Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost Today

A blessed Pentecost to all! Today's feast of Pentecost marks the end of the Easter season because it commemorates the final event to complete the redemption wrought on Easter. Sometimes we call Pentecost the birthday of the Church, because the Pentecost event was the last thing necessary for the Church to exist. So for the Church to exist, Jesus had to be born, to die, rise again, and ascend into heaven. Everything about Jesus unites us to God. But for this community of believers on earth to be more than just a club or a movement, for us to be constituted as a Church united with our God in Heaven, we need something, someone, truly Divine to dwell with us. We need the Holy Spirit. So the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost  is what makes us more than just a movement or a neat idea. Pentecost is what makes the Church what she is: a divine institution on earth.

So let's do a quick catechism review. Pentecost is where the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and enabled them to preach to the nations. This was symbolized most dramatically by them being able to speak and be understood in languages they didn't know. They were truly sent to all the nations Now, who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. Sometimes I hear people describe the Trinity as consisting of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. That can lead us to astray, because is Jesus God? Yes. Is the Holy Spirit God? Yes! This is why we pray in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and not in the name of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. So we have to keep in mind that this Holy Spirit who was given to us at Pentecost is not just the spirit of God like it's separate from God himself, and it's not like one third of God, but the Holy Spirit is God himself. The Holy Spirit is love.

So on this, the birthday of the Church when the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell with us, do you realize what you have signed up for? Today in our Collect (Opening Prayer), we prayed for a renewal of the same Holy Spirit that turned these first apostles into such bold missionaries. The opening prayers is more properly called the Collect because the priest offers a single prayer on behalf of the people that collects all our needs. This prayer is not my own concoction but is given by the Church. So by attending Mass every Sunday, you trust the Church to understand your needs and the priest to articulate them to God. So in case you missed it, this is what we prayed:

O God, why by the mystery of today's great feast
sanctify your whole Church in every people and nation,
pour out, we pray, the gifts of the Holy Spirit
across the face of the earth
and, with the divine grace that was at work
when the Gospel was first proclaimed,
fill now once more the hearts of believers.

Did you catch that last part? We prayed that the divine grace that was at work in the apostles may be at work in us too. And you know what they say, "Don't ask God for patience because you'll get it," well that applies to about everything. If you ask God for the grace to make you as bold as the first apostles, you're going to get it. And that's a good thing. We need the courage of the first apostles. Our world needs us to have the courage of the first apostles.

You are not a Christian for your own sake. Do you ever think about that? You are not a Christian for your own sake. Your religion, your faith, isn't fundamentally about you. And it's not for you. It's not about making you feel good. Your religion and your faith is about God. It's about the God who so loved the world that he sent his only Son, who died and rose and in turn sent the Holy Spirit to dwell with each one us. So if your faith is about God, then it's for the world that he loves. God has made you a Christian because he wants the world to come to know Christ through you. Yes, you are a Christian because God loves you and welcomed you into his family, but you are a Christian for the sake of others.

So we prayed for a renewal of the same Spirit that the apostles had at Pentecost that enabled them to boldly preach the Gospel. And if we ask, God gives. So, what are you going to do with this Spirit? My friends, for our sake and for the sake of the world we have to let this Spirit renew our world. The world needs a renewal of the Holy Spirit.

If this renewal is going to take place, three things have to happen.

First, you have to know and believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in you and in our Church and that he wants to work through you. You have to know it and believe it. This means you have to follow Church teaching: all of them, even the uncomfortable teachings like contraception and the gay marriage agenda. To reject Church teaching is not to reject the priest, the unworthy messenger, but rather it is to reject the Holy Spirit that teaches through the Church.

Second, you have to be constantly renewed and nourished by the sacramental life of the Church, especially through regular participation at the Eucharist and at Confession. And not just regular participation, but reverent participation. We have to keep before our minds that the sacraments are not human inventions but rather are divine gifts. They are heaven come down to earth, and they are us lowly creatures being drawn up to heaven. This demands all of our respect and awe. We are weak creatures and we need this reverential renewal.

And third, you have to have the courage to speak the name of Jesus to those around you like the apostles did. Don't be afraid of the discomfort of saying, "I disagree, but I still love." And don't quote to me St. Francis saying "Preach the Gospel at all times and use words if necessary." St. Francis never said that. St. Francis was so excited to preach the Gospel that he preached to the birds when the people wouldn't listen. The world desperately needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. We need to let the martyrs prove to us that a comfortable life is not the highest good.

So three things to renew our world: Know and believe that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church, participate reverently in the Sacraments, and preach Jesus by name. This is how we preach with the courage of the apostles, this is how the divine grace at work when the gospel was first preached can fill our hearts once more. This is how we make Pentecost alive in our lives.

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