Pentecost Sunday - The Soul of Christianity

Pentecost Sunday
For Fifty Days we have lived and breathed the miracle of Easter/Pentecost. Hopefully we have understood better than ever before that this is not just a spectacular episode of Salvation History that happened a long time ago but that it still touches us all with its reverberations. Throughout the Easter Season, we have listened to John's account of Jesus' final discourse to his apostles at the Last Supper - reminding them: "I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you." For John the connection between the Resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit was so intimately connected that his account of Pentecost occurs on Easter Sunday night...

"Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (Jn 20:19-23)

The first Pentecost brought excitement, passion, and courage to the Christian community. It completed their sense of identity and clarified their mission. Most importantly, it filled them with power, assured them of the strength they would need to witness to the Gospel, to overcome the spirit of the world, to drive away the darkness of sin and evil.

In the experience of this indwelling Spirit, the first Christians discovered joy and peace. The Spirit provided for all of their needs. It satisfied their deepest hungers and longings. It gave them a reason to live and a reason to die. It filled them with abiding hope, and assured them of final victory and fullness of life with the Risen Lord.

But the passionate enthusiasm brought about by the Spirit did not remove human frailty or prejudice.

Discerning where the Spirit leads us has always been a difficult task - from our Church's earliest beginnings right up to the present time - especially for a pilgrim people in a pilgrim Church. For so long we have been content with viewing our faith as a kind of spectator sport; it has now become a contact sport, and we find ourselves right in the middle of things.

The Christian community has always been seen as the Spirit-guided bearer of the Word of Salvation. We must know that for us as a people of faith, Easter/Pentecost is now. It is the continuing invitation from our God for an ongoing, ever new encounter with Him and with others.

Like the first disciples, we have seen the marks of the nails in the hands and feet of Jesus - in the suffering of those who live their lives in oppression, through the trial and pain of those around us, and through the insult and prejudice that we sometimes feel in our own lives because of our faith. And like the first disciples, we hear the voice of Jesus offering us peace. We, too, are sent by the Spirit to bring forgiveness, to bring comfort and joy, and to proclaim that peace, which we, ourselves, have so graciously been given. 

So Pentecost is not just a feast - it is the "soul" of Christianity. It is the unending miracle of God's love poured out in the hearts of believers. It is the abiding power source of Gospel living. In the face of a Church in transition we might be tempted to sit back passively and let this feast go unnoticed.

But we cannot and must not be passive. We cannot resist change, but welcome it, foster it. Above all, we must not fear the movements of the Spirit, but embrace them with trust, with generosity and with courage. It is only by becoming fully a part of the Easter/Pentecost miracle that we will overcome our own personal prejudices and become instruments of the Spirit, to create a new church and a new world of unity and peace, and happiness and holiness.    

Perhaps a reflection by the spiritual writer Carlo Carretto can put things into proper perspective:

How much I criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you!
You have made me suffer more than anyone,
and yet I owe more to you than to anyone.
I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence.
You have given me much scandal,
and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.
Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false,
And yet never have I touched anything more pure,
more generous or more beautiful.
Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face
And yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms.
No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you,
even if not completely you.
Then, too - where would I go?
To build another church?
But I could not build one without the same defects,
for they are my defects.
And again, if I were to build another church,
it would be my church,
not Christ's church.
No, I am old enough. I know better…