Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pentecost is For All Time

Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday. It is the birthday of the Church, a most glorious day when the apostles received the Holy Spirit while praying in the upper room with Mary, Christ's Blessed Mother. This happened exactly 50 days after our Lord's resurrection from the dead. The disciples of Jesus Christ had experienced 40 days in the physical presence of our Glorified Lord talking with and being taught by Him. The Book of Acts says that Christ spoke about the Kingdom of God during these 40 days. Acts 1:4-5 also says that "On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  At this point we can be sure that the apostles had barely a clue as to the meaning of Christ's words.

On the 40th day after the resurrection, Our Lord ascended to heaven in the presence of the disciples. Just before His Ascension, our Lord told the disciples:  "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  (Acts 1:8) Again, we can be fairly certain that these words had little meaning to the apostles. They were still hiding out from the Jews, afraid for their own lives, and certainly in no frame of mind to go out among the outside world which was so hostile to them.

In the days following the Ascension, they stayed in Jerusalem as our Lord instructed them. They were in the same upper room where our Lord had conducted the Last Supper the night He was arrested.  "They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers."  At this time they also chose a replacement for Judas, who had betrayed Christ and hung himself, so there were once again 12 apostles. It is only right that our Blessed Mother would be present at the birth of the Church, the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, just as she was the one who gave physical birth to our Lord. Mary is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, and she is never separated from Him.

On the 10th day after the Ascension, they were gathered together to celebrate Pentecost, a Holy Day among the Jews. "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them."  (Acts 2:2-4).

All of the groundwork laid by Jesus Christ, all of His teaching and exhortation, suddenly came alive for them. It was like lights had been turned on in a darkened house, and what had seemed so incomprehensible before was now clear and unambiguous. Much as Mary conceived our Lord through the Power of the Holy Spirit, so now the apostles of Christ were filled with Jesus Christ through the Power of the Holy Spirit. The fear which had crippled them was replaced with the Love of God. As the Apostle John later wrote, "Perfect love casts out fear." (I John 4:18). The men who had run away the night of our Lord's arrest, the men who had cowered behind closed doors after the death of our Lord, had now become the strong and fearless witnesses of whom Christ spoke, and not even the fear of death could stop them now.

There were many others in the area who were also in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost (Acts 2:5-12). The sound of hearing their own languages drew them:
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Everyone in Jerusalem knew the story of Jesus Christ. They knew He had been crucified as a common criminal and all of His followers seemed to have just dropped off the face of the earth. Nothing had been seen or heard from them after the crucifixion. Now, without any warning, here were these same men speaking perfectly in a multitude of different tongues and preaching "the wonders of God." They showed no fear, no hesitation whatsoever. The Apostle Peter spoke of the prophecies concerning Christ, how he was to come to earth as a Man to be crucified and be resurrected after three days. Peter concluded with, "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah."

The words poured out of Peter and the other Apostles and so affected those who heard them that "When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?"  The apostles baptized 3000 people that day. The beginning of the Church could be compared to the Big Bang that many say started the universe. The Big Bang theory, which is actually very consistent with Scripture, says that there was nothing until - BANG! - the universe was born, and it has been expanding and growing ever since. One moment on the morning of Pentecost, the Church did not exist. Then the Holy Spirit descended, filled the Apostles and - BANG! - the Church was born and, like the Universe, has been expanding ever since then with no end in sight.

There are many lessons associated with Pentecost, but one big lesson is that we are all completely powerless without the Holy Spirit. The Apostles spent 3 years with Christ during His earthly ministry and 40 days with the Risen, Glorified Christ, and yet they were just as carnal and unconverted in their thinking as the day they were born. The Apostles were as unable to grasp the spiritual as an ant is unable to grasp the Laws of Physics. The Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus and the Father, is the One who enlightens our minds and gives us power to be the children of God and do His Work. As Zechariah 4:6 says, "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty."  Galatians 3:3 says, "Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?"  Our Lord said plainly, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit."  (John 3:5-6).

When we start "stalling out", either individually or as a Church, that means we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. We are trying to live our lives under our own power, and that is a sure recipe for disaster. We will be as powerless as the apostles were prior to Pentecost. We each need our own individual Pentecost when we receive and are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

When Pope Benedict XVI was in New York City in 2008, he gave a sermon calling for a New Pentecost in the Church (you can read the full sermon here):
As we give thanks for past blessings, and look to the challenges of the future, let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America. May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, descend on all present!
Stained glass window from outside
In this sermon, Pope Benedict compared the Church to stained glass windows, which look dark from the outside. Their beauty can be seen only from the inside. The same is true of the Church, which can look dark and incomprehensible to those who are not a part of it. It is our duty as Christians to draw people to the light and glory which can be seen only from inside the Church:
It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.
Light streaming through stained glass window
If the Holy Spirit is acting in our lives, we won't be able to sit back and watch the world go by, no matter what our station in life is. Pope Benedict in his sermon at St. Patrick's Cathedral:
All of you, who fill this cathedral today, as well as you retired, elderly and infirm brothers and sisters, who unite their prayers and sacrifices to your labors, are called to be forces of unity within Christ’s Body. By your personal witness, and your fidelity to the ministry or apostolate entrusted to you, you prepare a path for the Spirit. For the Spirit never ceases to pour out his abundant gifts, to awaken new vocations and missions, and to guide the Church, as our Lord promised in this morning’s Gospel, into the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16:13).
The Holy Spirit is the Life Force of the Church collectively and in each one of us individually. But the Holy Spirit will never force us to follow Him. Christ told the Apostles, "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth."  (John 16:13) We have to make ourselves available to Him, just as the Apostles did. They received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost because they followed the words of Christ and stayed in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit was coming to Jerusalem, and if they had not remained in Jerusalem, they would not have received the Holy Spirit.

We must do the same. Today the Holy Spirit resides in the New Jerusalem, which is the Catholic Church, the Church which began on the Day of Pentecost. Our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, said on April 23 of this year that Christ cannot be found outside of the Catholic Church. You can read his full sermon here.
[I]t is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: "Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy." And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful.
The Catholic Church is where the Holy Trinity resides. The Catholic Church is the only place where the fullness of Truth can be found. Jesus Christ is Life. There is no life outside of Him. Since, as Pope Francis has told us, Jesus cannot be found outside of the Church, there is no life outside of the Church.

We have been given a beautiful gift in the Holy Spirit, who is our Guide, Comforter and Teacher. But like our Blessed Mother, we must say yes to the Holy Spirit or He cannot work in us. The choice is ours.

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