Ecumenical Novena to Holy Spirit to be live streamed on CMAX TV from Ascension to Pentecost
“When the day of Pentecost came it found them gathered in one place. Suddenly…there came a noise like a strong, driving wind… Tongues as of fire appeared, which parted and came to rest on each of them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit.”
By Rick Hinshaw
That outpouring of the Spirit, powerfully retold in the Acts of the Apostles, gave the apostles the courage and gifts needed for the mission of evangelization Jesus had left to them.
It was the same outpouring of the Spirit Pope Leo XIII invoked in 1897, when—responding to the urgings of Blessed Elena Guerra, founder of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit—he issued an encyclical, Divinium Illud Munus, calling for an annual novena to the Holy Spirit during the nine days between Ascension and Pentecost.
And it is the outpouring being invoked this year by Awakening the Domestic Church, a spiritual formation and charismatic renewal program that is offering an ecumenical Pentecost novena, to be live streamed on cmax.tv from Ascension Thursday through Pentecost eve. It will conclude at 10 p.m. Rome time for the Pentecost Vigil with Pope Francis.
Organizers are endeavoring to build on all that has happened since Pope Leo’s encyclical, involving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the related call for Christian unity, which the pope also addressed in that same encyclical.
“It is eye-opening,” said Dr. Mary Healy, professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit who chairs the Theological Commission of CHARIS (Charismatic Renewal International Service) in Rome, “to go back to Pope Leo XIII and Blessed Elena, her profound spiritual intuition” that “there had to be a renewal in the Spirit” within the Church, and that “the Pope listened to her” and did as she urged.
“Sister Elena was a woman with a prophetic inclination,” said Pentecostal theologian Dr. David Cole, dean of the graduate school at The King’s University in Texas. And “because Pope Leo responded,” it “became a prophetic act for the whole Church.”
Also eye-opening, Dr. Healy said, was the Pope’s prayer for Christian unity—something “that was not then on anyone’s radar.”
As Deacon Darrell Wentworth of Awakening the Domestic Church explains, however, the Pope’s call for an annual novena went largely unheeded at the time by the world’s bishops.
Sister Elena, “very disappointed by that tepid response,” urged Pope Leo to further action, Dr. Healy recounts.
In response, as Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann wrote in 2018 in his archdiocesan newspaper, on New Year’s Day 1901, “Pope Leo sang the Veni Creator Spiritus (“Come Holy Spirit”) in front of the famous Holy Spirit window in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome asking for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church.”
God “immediately answered” Pope Leo’s prayer, Deacon Wentworth says, but in a way that “surprised everyone.”
Archbishop Naumann described what took place in Topeka, Kansas:
… at Bethel College and Bible School, a group of students had been praying to receive the Holy Spirit in a manner similar to that described in the Acts of the Apostles.
On the very same day that Pope Leo in Rome was praying for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church, one of the Bethel College students, Agnes Ozman, had a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence that, in part, manifested itself by her praying in tongues.
Over the next few days, several other students had similar experiences. These events at “Stone’s Folly” in Topeka are considered by many as the beginning of the Protestant Pentecostal and charismatic movement.
Why would the Spirit have given this gift to Methodist students in response to a papal prayer?
When Pope Leo “invoked the Holy Spirit to fall afresh on our world in the coming century,” Deacon Wentworth observed, he did so as “the pastor of all of Christianity.”
“The Holy Spirit moves at will,” Dr. Healy explained. “He distributes His gifts at will, not only through the sacraments but also through personal piety.”
Catholics “weren’t ready to accept the possibility of a visitation from God,” she said. “God knew we wouldn’t be ready.”
“The Catholic Church needed a renewal, theologically and liturgically”— which, she said, would occur more than 60 years later, at and through the Second Vatican Council.
That opened the door to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, “the last to enter this current of grace in the century of the Holy Spirit,” Deacon Wentworth states. “Popes Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis” all “endorsed this ecumenical current of grace.”
Actually, mainline Protestants were also slow to embrace this movement of the Spirit. In fact, Deacon Wentworth points out, “the Christians in Topeka effectively caused Bethel Bible College to close down” after the Stone’s Folly event.
What happened, and what has ensued with the building, he says, powerfully affirm the “astounding movement of the Holy Spirit over the last century.”
Lee Defendorf’s book, “It’s All in God’s Plan,” details the building’s remarkable history.
Built in the late 19th century by businessman Ezra Stone, it was later sold to the American Sunday School Union, which housed the Bible college.
But when those students prayed for and experienced “a restoration of the power” of the Holy Spirit, Defendorf told CMAX, the Sunday School Union was among the skeptics, and ejected the college from the site. The building was subsequently sold to a bootlegger, who rented it out as a brothel.
After it was destroyed by fire, a farmer bought the property, built a farmhouse, and raised his family there. He died in 1937, and nine years later the Catholic bishop of Leavenworth bought the property for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. He also established on the grounds a parish: Most Pure Heart of Mary— “the name for Mary as the spouse of the Holy Spirit,” Defendorf said. And the farmhouse, still on the original Stone’s Folly foundation, became the parish rectory.
In recent years, prayer gatherings and talks at the rectory have attracted not only Catholic charismatic worshippers, but “all different Pentecostal groups,” who then go out and spread the word about this “first place where the Holy Spirit came down in this manner.”
“How inspirational,” Deacon Wentworth commented, “to see that Pope Leo XIII’s prayer was answered by God by sending His Spirit upon a place that was filled with sin, a brothel, was transformed into a house for a domestic church, a family, and then a community of Catholics, a parish naming it after the bride of the Holy Spirit, Mary.”
Defendorf sees even his calling to write a book about it as part of God’s plan. Having moved to Topeka in 1980, he joined Most Pure Heart of Mary parish, began to hear about Stone’s Folly, and decided to research it.
“I don’t know why God chose me,” he said. But he is gratified that God has used him to help make the story of Stone’s Folly known, drawing Christians of many varied traditions to the site and to the movement of the Spirit, in the process “breaking down walls” that have long divided Christianity.
And that, explained Dr. Healy—who serves on the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity—is a vital part of this movement of the Spirit and the upcoming ecumenical novena.
With the explosion of Catholic Charismatic Renewal beginning in 1967, she said, “Pope Leo’s prayer and Sister Elena’s prayer were finally answered. Over 120 million Catholics have been radically transformed by having the Holy Spirit poured into their hearts in a very profound way.”
But “God’s purpose is bigger,” she said. “He didn’t do it just to be another movement in the Church.” Vatican II and St. John Paul II, she stressed, taught that the movement of the Holy Spirit “is meant to be part of every Christian life.” So a true movement of the Spirit must also move toward “unity in the Body of Christ.”
There needs to be “a breaking down, a crashing down of walls,” she said. “We need to regard other Christians as beloved brothers and sisters, members of the Body of Christ who we need.” This novena, she said, “can bring us to a deeper humility, a deeper awareness of our need for each other, and a greater openness to the Holy Spirit.”
The novena may be “laying a foundation for ecumenical engagements for years to come,” Dr. Cole said; “all of us who love the Holy Spirit coming together in prayer—Pentecostals with Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, even messianic Jews. The Lord is smiling on our willingness to come together in this way.”
Ultimately, Dr. Healy acknowledged, Christian unity must reach “unity in doctrine.” But for that to happen, there must first be unity of heart and spirit. “Then we can work toward unity of doctrine.”
“This is a really good year for the power of the Holy Spirit,” she said, “to overcome the divisions that are tearing us apart. Human solutions are not going to overcome these problems. Only the Holy Spirit can change the human heart.”
“The Holy Spirit’s outpouring is for everyone,” Dr. Cole observed: “rich and poor, young and old male and female.” The movement of the Spirit is “breaking down barriers” of race, class, gender.
The world today “is embroiled in an identity crisis like we’ve never seen,” Deacon Wentworth lamented. “God the Father’s creation of male and female has come into question. God the Father’s establishment of marriage between one man and one woman as an image of the Trinity filled with love has come into question. And again, humans are trying to enslave other humans and take control over their lives.”
“The only answer to all of the world’s problems,” he stressed,” is the will of God the Father through His Word, who is Jesus, by surrendering to the love that They share, who is the Holy Spirit.”
“Join us in praying the Ecumenical Novena to the Holy Spirit.”
The novena, consisting of a two-hour prayer service each day, will begin on Ascension Thursday, May 13. It will be on loop for 24 hours each day so you can join the prayer in your time zone.
Daily prayer themes will begin on Day 1 with “Our Needs for the Holy Spirit,” followed by “Restoration of Christian Life in Civil and Domestic Society” and “Restoration of Full Communion of the Church.” After Day Four’s theme, “Mystery of the Blessed Trinity,” the last five days will focus specifically on the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit and the Incarnation”; “The Holy Spirit and the Church”; “The Holy Spirit and the Souls of the Just”; “Devotion to the Holy Spirit”; and “Surrender to the Holy Spirit.” Dr. Healy and Dr. Cole have edited the novena.
Visit www.Pentecost.cmax.tv to sign up for details and to download the novena booklet.
Rick Hinshaw is the former editor of The Long Island Catholic. He now publishes his own blog, Reading the Signs, on Catholic teaching and cultural and public policy issues. To read Rick’s work, visit his home page at rickhinshaw.com.