Since his election, Pope Francis has repeatedly called all Catholics to be missionary disciples. Like his predecessors, he challenges all the baptized to be actively engaged in sharing the Good News of Jesus with the people of our world. This is a charge I give to our young people when I confirm them. Yet when we look at the diversity of people in our society, even right here in our own diocese, we can’t help but wonder what language, what words we, as the Church, can use to invite, engage and challenge the people around to listen to the Gospel message?
I think we find an answer in the account of Pentecost from the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-42). We are told in this passage that the descent of the Holy Spirit unleashed a courageous power into the world. Driven by wind and fire, the first followers of Jesus burst forth from the upper room, no longer fearful men, but bold evangelists set loose on the world. The description of a “strong, driving wind” evokes images from the story of creation, as the Spirit swept over the vast waters and God blew the breath of life into the man he had fashioned from the earth, a being formed in God’s image and likeness. However, Genesis also relates how God’s image in us was disfigured by sin, how the beauty and unity of humanity was disfigured through the sins of selfishness, false pride and greed, the effects of which we still feel today.
Pentecost ushered in a whole new creation. New winds swept over the earth as the Risen Christ breathed on his people the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reunites the rich diversity of humanity in the experience of one Lord, one faith, one baptism. It is this profound unity that enables us to speak a universal tongue to touch the hearts of all. It is this Spirit-inspired catholicity, this universality, that allows the Church to embrace a diversity of gifts, members, cultures and personalities. We are united in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, as we profess in the Creed, so that all distinctions are subservient to the one faith and all gifts are used for the common good.
The same Holy Spirit that unifies also strengthens, symbolized by the tongues of fire in the account of Pentecost. As fire purifies, illumines and inspires, so the Holy Spirit does for us. The fire of the Spirit invigorates our faith and empowers us to live it actively day by day. It gives us courage to proclaim the truth, to witness to the faith and to resist temptation. Enflamed by the Spirit, the life of a faithful Catholic becomes a beacon that leads others to Christ and the warmth to melt the hardened heart. If we open our souls to this Divine Fire, then the Spirit will use us to inspire other minds and hearts and to help renew the face of the earth.
The intense sense of unity and mission that marked that first Pentecost is urgently needed today if the Church is to reach our world in this 3rd millennium. To effectively proclaim the faith, the whole Church — clergy, religious and lay faithful — need to speak with one voice. Scandals, divisions, laxity and hypocrisy — all these lessen the credibility of the Church’s witness. Each member of the Church needs to be an example of the faith lived joyfully and energetically in the world today. More than ever, people need to hear the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection clearly and boldly proclaimed, whether in our homes, neighborhoods, schools or workplaces. To fulfill this mission, we need to
constantly call upon the Gifts of the Holy Spirit we received in baptism and more fully in confirmation: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.
So as we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost on June 9, let us implore the Lord to send his Spirit of wind and fire afresh upon his Church. May we carry our Catholic faith out into the world through the universal language of love, forgiveness, truth and peace, so that all people, through the power of the Holy Spirit, might come to proclaim and profess that Jesus Christ is Lord.