Pentecost Sunday – May 31, 2020
A little bit more than 13 weeks ago – 3 months – we gathered in our parish churches on Ash Wednesday to usher in the season of Lent – a time of prayer, penance and conversion that precedes the celebration of Holy Week. Easter Sunday concludes that sacred week as it focuses our thoughts and hearts upon the mystery of God’s saving grace as it unfolded in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. And for the past 50 days, we’ve celebrated the Easter event and now bring it to a close on this day of Pentecost, as we recall the pouring forth of the Spirit of God and the birth of the Church.
A lot has changed in the past 3 months, haven’t they? What began as a traditional time of prayer and reflection suddenly found us in the midst of a world turned upside down. None of us would have ever imagined that in our lifetimes, we would have been forced to shelter in our homes for weeks on end, in the midst of a world that largely shut down. And we’ve simply waited – waited the suffering and fear to end and for life to return to some degree of normalcy.
In so many respects, we’re very much like the disciples who waited for something to happen to restore their lives after the death of Jesus. St. John puts this moment into clear perspective. The disciples of Jesus were hiding in fear behind closed and locked doors, shutting out the rest of the hostile world that surrounded them. They felt better and safer, huddled together in isolation.
Then suddenly, Jesus bursts into their isolation, despite the closed and locked doors. Surprised and fearful, the disciples are stunned. Despite the fact that, from our vantage point, most of us believe that the disciples likely understood that this moment would come and were waiting for it to occur, there’s nothing in the scriptures that leads us to conclude that they did. With Jesus’ death and burial, they thought it was all over between Jesus and themselves.
And yet, there was Jesus in their midst. He sought them out in their weakness. He was there to speak words of forgiveness and, above all, to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit of the second chance – the Spirit who would break down doors and send them out as a community of wounded, forgiven healers, to preach the Good News of God’s love and mercy.
Simply put, through the indwelling of the Spirit of God, a frightened community of followers of a rabbi from Nazareth became the Church. Wounded and grieving souls stood up against the powerful forces of a broken world and made certain that the hungry were fed, the homeless were given shelter, the sick and the dying were healed, and the sinful were forgiven and loved.
My friends, today’s celebration of Pentecost proclaims that the Spirit continues to breathe upon us through our experience of the very Church that was first called into being by the same Spirit’s power and presence. Through the presence of the Spirit within the Church – the faithful People of God – our lives receive the greatest of gifts: meaning and purpose, hope in the midst of turmoil, and the promise of peace at our center through the indwelling of God.
And just as with the disciples two thousand years ago, we are being sent forth to build the Church of God. Slowly but surely, we’re being invited to unlock the doors of our homes and venture into our world once again. In less than a week, the last of our churches will be re-opened and we will once again take our places with the community of believers – the People of God – who are the Church.
There is a time-honored definition of the Sacrament of Confirmation that you might recall. “Confirmation is a sacrament in which the Holy Spirit comes to us in a special way to make us strong and perfect Christians and witnesses of Jesus Christ.” For all that we learn from such a definition, it is the end result of the sacrament that’d we’d do well to consider today. The Spirit is given to us for a reason: “to make us strong and perfect Christians and witnesses of Jesus Christ.”
Brothers and sisters, to be a witness of Jesus Christ means, quite simply, that we live our faith – that we don’t just talk about it or complain that we haven’t been able to worship in our churches for the past 3 months. … To be a witness of Jesus means that we live our lives with integrity, reflecting in our lives the life and example of Jesus. … It means that we proclaim the Lord’s abiding presence, sustaining us in difficult days and giving us reason to hope more than ever before.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” In these words from Saint John’s Pentecost account, Pope Francis reminds us that “we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.”
Brothers and sisters, God has spoken mightily to us and to our world in these past weeks. He has spoken to us about life and the true and lasting treasures that have been given to us through faith. May we go forth during these days – filled with the power of the Spirit of God – to proclaim the truth of Jesus and his message of love, mercy, forgiveness and peace.