May 18, 2013

Pentecost: A mission of peace and forgiveness

(El Greco)
"Receive the Holy Spirit"

Acts 2: 1-11
1 Cor 12: 3b – 7, 1
Jn 20: 19-23

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!

Everything that is big begins very small.  Everything from mountains, to plants, to animals, to a distant sound that grows in intensity as it approaches, to we humans.  Trees begins as seeds, animals and humans begin as a very tiny cluster of living cells that grow exponentially over time into a small baby that will continue its growth towards maturity.  Even ideas often begin very simple and once implemented they become far more complex.

So the same principal is true with the Church.  Before Pentecost, the most loyal followers of Jesus could fit inside one room. Today, Christians count in the billions and the Catholic Church alone is about 1.5 billion members across the globe.  Anywhere you go in the world today, you will find a Catholic Church and other sects of Christians established worldwide. But the explosion of worldwide Christianity over the last twenty centuries has been born of what the world would not consider the formula for success.

Unlike what we hear from our culture as the sign of a successful life: a life filled with no pain, with material comfort, with physical beauty, with no sadness or challenges, the message of the Gospel through the words of Jesus call us to: take up our cross, to accept some level of persecution for what we believe, to control our desires and impulses, to serve our neighbor with a generous heart, to forgive our enemies, to gather regularly with our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith, and to follow Christ up a steep and narrow path. Did you ever hear this coming from a New York advertising agency?  

If we relied merely on human intellect and ability alone, trusting in our own talent and genius, the Christian message would have disappeared centuries ago.  We would be reading about the Christian faith in history books as a well-intentioned but failed effort to bring goodness to humanity. So, we might safely say that something more could be attributed to the endurance of the Christian faith. That could only be because of the Feast we celebrate today – that constant abiding and living presence of the Holy Spirit which gives the Church its life and preserves it in truth and charity. This faith is of divine origin and the gift of the Holy Spirit is that of God himself, which sustains this life and preserves it from age to age.

The Holy Spirit reveals the constant intent of Jesus for the world and in particular for those who claim to follow him.  The Church has become the way in which the message of salvation is always made present for each generation.  This faith has become not just another philosophy to follow or a moral code to be formed by.  This faith has become a way to live based upon the message of a person who is recognized as the Word of God among us. So, today we mark the birthday of the Church born from the Spirit in our time and space.

We see in this “birth” the very mission of the Church.  The Apostles were changed by that Spirit, which also has the power to reform every one of us who are called to be loyal followers of Jesus in this time we find ourselves.

Before that first Pentecost, the Apostles were fearful, confused, disorganized, and in hiding.  After the Spirit came with wind, fire and language (Acts 2: 1-11), they became bold, courageous, and on fire for the Lord and his message.  Like an electric cable joined to a battery waiting to be recharged, the Spirit gave this power boost to the beginning age of Christianity. The Apostles needed that surge of courage and conviction to go out and share the good news as Jesus had commissioned them.

Peace and forgiveness is the gift Jesus gave in the Gospel today: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  And when he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20: 21-23).  The mission of reconciliation with God and others given to a broken world is the gift of the Holy Spirit which Jesus has breathed upon us.

Where can we find this gift? In sacraments of healing and reconciliation but where else have you seen it?  What can we do to bring that healing to others and how courageous can we be in the face of contrary messages today?
O most blessed light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill! . . .
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew . . .
Guide the steps that go astray . . .

(From the Sequence for Pentecost)