Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Solemnity of Pentecost: The Work Entrusted to Us by the Master
I want to begin today by telling you a story about the great opera composer, Giacomo Puccini. You probably have heard his music and his name. You certainly have heard the names of his most famous works: Madame Butterfly, La Boheme and Tosca. In 1922 Puccini began what many would consider his best work: Turandot. As he was composing the opera he became terribly sick. The doctors gave the diagnosis of cancer. He did not have long to live. Puccini raced to finish Turandot before he died. But he couldn't. The disease was taking its toll. Finally, Puccini announced to his students that if he could not finish the opera, they should finish it. He died in 1924, leaving the opera incomplete. His students assembled all his notes and manuscripts, studied them in great detail and proceeded to finish the work.
In 1926 the world premier of Turandot was performed in the famous opera house of Milan, La Scala. Puccini's prized pupil, Arturo Toscanini conducted the work. The opera proceeded beautifully until Toscanini came to the end of the parts written by Puccini. He stopped the music, put down his baton, and turned to the audience. "Thus far the master wrote until he died," Toscanini announced. There was a long pause. No one moved. Then with tears in his eyes, Toscanini said, "But his disciples finished his work." The conductor picked up the baton again and the opera concluded to thunderous applause and a permanent place in the annals of great works.
Puccini's students were imbued with the spirit of the great composer. They reflected on his spirit and knew what he would do with each note, each voice, each instrument. He had given himself to them and they had accepted his gift and developed his spirit. They could never have his spirit though. They could only study what they thought he would do. What if instead of studying his spirit, they could have taken the spirit of Pucinni within them, and each become vehicles of the spirit of the master? It is exactly that which happened on Pentecost Sunday.
Pentecost is the empowering by the Master, Jesus Christ, to complete his work, the salvation of that part of creation made in the image of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus entrusted his work to his prized disciples. He gave them the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, and they allowed his Spirit to flow through them. And the Church was born. And the Church is being born. And the work of the master continues.
At Pentecost the apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring others to Christ and Christ to others. As we just heard, after the Eleven received the Holy Spirit, they went and proclaimed Jesus. People from all over the world listened to the proclamation of the Lord in their own languages. They were literally inspired to become Christians.
The disciples became apostles on Pentecost Sunday. The learners, disciples, were empowered by the Holy Spirit to become apostles, When we were confirmed, we also received this power, this working of the Holy Spirit. Just as Baptism can be called a Personal Easter, Confirmation can be called a Personal Pentecost.
How have we engaged this great gift? How, have we allowed the Spirit to work through us? How have we brought Christ to others and others to Christ?
First of all, we cannot call upon the Holy Spirit to work through us if we are not united to Christ. This is far more than avoiding serious sin. We need to foster our union with Christ through daily prayer and weekly Eucharist. If we are do this then our proclamation of Christ flows naturally through us. The things we say or do actually become secondary to the action of the Spirit through us.
Second, we need to reach out to those in the world who are longing for a Savior. This is not limited to those who have never heard of Christ. It also refers to those leading desperate lives or insignificant drudgery. It refers to those who are caught up in the dictates of secular society, busy doing all sorts of things that fade away except the one thing that lasts, uniting themselves to the Lord.
Sometimes we are reticent. We think that if we did ask someone to pray with us, that person would say. “NO”. We are afraid that we will not be convincing enough. Perhaps we need to remember that God supplies the words and actions that lead others to him. We are merely the vehicles for the Lord. At the same time, a vehicle is useless if it stays in the garage. We need to do our best and let the Spirit do the rest.
How is it that we are all here? How is it that billions celebrate Jesus Christ? Was there a huge miracle that caused so many to become Christians? Was there a sign in the sky that said, “Go to Church and eat at Joe’s.” Of course not. We are here, billions are part of our Christian family, because the Holy Spirit worked through others. I am here because others, particularly in my case as in most your cases, my parents, took their Catholicism seriously. I am here, as you are, because others have led me to Christ.
God uses His People to spread his Gospel. He empowers them with His Spirit, inspiring them and others through them to choose Christ. This empowerment began on Pentecost Sunday and continues among all those who have taken their confirmation seriously and are fulfilling the mission of their Personal Pentecost.
May we have the courage to complete the work of our Master.