At Pentecost We Are All Called to Witness
At Pentecost, we are called to reflect what makes us Christian, and how we live our Catholic lives. Archbishop WILIAM SLATTERY OFM explains.
Six weeks ago we celebrated Easter, recalling the passion and resurrection of the Lord, and on June 12 we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost recalls the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, gathered in the upper room and still fearful of the Jewish leadership.
With the coming of the Holy Spirit they are in a sense set on fire with the boldness and wisdom of the Holy Spirit and begin the work that they will do for the rest of their lives, namely, proclaiming salvation in the name of Jesus the Lord. Pentecost has rightly been called the birthday of the Church.
What is the Church?
Two themes come to mind: The first is the Church itself. Born from the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the Apostles.
What is the nature of the Church? That is our theme for Phase II of our Inter-diocesan Consultation. There are many ways to answer that question. For example one could say that the Church is the prophetic voice of the Lord, or the Church is the voice of the voiceless. Pope Pius XII called it the Mystical Body of Christ.
The Church exists to evangelise
But the Vatican Council and later Pope Paul VI and John Paul II said that the Church is missionary by its nature. The Church exists to evangelise.
The reason for the existence of the Church at all is that it has to continue with the work of Jesus in the world. The Church is the instrument of salvation in that it continues to preach that Jesus is Lord and that through the saving life and death of Jesus we are all reconciled to our Father in heaven.
Who is the Church?
Who is it that has to continue with the mission of Jesus? The Church comprises every person who is baptised. Through our baptism we are in a sense called and commissioned to be witness of Jesus in our lives. We become instruments of salvation for others by our lives of faith.
We are all the Church together. And all of us have this privilege and responsibility to be a missionary, to be the person who witnesses to our faith in Jesus.
There was a perception that evangelisation or witness to the presence of Jesus in our lives was the work of priests only. No, everyone is called. It is just that we do it differently. We all have our own part of the vineyard. Recall the parable of the landowner and the labourers in the vineyard. All are called.
How do we witness?
That brings me to the second point. How do we witness to our faith In Jesus as Lord and Saviour?
We know how the apostles did it in their time. They went out and preached to whoever was prepared to listen to them. They wrote the gospels to tell people about Jesus. They wrote letters to encourage people and to set them straight about their lives, conduct and practice of their faith. They wanted to warn them of difficulties and dangers.
It is much the same in our case. We too have been given the Spirit. We all have been gifted by the Spirit to help us in our lives to witness to our faith.
For example, we can witness to compassion in our concern for others, be they sick, homeless or whatever. We even have organisations and groups which people can join if they feel called to this type of witness or apostolate. Others are called to witness in a special way to love like those working with abandoned children, but everyone is gifted. We are gifted not for ourselves alone, but for the good of others. We build the Kingdom of God by building relationships between people.
Phase II then, about the nature of the Church, is really about us. Are we the people who are doing the work of Jesus? Are we showing, manifesting the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives. With others at work or wherever, is there an air of peace and serenity that come from the knowledge that Jesus is Lord of our lives? Have we put Jesus first in our hearts or have we put him out on the margins of our lives?
New hope and new life
The message of Easter was one of hope; the message of Pentecost is one of New Life.
During Phase II we want to reflect on the new life given to us by Jesus. As Catholics we are called to witness to a lifestyle centred on Jesus and his teachings. We want to revive our commitment to the values and attitudes which are part of our Catholic identity. We want to strengthen our resolve to be confident credible witnesses to the faith which has come to us from the Apostles. We want to stand up and be counted among those who acknowledge Jesus as Saviour
A series of reflections has been developed and will shortly be made available. It is intended that everyone will make use of them, individuals, groups and sodalities, Sisters and Brothers, small Christian communities and neighbourhood groups. In short, everyone.
I pray that the reflections for Phase II will be of benefit to all to see how in the little moments every day there are opportunities to understand and witness to the Lord
Archbishop William Slattery heads the archdiocese of Pretoria and is the chairman of the bishops’ conference’s Department for Evangelisation. Updated from 2011