The Birth of the Church: Pentecost Reflection
Fr John Allen Green OFM – The Gospel of John describes how the Holy Spirit is given to the apostles: the risen Jesus breathing on the apostles to impart the Holy Spirit. This is Pentecost. The power of the Spirit not only authorises, but also empowers the apostles.
Jesus formally sends out to the world his apostles, as he had been sent to the world by the Father. Jesus’ breathing on the apostles huddled in the Upper Room recalls Genesis 2:7, where God breathed on the first man and gave him life; just as Adam’s life came from God, so now the disciples’ new spiritual life comes from Jesus, God’s spoken Word Incarnated.
Pentecost, the fiftieth day of Easter, is considered to be the birth of the Church. Our baptismal consecration in service to Christ cannot be separated from consecration in service to the Church.
Pentecost invites us once again to walk with the Church, breathe with the Church, hope with the Church and feel with the Church. What does the Church mean for me as an individual? What is my personal relationship with the Church? Do I love the Church? Do I feel loved by the Church?
Are We Frozen into Categories?
Today, some of us seem to be stuck in the ideological battles that followed the Second Vatican Council. Perhaps we are frozen in categories of left and right; traditional versus avant-garde; male versus female; hierarchical versus lay-led, or prophetic versus static.
Our inter-Church and inter-community fixations and polarizations on all sides of the church spectrum can distract us from addressing with requisite depth and discernment the issues facing us today. Whatever is not purified and transformed within us is transmitted to others — especially to the next generation.
When we sell ourselves to cynicism and despair, meanness of heart, smallness of spirit and harshness in ecclesial discourse, we betray our deepest identity as bearers of joy, hope and truth. Is joy present in our Christian witness? What prevents me as an individual and us as a community from giving a robust, joyful witness to Jesus Christ, the Catholic Faith and the Church?
Finally, let us zoom in on hope, a true manifestation of the Spirit at Pentecost. Is it not true that many of us in the Church today feel like we are caught in a flash flood that is unexpected, powerful, destructive and filled with despair? The flame seems to have gone out and our influence is terribly diminished.
The media exerts a powerful influence on the thinking, the attitudes and the faith of people.
The True and Profound Hope of Christians
The flash flood bears down with immense force on all of us. Some view our present situation with great pessimism and grow disheartened, depressed and even cynical. Perhaps we have chosen to look at everything only from the data of sociology, psychology, polls and predictions, blogs and brief Twitter messages, and foresee an inevitable, almost deterministic future designed more or less by demographic, social, and economic forces, a future which is dismal and dark.
For the world of sound bites, hope usually means that we make ourselves believe that everything is going to turn out all right. We use the word hope lightly and cheaply. This is not the hope of Christians.
We must be icons of hope, a people with a new vision, a people that learn to see the world through the lenses of Christ, the Spirit, and the Church.
The Kingdom manifests itself through the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety, and awe of the Lord. And the Spirit’s fruits make the Kingdom palpable and palatable: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, continence and chastity.
It is of course also possible to follow a “via negativa” and to say where the Kingdom is not. Where there is no justice, no peace, no sharing, no mutual trust, and no forgiveness, there is no Kingdom. Where there is rancour, envy, distrust, hatred, ignorance, indifference, a lack of chastity, cynicism, there is no Kingdom and certainly no life. Life in relationship can only flourish where there is Truth.
Where There is Joy in Christ, There is the Spirit
We must shape our vision on the firm conviction in the victory of the Cross and in Jesus Christ’s triumph over sin and death. Individuals and communities without vision and a Church without a mission are like a person without relationships.
Unless we are able to go beyond ourselves, we will remain undeveloped personalities. When the Spirit truly dwells within us, we will be blessed anew with creativity, imagination and hope. What is the deepest and surest assurance and intimation that the Holy Spirit is present in our world and Church today? The answer is: joy. If there is joy present you can bet that the Holy Spirit has something to do with this precious gift.
St. Augustine who was the most musically passionate of the Fathers of the Church memorably evokes the experience of this joy with these words: “Whenever people must labour hard they begin with songs whose words express their joy. But when joy brims over and words are not enough they abandon even this coherence and give themselves to the sheer sound of singing.
“What is this jubilation? What is this exultant song? It is the melody that means our hearts are bursting with feelings that cannot express themselves. And to whom does this jubilation most surely belong? Truly to God who is unutterable, if words will not come and may not remain silent what else can you do but let the melody soar? This is the song of the Holy Spirit.”
On this great feast of the birth of the Church, let us ponder anew the whole reality of the Church, from the wide-angle view of its vastness and beauty, to the sometimes turbulent and complex surface, zooming in finally on hope, one of the deepest manifestations of the Spirit alive in the Church. In doing so, we can marvel once again at the mercy and generosity of God and give thanks to the Lord who continues to call us to fidelity and joy.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and re-ignite in us the fire of your Love! Make us joyful witnesses to your hope in the Church! Move us beyond our ideologies that divide and blind us. Lord, send us your Spirit and renew the face of the earth, the face of our Church, the face of our local communities, our own faces, our own hearts. Amen.
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