If you’ve ever attended a big public fireworks display, you will know that it begins and ends with a bang, and is marked by many fiery bursts against the dark sky, to the oohs and ahs of the delighted spectators.
I would like to suggest that at this season we are near the end of an annual spiritual fireworks display. It began at the Easter Vigil with Christ the Light bursting the shackles of sin and death, with a renewed blaze of glory at the Ascension. And now, before we settle down into what the liturgical calendar calls “ordinary time,” there are still some oohs and ahs in store for those who have the eyes and ears of faith.
I am referring to four great Solemnities: Pentecost Sunday on June 8, which crowns the Easter Season; Most Holy Trinity Sunday on June 15; the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) on June 22; and the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 27.
I would like to focus on the first of these Solemnities: Pentecost.
Scripture tells us that after Our Lord’s Ascension into heaven, the apostles returned to Jerusalem, entered the upper room, and “all these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers…. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 1:14; 2: 2-4).
These events mark the first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit whom Jesus had promised came down with power, revealing his divine personhood, and gave the disciples the gifts necessary to carry out their mission from Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19f). Pentecost is spoken of as the “birthday” of the church.
Like the first disciples, all of us are called by baptism, confirmation and the holy Eucharist to bring the good news of faith in Jesus Christ to everyone. The church in our day is called to be renewed in this mission. The stated purpose of the Second Vatican Council was a “new Pentecost” in our time. Every pope since Pope Saint John XXIII has spoken of this.
It is no exaggeration to say that the major theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate is that “we cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings,” but need to move from “mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry” (Evangelii Gaudium, 15). When the Pope says “missionary pastoral ministry,” he is not referring only, or even primarily, to clergy and religious. He includes all the members of the church as “missionary disciples.”
Pentecost reminds us that in fulfilling this mission, the principal agent is not us ourselves – our own talents, abilities and strategies – but rather the Holy Spirit working in and through us. Nowhere is this expressed more beautifully or poetically than in the words of another great modern pope, Paul VI, soon to be beatified. He asks: “What do we feel is the first and greatest need of this blessed and beloved church of ours? We must say it, almost trembling and praying, because as you know well, this is the church’s mystery and life: the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. He it is who animates and sanctifies the church. He is her divine breath, the wind in her sails, the principle of her unity, the inner source of her light and strength. He is her support and consoler, her source of charisms and songs, her peace and her joy, her pledge and prelude to blessed and eternal life. The church needs her perennial Pentecost; she needs fire in her heart, words on her lips, prophecy in her outlook.... The church needs to rediscover the eagerness, the taste and the certainty of the truth that is hers.”
May the gift of the Holy Spirit fill our hearts and minds, and empower us “from on high” to be Christ’s witnesses in Connecticut, and indeed the world.