Saturday, May 26, 2012

Let the Word go forth

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 27, 2012:
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“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That, of course, is a line from one of the most quoted speeches of the 20th century – the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy in 1961; certainly a fitting quote for this Memorial Weekend. It is an incredible speech; and was one that alerted the world that change was in the air; a generational shift. Kennedy stated boldly, “Let the word go forth… that the torch had been passed to a new generation.” Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, those five words could also sum up the meaning of today’s great feast: Let the Word go forth. In the dramatic events of that first Pentecost, when the bewildered and excited disciples poured into the streets of Jerusalem, they had one purpose in mind: to let the Word go forth. And it did. The Word went forth from Jerusalem to Judea, and on to Corinth and Ephesus and Rome and Africa and Spain and, eventually, in succeeding centuries, even to America.

What began with a few frightened people in a darkened room in Jerusalem has spilled out and touched every corner of the earth. The word has gone forth in every language and is felt and understood in the hearts of billions upon billions of people. And it all began on this day we celebrate, Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Church.

Birthday is an appropriate image for Pentecost – especially when we look at it in the bigger Scriptural picture. The word “Pentecost”, means 50th and was for the Jewish people a celebration that took place 50 days after the Passover. For them, this was a day to celebrate the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai to Moses. On Mt. Sinai, what were different tribes of Israel entered into covenant with God and with one another and so became the people of God. Pentecost for the Jews celebrated the birth of this new people. We know that the Holy Spirit gives birth to God’s presence in amazing ways. It is through a different kind of Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary – that Jesus was born into our world. And it is through this Pentecost – the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary and the disciples – that the Body of Christ is once again born into the world. And we, too, are sharers in that miracle, called to continue to bring forth the same Body of Christ into our world today.

It is often said that the Church doesn’t have a mission, instead the mission has a Church. Jesus didn’t appear in Rome on the banks of the Tiber and lay a stone for St. Peter’s Basilica in order to establish the Roman Catholic Church. He didn’t come to give us an institution or an organization. Instead, Jesus gave us a task to accomplish. The institution of the Church came about not to serve itself, but to serve that mission; to help organize that opus Dei or work of God.

So what is that work? Jesus tells us Himself, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you;” or in the words of JFK, to “let the word go forth.” The mission that the Father gave to the Son is the very same mission that the Son gives to all of us who follow Him. So just as the Son came as the full Revelation of God to us, His people, we are to continue that Revelation, we are to continue to spread the Good News of God’s love and care for us. Just as the Son came to live the way humanity was called to live as an example to everyone, we too are called to live in that same way as an example of Christian love to our brothers and sisters. Just as the Son was firmly rooted in Scripture and its life-giving Words for us, we too are called to do the same. Just as the Son reached out to those in most need in our world – the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – we too are called to reach out to those in most need in our world today. In short, we are called to be that presence of Christ, the Body of Christ, in the world today. The Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and God was born in our world; the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples and the Church was born. Today, the Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine on our altar, and the Presence of Christ will be born in them; and, today, the Holy Spirit will come upon each of us in this Holy Mass and will be born within us; that we might give birth to that Presence in our world.

The Ascension of Jesus to Heaven can leave us with a false impression that God is no longer on the scene. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a strong reminder to us that God is still in our midst; that God is still truly present to us. We have not been abandoned by our God, rather, He still dwells among us. The Holy Spirit enjoys the freedom of the wind, and is not limited by space or time; instead He has the freedom of every heart in every generation. Instead of living with some people, as did Jesus; the Spirit lives within all people; in all of time. The Spirit has the world at His fingertips. And so the presence of the Holy Spirit makes good the promise of Jesus, “Know that I am with you always until the end of the world.”

The early Christians knew this. For as long as they lived, the Holy Spirit would stay in their bloodstream. Every decision they would make would be Spirit-shaped: the choice of seven deacons; the admission of Gentiles to the Church; the sending of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. And the influence of the Holy Spirit was not confined to this executive level. Everyone who was “in Christ” felt it. There are gifts of the Spirit that were sent for the service of the Church – unusual gifts like healing or prophecy; but there are also ordinary gifts of the Spirit meant to meet the needs of God’s people everywhere – gifts like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.

And so as the Holy Spirit of God once again descends upon us in this Mass; on the Church in this Pentecost – let the word go forth that we will be the people who love and praise our God; let the word go forth that we will be members of His Church going forth from this place to be His presence of love and joy and peace; that we will go forth sharing His kindness and goodness and gentleness. That we will go forth to be the gentle and loving presence of God in our world.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful. Enkindle in them the fire of Your love.” And let the Word go forth.

May the Lord give you peace.

(Thank you to The Deacon's Bench for the JFK image.)

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