death, by making us realize that we are never separated from our eternal nature.

Om, may God protect both teacher and student

May he nourish us together

May we work together with high energy

May our studying be useful.

And there be no hate among us. 

Om, peace in me, peace in my nature, and peace in the divine forces”.

Let us turn to the third of the Abrahamic faiths for inspiration and listen to Kaitlin read a Muslim prayer:

“In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, time is a witness that, surely humanity suffers a loss, except for those of faith, who do good and become a model of truthful living, and together practice patience and constancy.” (Surah 103)

Lastly, Victoria leads us in a Christian prayer:

“Holy Spirit, we invite you to our service and our school year. We ask you to abide in each of our hearts and create an active community of LoveLove and sharing.

Help us Holy Spirit to gain knowledge and wisdom, and guide us to make wise decisions during the school year. Help us to recognize how blessed we are to live in your presence every moment of every day. 

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your guidance, peace, and for teaching us about Christ’s LoveLove for us. Amen.”

Pope Francis’s Prayer for the Synod of Bishops (October 3-28, 2018) —

on Young People, the Faith & Vocational Discernment.


“Lord Jesus, in journeying to the Synod, your Church turns her attention to all the young people of the world.

We pray that they might boldly take charge of their lives, and aim for the most beautiful and profound things in life and always keep their hearts open to life and one another.

 Accompanied by wise guides – teachers, coaches, family, and friends – help them to respond to the call you make to each of them, and to realize a proper plan of life and achieve true happiness.

 Keep their hearts open to dreaming great dreams and make them concerned for the good of others.

 Like the Beloved Disciple – John, may they stand at the foot of the cross, to receive your Mother as a gift from you.

 May they be witnesses to your Resurrection and new life, and be aware that you are at their side – as they joyously proclaim you as Lord. Amen!”


Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.









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