UPDATE: I realized as I was going under Cross County Highway on my way to Mass yesterday morning that this text for my homily was still on my coffee table, so I had to wing it. Sadly, I think the ending got left on the cutting room floor. :(
A rough outline of what they will be hearing at St. Max's tomorrow:
This is a day of transition, as we always seem to be moving forward in the Church. Advent leads to Christmas, Christmas leads to the Baptism of the Lord, the Baptism into Jesus’ public ministry, which ultimately leads to His Passion, Death and Resurrection at Easter, Easter leads to the Ascension and the Ascension leads to Pentecost.
And so, Pentecost leads to…. What? In a surprising turn, Pentecost leads to what we have been hearing over the last 50 days from the Acts of the Apostles: the Christian community living out their faith in Christ, evangelizing by their mere presence in the world and showing others the mystery of Christ’s saving death.
So Pentecost is a transition not just to another event or date on the Calendar, but it is a transition to life, a life lived in Christ.
This is the day where we celebrate the true birthday of the Church, the outpouring of the Spirit that finally turned that small band of twelve or so followers of Christ into a world changing group, on fire, bold, dynamic in preaching and living. What they were once afraid of (acknowledging that they even knew Jesus), they now boldly proclaim from the rooftops and in Temples, and synagogues all across the known land at the time.
And because of their faithfulness, because of their unity in the Spirit, they are able to do glorious things. Peter and John heal a paralytic at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, Philip converts the Ethiopian Eunuch, whom he hears reading the Prophet Isaiah, and Paul wins countless converts as he becomes the Apostle to the Gentiles.
The temptation, I think, is to look back on the days of the early church with a sort of nostalgia, to wish that the events that happened back then might happen again today. It is tempting to ask why the Spirit is no longer as active as He was then. What changed? If only I would have seen the events or heard the preaching of Paul, well then I would believe.
The great thing is, the Spirit is still alive today, He is still present and active. In fact, the events that are talked about in the Acts of the Apostles, that we have been hearing for the last fifty days are still happening. Today! In our midst. We just have to find them, to recognize how God is active and present and moving the events of the world around us.
For example, the miracles that happen at Lourdes or Fatima, Medjugoria even. Events that people alive today have seen and experienced. There is the witness of Padre Pio, who bore the stigmata of Christ with a grace and dignity, even in the midst of the pain. More present than ever is the looming figure of Pope John Paul, already christened ‘The Great’ by legions of adoring fans. Miracles were worked at his hands, and will continue to be worked through his intercession.
The miracle of the first Pentecost is that the faith continues to grow. In fact, there has never been a century when the Catholic Church has gone down in membership worldwide. She continues to grow, she continues to live out the promise made by Christ, that the Holy Spirit is our Advocate, our Guide. He is the one in charge of the Church, the Holy Father, the bishops, the priests are just stewards, entrusted to care for a flock that is not our own.
So we move back to transition, we move back to looking ahead to what comes next. Some are frightened, because there have been dark days in the past few years, that’s true. But there has always been dark days in the history of the Church. What we celebrate, what we transition into through Pentecost is that the Spirit is with us always. Our lives are holy because of His presence. He challenges us here today with the same commission that Jesus gave to His Disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you!”
Let us rejoice in this commission, let us take up anew the call to serve, the call to be radically faithful to the Gospel, the call to forsake all else so that we may have a treasure built up in heaven instead of here on Earth.
If there is any secret to how the Early Church was able to do so much, to change the world that she found herself in, that is it. The early church was faithful, radically faithful. We hear it over and over in Paul’s writings and speeches: Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel, woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.
For the church to flourish once again, that has to be our motto, all of us, one and the same take up the same message: woe to me if I do not preach and live the Gospel.
If we do this together, as one, as a body, the world will be renewed and transformed, as it once was by the Early Church, as it will again be by the Church of today.