VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS
We are within hours of the great Solemnity of Pentecost. As most Catholics know, it was that moment after the Ascension of the Lord when the promised “Paraclete” or Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and once again changed the direction of their lives. Following the chronology of their growth in faith, they went from despair and fear at the time of the Crucifixion to great hope with the news of the Resurrection. Even in the post-resurrection appearances of the Lord, they are shown to have maintained something of a “I can’t believe it’s really him.” In the days between the Ascension and Pentecost, there is no scriptural evidence that they spent the time in meetings to determine exactly what their role was now that he was definitely gone from their midst. They were listless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus had told them that they were to go forth “baptizing all nations, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” but up until Pentecost, the deeper meaning of that mandate was lost on them.
There is also little scriptural evidence that they remembered he had promised a “Paraclete”, a Spirit which would descend upon them. There is more evidence that they felt pretty sure that after having gone to the Father and having promised he would come again, they probably should just return home and wait for the next sighting or the next news. Happily they stayed together, however, and were back in the Upper Room when the Spirit came and just as when they had left everything to embrace the Lord’s invitation to “come, follow me” which was a life changing moment, Pentecost was a work changing moment. In the words of the great American novelist Thomas Wolfe (i.e. the elder), they “could not go home again.” Appearing as both dove and fire, the Spirit captured their cowardly humanity and transformed them into a people on fire with a mission – to convert the Jewish people to Christianity and the Gospel and to appeal also to the Gentiles. Throwing all caution aside, they immediately started taking risks which are recounted in the “Acts of the Apostles.” They began to think and act as one, as a Church with a head, Peter, and with apostles. They formed a community which has lasted throughout twenty centuries, soon two millennia. What other organization can make such a claim?
As a result of the Pentecost experience, there was room in the newly forming Christian community for the worst of sinners (how about Saul of Tarsus) and they became a community reflecting the life of the Master in loving and forgiving. Given the gift of language, these simple fishermen and one tax collector, cast their nets broadly to Gentile and pagan populations which initially welcomed them with interest, then embraced them, sometimes then turned on them finally to embrace them once again. Pentecost started something which has so far proved to be unstoppable, despite the sinfulness and mistakes of some of those professed to be Christians and some who professed to be leaders of the faith. Pentecost is rightly called the “birthday of the Church”, because it was the moment when eleven of them plus one newly elected member chose to stop being individuals with personal agendas and to become a community sharing one faith, one Lord, one baptism. They looked to Peter whom the Lord had chosen to lead his people like we look to Peter’s successor, the pope, for guidance through difficult moments. They placed trust in others when the fruit of their preaching led to communities so large that they personally could no longer appropriately serve and minister. Each of them would eventually suffer a martyr’s death but their imprint, their preaching, their teaching would refuse to die.
Thank God this week-end for the gift of the Spirit which still guides the Church, the Holy Father, the bishops, and those who both minister to God’s people as well as those who belong to the Church. The Church today is not radically different than the post-Pentecost church. We are still waiting the coming of the Lord in glory but we are not wasting a moment to make sure that He is welcomed again by believers who accept him as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” Happy Birthday to all and a Blessed Pentecost.