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Pentecost Sunday – May 31, 2020 – The “Birthday” of the Church

Pentecost is the event that gives “birth” to the church.  Pentecost is often referred to as the “birthday” of the church.  Pentecost was fifty days after Easter, and it was on this day that the Holy Spirit – the “promise of the Father” – came upon the Apostles gathered in prayer with Mary.  At the Ascension, 10 days earlier, Jesus promised the disciples that with the coming of the Holy Spirit, they would be “clothed with power from on high” that would make them witnesses of the resurrection and empower them to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (cf. Lk 24:46-49).  This is exactly what we see happen in the account of Pentecost that begins in the reading we hear from the Acts of the Apostles today.  The mission of the Church begins at Pentecost.  And what is that mission?  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church continues the mission of Christ: to reveal the love of the Father in the world, forgive sins, and reconcile us – fallen and divided humanity –  to God and to one another.  It is a mission of union and communion.  Jesus made this his prayer to the Father right before entering into his Passion: “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:21).  The Holy Spirit makes Christ present in his “mystical body” the Church, continuing the Incarnation across space and time, so that people of all nations in all times, until the end of the ages, can encounter Jesus and enter into a life-giving union with God.  The Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son.  Jesus concluded his High Priestly prayer saying to the Father, “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (Jn 17:26).  The outpouring and indwelling of the Holy Spirit makes knowledge of God possible.  That is why St. Paul says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.  He is not speaking of head knowledge or intellectual knowing, but experiential knowing – knowing in the “biblical” sense – the deep intimate knowledge that comes from a loving union.   We know the Lord through the effects that the Holy Spirit works in our lives – effects that we can touch and see.  Like the wind, we can’t “see” the Holy Spirit, but we know he is at work through the effects that the Spirit generates in our lives.  We know the Holy Spirit is present by how he “moves” us in a way similar to the way we “see” the wind by how the wind moves the trees and the sound that the wind generates as it blows.

We see some of the effects of the Holy Spirit in the readings today.  The Holy Spirit gathers or unites diverse people.  The Holy Spirit facilitates communication and reconciliation.  The Holy Spirit brings peace.  The Holy Spirit generates an effect that is unexpected, surprising, and astounding.  The Holy Spirit generates an effect that is beneficial for building up the body.  He kindles in the hearts of the faithful a fire of love but gives “coolness in the heat.”  The Holy Spirit empowers the disciples to do what Jesus does and sends them on mission.  The Holy Spirit reverses the effects of sin, bringing a renewal or “recreation” by breathing new life into our humanity.

I have to share with you the “Pentecost” experience that I had this week.  On Wednesday, the Archdiocese issued the guidelines for how we are to reopen in the “Yellow” phase.  It was a lot of information.  On Thursday, I hosted a Zoom call with the rectory staff, pastoral council, and the parishioners who volunteered to help with the reopening process.  There were about 20 people on the call.  The purpose of the call was to discuss the guidelines and how best they could be implemented here at St. Charles.  We began the meeting with prayer.  I went into the meeting a bit anxious thinking about all the moving parts and all that it would take to implement the precautions.  I also had an idea in my head of what I wanted and what I thought would work best, but as the discussion progressed, a beautiful, surprising thing happened.  Gathered together for this call was a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and experiences, but we all came together with a common, unifying goal.  Everybody was motivated by love of each other and love of Christ.  There was an overwhelming desire to do what was in the common good: what would unite us as a community, keep us all safe, and bring us together in reverent worship of God.  The Holy Spirit led the discussion, moving hearts, mine included, to see things and to be open to something new.  There were no arguments or “turf battles”; rather, a profound peace and unity pervaded the gathering.  People were offering to work in different ways, bringing different gifts in service of the same Lord for the benefit of the community.  While there are still many uncertainties about what things will look like on June 7 and beyond, I am not afraid or worried because I am certain that the Holy Spirit is leading us forward and guiding our steps.

It is my prayer that this reopening will be a time of renewal for our parish – that as we come back to Mass and to Holy Communion, we will know the Lord on a deeper, more intimate level, be more open to the Holy Spirit, be more united as a community, and be more on fire for the mission of the Church.  Birthdays are times of joy in which we celebrate life and the gift of family.  May this Pentecost be a time to celebrate the new life Christ gives us through our family of the church.  And let’s not forget to pray to the Holy Spirit.  The first verse of one of my favorite hymns to the Holy Spirit makes a great prayer that says it all:  “Breathe on me, breath of God, Fill me with life anew, That I may love the things you love, and do what you would do.”

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