Birthday of the Church
Pentecost celebrates the birthday of the Church. Jesus once compared himself to a seed dying in the earth so as to produce multiple grains. In Saint John’s account of the death of Jesus his last words were “It is accomplished”. Job done. Then bowing his head, he “gave up his spirit”, a Jewish way of saying that he returned the breath of life to the Father.
After the death of Jesus, the apostles were totally lost, locked behind closed doors, paralysed in fear. And then the Risen Lord appeared among them, identifying himself by the wounds of crucifixion. “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you”. The mission of Jesus was accomplished and now it was being handed on to the Apostles. But how could they take it up? Then the Risen Lord breathed on them … the life-giving breath which was returned to the Father on Calvary was now bestowed on the Apostles. “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
The seed of the mission of Jesus had now blossomed and multiplied in the mission of the Church. The immediate impact on the Apostles was startling. Previously they were locked behind closed doors, full of fear and not knowing what to do. Wonderfully transformed, they emerged full of wisdom and courage, with a very clear sense of their mission. The promise of power from on high had been fulfilled.
The Apostles were instructed to carry on the mission in a twofold way. “For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” The Church, founded on the Apostles, continues to celebrate the mercy of God with the repenting sinner. But to those who have not turned away from sin, the Church continues the warning of Jesus that they are retained in sin until they repent.
Many people have favourite places of pilgrimage where they feel close to God. Perhaps the most important pilgrimage is the journey inwards to recognise the presence of God with us and within us. In Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans he tells us, “The Spirit of God has made his home in you.” Then he adds that when we do not know how to pray, the Holy Spirit within us prays in ways beyond the scope of words. The indwelling of God is like a secret room. Jesus once said that when we pray, we should go into that secret room, close the door, and be attentive to God within us.
Every Sunday at Mass we profess our belief in the Holy Spirit as the Lord and Giver of life. Lord indicates that the Holy Spirit is divine. Giver of life recognises that the Holy Spirit is the power of spiritual growth. Jesus compared the Holy Spirit to the wind. We do not see the wind but we can see its effects in the racing of clouds, the slanting of smoke or the scampering of fallen leaves. Similarly we do not see the Holy Spirit but we recognise the effects of the Holy Spirit in the presence of wisdom, prayerfulness, extraordinary courage, forgiveness, generosity and love. The Church is the community of Spirit-filled believers. Enjoy your birthday today!
Send forth your Spirit, O Lord
And renew the face of the earth.