Pentecost – Solemnity
Happy birthday everybody. Or, I guess I should use the proper name for this solemn day…Pentecost. So…Happy Pentecost everybody.
Today we celebrate the birth of the Church. Roughly, some 2000 plus years ago, on this day, 50 days after Easter, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, manifested in the sound of a mighty wind and in tongues of fire and filled all who were present with power and grace. This event, as recorded by St. Luke in the 2nd chapter of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, marks the beginning of the “age of the Church.”
This solemn day of Pentecost finds its beginnings in the ancient Jewish festival of the same name, but is also known as the “Festival of Weeks.” In the ancient Jewish tradition, Pentecost consisted of a seven-week season committed to celebration and thanksgiving. By the end of the 2nd century, Pentecost in the Christian tradition, had manifested itself into a 50-day festival starting immediately after Passover. During this time, fasting and kneeling were prohibited as it was a designated period of rejoicing and celebration. This practice of Pentecost continued late into the 4th century when the Feast of the Ascension was added at the 40th day following Easter. It was then, around this period of time, that the celebration of Pentecost as a 50-day celebration was interrupted and the 50th day following Easter was begun to be observed as Pentecost.
I share with you this brief history lesson not just in hopes of providing a little education, but also in hopes of providing a little inspiration.
Our Catholic Church since the 1st Pentecost, has rejoiced and celebrated her birthday from the very beginning. From her very inception, our Catholic Church has remembered her origin and her mission by recalling that glorious and mysterious day. A day in which a promise had been fulfilled. A promise to send an Advocate. An Advocate of truth who guides and empowers the Church to fulfill her commission to spread the Gospel throughout all the world. This commission to spread the Gospel is as real, and as vibrant, and as necessary today as it was 2000 years ago.
I recognize that this commission is a challenge. It is indeed as much a challenge to carry out today as it was for those who have gone before us as they set the example for us. This challenge to live out the command of Jesus Christ to go and spread the Gospel, baptizing and making disciples, is not an easy task, nor was it ever intended to be. Yet, as made evident to us through all three of today’s readings, the expectation to evangelize the world was given to us not without help nor without power.
This power, though not necessarily manifested in the same manner as it was some 2000 years ago, is available to each and every one of us here today. This power, manifested in both word and deed, allowed the Apostles to go forth and boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, and is of the same source which guides and directs Christ’s Church today. This power, this power of the Holy Spirit, has been given to those who have been confirmed by the Church in full measure and it is we who are responsible for carrying out the mission and purpose to evangelize and build the kingdom of God here on earth.
Now, there is a cynical and grumpy man who has been known to not have such a high esteem of birthdays. He has been heard to say on more than once occasion, and in his typical curmudgeonly way, something that sounds a lot like this, “Why do people always want to celebrate their birthday? Really, all you have to do to have a birthday is not die in the past 365 days.”
Cynical, grumpy, curmudgeonly men notwithstanding, I challenge you this most solemn and holy birthday to make the next 365 days a year worth celebrating. A year worth celebrating because you endeavored to make it a year worth living. A year worth living not just for yourselves, but a year worth living for your faith, for your Church, and for your Savior.
During the next 365 days, each and every day, you have an opportunity to make a difference in the world in which you live, and in the life you are living. You have an opportunity to show a kindness to someone whose life is full of bitterness and regret. Or, to demonstrate God’s justice by allowing yourself to be an instrument of his mercy to someone who is desperate and full of despair. You have the ability to act in charity by not only giving out of your abundance, but also by giving out of what you have in short supply. This year can be the year you make a friend out of an enemy and promote peace and cooperation instead of conflict and division.
God willing, you have 365 days to prepare yourselves for what ought to be a most glorious and wondrous celebration. A celebration resulting from your cooperation with the Spirit of God to effect positive change in your world through the fulfillment of the great commission of Jesus Christ by spreading the Gospel to all of your world. A celebration, I remind you, which has continued on throughout history…the celebration of the birthday of the church…which started in a small room full of people who were willing to allow themselves to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and make a difference in their world.