The Spirit Breathes Life into the Church’s Mission
The Solemnity of Pentecost (B); 5-27-12
Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23
Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior C.C. & Folsom Prison
The meaning of the feast of Pentecost is richly complex: it’s like a multi-faceted diamond whose brilliance takes different nuances when examined from different angles. Today’s readings offer us multiple dimensions of meaning for this Solemnity. The gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples is one more facet of the awe-inspiring mystery that encompasses Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and glorification.
Indeed, Pentecost is the capstone of these solemnities because Jesus himself announced that the whole purpose of his mission on earth is brought about at Pentecost. On the way to Jerusalem he declared to his disciples, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Lk 12:49).
These words became graphically alive fifty days later after the Resurrection at Pentecost, which was an ancient Jewish feast; in the Church it has become the feast of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Church. “There appeared to them tongues as of fire…and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:3-4).
The real fire, the Holy Spirit, was brought to earth by Christ so that we could stay in communion with Him and be empowered to continue his mission: to proclaim the Good News and help bring about the salvation of the world. So that Jesus’ mission may be extended throughout history, he says to the Apostles on the evening of his Resurrection, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” These words were expressed as “he breathed on them” (Jn 20:22). It’s not that the Church has a mission but the mission of Christ has a Church, which is the Way that God brings about his salvific plan in the Risen and Ascended Christ.
Sisters and brothers, we are not merely called to imitate Jesus. We are challenged to become the Risen Christ—to be the second Coming of Christ. Sounds farfetched? Jesus Christ has constituted his Church as his Mystical Body according to St. Paul and brilliantly reaffirmed by Vatican II in Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church). And, who is the Church? We are, the People of God, who were initiated into the Church at baptism. That means that Christ permeates every member of his Body. That’s what Communion means: to be in Christ…to participate in Trinitarian love.
Do you see what Jesus is doing? He was communicating to us his Spirit—the same Spirit that is the loving energy shared between Him and his Father. God completely gives Himself away to us: We are so blessed!
Now, People of God, as we live in the Spirit, our church community will be formed in a unique way that differentiates from any other institution. What way is that? As John the Evangelist describes the event of Pentecost, he recalls that the disciples “were all gathered in one place.” That place was the “Upper Room” where Jesus had eaten the Last Supper with his Apostles, where he had appeared to them Risen. This room had become the “headquarters” of the nascent Church. The Acts of the Apostles, however, insists that this physical place was special because it reflected an inner attitude of the disciples: “ All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). Notice that the harmony of the community is conditioned by prayer. Unless we enthusiastically embrace public and private prayer, we won’t be “in one accord” with one another.
Brothers and sisters, what was true of the early Church is just as true for us today who are gathered here at Divine Savior (or Folsom Prison). If we want Pentecost to be a true celebration of our salvation, we must always be preparing ourselves in devout expectation for the gift of God. God does not come to us by sprinkling pixie dust over us, but he is received by those who humbly and silently listen to his Word; he is received by those who stay at all times with the love that is in their hearts.
At this time in history, we have a particularly difficult challenge, since our increasingly secular culture is pushing God, the source of all life, out of the picture and asserting itself as the center of the universe.
In the hands of such men and women, “fire” becomes very dangerous, which can backfire against life and humanity. Just witness the 100 million lives lost during the wars of the 20th century, the 500 million worldwide lost to abortion since 1973, and the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where atomic energy was used to kill civilians en masse. We can use “fire” to sow death at an unheard scale, which is a perennial reminder that the only “fire” that can give life is grounded in the Holy Spirit. Like the Prodigal Son in the Gospel parable who believes that he can fulfill himself by distancing himself from his father’s house, the modern person has given into the conceit that one can make oneself happy without God.
The Solemnity of Pentecost reveals that the energy that is capable of transforming the world is not a mindless, anonymous, blind Force, but the loving action of the “Spirit of God…moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Jesus Christ “brought to the earth” not the vital force that was already there, but the Holy Spirit that is the loving energy of the Triune God, Who “renews the face of the earth,” purifying from evil and selfishness and setting it free from the dominion of death” (Psalm 104). Let the Holy Spirit speak to you so you can change the face of the earth and bring God alive to all who touch you.