Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Solemnity of Pentecost: We Are Church!
It was not a surprise. It did not come suddenly with the teaching of Jesus. The Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament referred to it continually. Here are just a few instances. In the very first book of Scriptures, Genesis, we heard that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. Then we heard that it was the breathe of God that gave life to Adam, to humankind. It was the One who spoke through the prophets. It was the One whom Jeremiah could not contain within himself. Perhaps you remember Jeremiah’s great complaint in Jeremiah 20:7-9:
So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
It was the One in Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones who gave life to the sinews and flesh that covered those bones. This was in Ezekiel 37:9:
Then He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may come to life."
The prophet Micah said, “I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord,” in Micah 3:8. It was the One who kept pointing towards He Who Is To Come, the Center of Creation. It was and is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
And the disciples were told to wait for Him. Just before Jesus had ascended into heaven, the Lord told them that the Advocate would come. Then they would have a deep understanding of Jesus the Christ. Then they would be empowered to bring the Gospel to others.
And so they gathered in that Upper Room, the same room where they had celebrated the Last Supper, the First Supper of the New Age. They barred the door for fear of the Jews. And they waited. And on Pentecost Sunday they received. The Spirit was there. He came upon each of them. The signs of the Spirit’s presence were the wind inside a closed room, and the fire, tongues of fire over each of them. And then they became the Church.
The Church. We use that term Church in many different ways. We called to our children this morning to hurry up and get ready or we would be late for Church. We drove by the Presbyterian Church, or the Methodist Church or the Greek Orthodox Church and drove into the parking lot of the Catholic Church. We walked past the Parish Life Center and Parish Office and walked into the Church. Catholic friends from St. Petersburg asked us which Church we went to, St. Luke’s or St. Ignatius. We use the term Church is many ways, referring to a denomination, a building, a parish. The deepest meaning of the word Church, though, is the People of God formed by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ. On Pentecost Sunday, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we, the disciples of Jesus Christ, became Church. Church is not merely where we are right now, or not simply our religion. Church is who we are. We are the Church.
In an amazing paradox, the Holy Spirit unites us as one despite of and because of our differences. Each of us is a unique reflection of God. Each of us has his or her own gifts, our own manifestations of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit; and yet, we are all the same. Each of us and all of us are the Church.
We are transformed into a Living Body, the Body of Christ, just as the first disciples on Pentecost Sunday were transformed by the Holy Spirit into Church. Like those disciples, who once they received the Spirit, became apostles, we have to leave the Upper Room, the false security of our own little worlds, and dive into the world, leap into the world, bring who we are, Church, to the world. And we do this. We preach with our lives, and, as St. Francis of Assisi said, if necessary with our words. We proclaim the eternal life offered for all who are willing to confess Jesus and accept His Gospel, live His Life. And others hear a language touching their hearts, yelling inside their hearts. We speak as Church and the Holy Spirit animates, brings life to those seeking meaning for life. We live as the Church we are, and others are drawn by the Spirit to be Church.
And yes, sadly, we can reject the Holy Spirit. We can close our ears and our hearts to His call to affirm the Gospel, to His call to reach out to others, to His call to embrace the Way with our lives, but then we are not just rejecting a particular grace, we are rejecting God. Simply put, I do not have the right to treat my Catholicism merely as though I am a member of a group. None of us has that right. I have a responsibility to the world; we have a responsibility to the world, to be Church.
That is why our prayer life is so important. The union we nourish with Jesus Christ through daily prayers and Sunday Mass, the union that is nourished with Scripture and Sacrament, this union strengthens the spiritual life we have been given. It strengthens the Spirit that gives life to the Body.
Therefore, we pray, we live moral lives, we seek the presence of God in those who are hurting, and we proclaim with our lives, “Come, come and join us. Come and join us in the Body of Christ. Come, come and join us. Come, come and be Church.”
This is the message of Pentecost!