In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
May 23, 2015

The Great Feast of Pentecost

Pentecost is fundamental to the life of the Church. It is much more than part of Church history; it is the source for the whole mission and apostolate for our own day.

Imagine that room where the disciples were gathered on the day of the Resurrection, hiding in fear of the authorities. That fear was conquered by the appearance of the risen Christ three days after he was crucified, died and was buried. He greeted the frightened disciples with the words, “Peace be with you.” Thus, the Holy Spirit is experienced as “Comforter.”

Many of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples provided comfort and assurance that he was with them and that all he had said and taught them was true, but they somehow remained fragile and unmoved.

After the Ascension of Jesus to heaven we again see the disciples locked in the upper room: a fearful group who were not just afraid, but also grief stricken. It was like losing for a second time the hope of their aspirations for the liberation and freedom that had been promised by the Messiah. He was gone from their view; they felt abandoned, discouraged, uncertain and terrified. In the grief of loss and inevitable changes that Jesus’ Ascension meant for the early community of believers, they had locked themselves up and closed themselves off from the joy of the Gospel.

Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire upon their heads ignited a new power: a power to propel the disciples outside the safe confines of the upper room. A new power of zealous proclamation of the good news beyond the comfortable inner circle. A new power to face the whole force of rage from the authorities of Israel and the might of the Roman Empire (cf. Acts 2:21-23).

This Holy Spirit will always upset the comfortable, and will always move the Church and Her members beyond and toward the peripheries and margins of the world and its societies.

Of course being on the move does not come easily, and is sometimes the result of great persecution and internal upheaval in communities (cf. Acts 11:18-21). Yet it also causes a renewal and resurrection of the Kerygmatic proclamation, the source of all Christian joy.

I think I could say that Pope Francis’ declaration of a Year of Mercy beginning December 8, 2015, could well be a Pentecost event that gets the whole church moving:  “There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost. Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking.” (Homily by Pope Francis on Sunday, February 15, 2015)          Even seeking the lost is a challenge today, for in the Gospel parable the little lamb did not know it was missing until it was sought out by the good shepherd. Or the beautiful parable of the prodigal son who is unable to turn back to the mercy of the father until, as the parable tells us, he began to feel the pinch and “he came to himself.”

At a recent celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation a student asked, “How will I know the Holy Spirit has come to me?” That’s a great question. How do we know?

First of all, God does not hold back the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, as though God might only deliver half the gifts. God does not hold back in giving us the all-encompassing enormity of His love for us.

Second, God will not force the acceptance of this life-changing gift, but leaves us to say “yes” to receive the gifts of Holy Spirit.

Third, the power of the Holy Spirit is fundamentally experienced in a deep desire for communion with Jesus and desire for service in the mission of Jesus and His body without considering the cost.

Fourth, Jesus’ teaching that whoever tries to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will keep it, makes perfect sense, as in acts of mercy.

Fifth, forgiveness and love of one’s enemies, in other words the mercy of Jesus on the cross, is central to personal and communal happiness, making works of justice and reconciling all things a dynamic part of ministry.

Sixth, each person, each family, each parish is always expanding the horizons of mission and outreach beyond what is secure and familiar. That’s Missionary-Discipleship in action.

Seventh, authenticity and witness is in dynamic communion with the Church (cf. Acts 2:42) and the Church has its doors open for coming and going.

Above all, the sign of the Holy Spirit alive in someone’s life is the joy of the Gospel.

St. Paul provides a succinct list in the second reading for Pentecost, Galatians 5:16-25, of the works of the Spirit and those actions that are opposed to the Spirit. Every day the same Holy Spirit is sent forth to renew the face of earth and reinstate to all people the dignity of children of God.

On this great feast of Pentecost which celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit to ignite, confirm and motivate the proclamation of the kingdom of God, I pray that we may all be freed from those rooms of fear, grief and self protection so that the earth and all the nations upon it may have life, and have it to the full.

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