5 June 2022
Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor 12:3-7; Jn 20: 19-23
While it may not be quite accurate to speak of this day, Pentecost Sunday, as the birthday of the Church, it is certainly the birthday of the Church as a missionary community. Before the coming of the Spirit, the disciples of Jesus were a fearful, bewildered group, hiding in a safe house in Jerusalem, for fear of the Jews. They had neither the conviction nor the courage to begin the great mission entrusted to them by Jesus, their Risen Lord. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus, they became a joyful and courageous missionary community, on fire with zeal, and eager to be Christ’s witnesses to the world. The readings today remind us of three important truths about the Church and its mission: that the Church is essentially missionary; that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of its mission; and that the goal of mission is to create a unity that embraces diversity. A few words on each of these points.
First, the Church is essentially missionary. Witnessing to and proclaiming the Gospel is the fundamental reason for the existence of the Church. All her members, all who are baptised in the Spirit, are called to be missionaries, not just priests and religious. If the Church ever stopped reaching out to others to witness and proclaim the Gospel of Love, it would cease to be the Church of Christ. In a recent homily, Pope Francis underlined this truth, reiterating one of the great themes of his pontificate: ‘I continue to dream of a completely missionary Church, and a new era of missionary activity among Christian communities… Indeed, would that all of us in the Church were what we already are by virtue of baptism: prophets, witnesses, missionaries of the Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the ends of the earth! The great Protestant theologian, Emile Bunner, employed a biblical simile to express this truth when he wrote: ‘the Church exists by mission just as fire exists by burning. Mission is the fire of the Holy Spirit as today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles makes clear.
Second, the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of this mission. We, the members of the Church, are simply instruments in the hands of the Spirit and we are called to a task which transcends our human capabilities. Without the Spirit we cannot carry out the mission entrusted to us. We forget this truth at our peril, at the risk of becoming agents of an enterprise that has little or nothing to do with the the promotion of God’s Reign of justice, peace and love. Catholics have sometimes been accused of paying mere token respect to the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church. It is salutary to ask ourselves: Do we put more trust in our resources and expertise than in the action of God’s Spirit in our lives and in the lives of those among whom we work? Do we leave enough room in our various ministries for the Spirit, the ‘God of surprises’, the God who chooses the weak to confound the strong, the God whose light invariably enters through the cracks in our lives rather than through our successes and achievements? In the first Apostolic Exhortation of his Pontificate, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us that ‘there is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, renouncing the attempt to plan and control everything to the last detail, and instead letting her enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever she wills. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and place’ (EG 280).
Third, the goal of Mission is to create a unity that respects and embraces diversity. Pentecost reverses the confusion of Babel (Cf. Gen. 11: 1-9). On the day of Pentecost, as the first reading states, people of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds (Persians, Asians, Romans, Egyptians, Libyans, Cretans and Arabs) were gathered together for Jewish Harvest feast (Shavuot). Because they spoke different languages they were unable to communicate with one another. However, they were all able to understand the message of the Spirit-filled apostles. ‘Surely, they said, all these men speaking are Galileans? How does it happen that each of us hears them in his own language?’ (Acts 2:7-8). The miracle of Pentecost was a miracle of mutual understanding, a restoration of the unity humanity lost at Babel. Today we might ask ourselves what gift of the Spirit, what language do we need so that everybody can understand no matter what their ethnic or linguistic background? Yes, there is such a gift, such a language. It is the language of love. This is a language that all people understand and it is, to quote the words of Teilhard de Chardin, ‘the only force that can make things one without destroying them’.
I will end with a short prayer to the Spirit from the pen of Joyce Rupp.
‘When our world seems bleak, when we walk with sadness written on our soul, when we have days during which everything goes wrong…
Spirit of God, stir the energy of your joy within us….
Deepen in us the energy of your peace.
Create in us the energy of your kindness.
Renew in us the energy of trusting you…
You encourage us not to give up. You call us to open our minds and our hearts to receive your energizing, transforming radiance.
Make us receptive so that we will follow your loving movement within our lives. We trust in your powerful presence within us. Amen.’
Fr Michael McCabe SMA
To listen to an alternative Homily from Fr Tom Casey of the SMA Media Centre, Ndola, Zambia please click on the play button below.