Today is the Solemnity of the Pentecost, remembering the day, 10 days after Jesus’ glorious Ascension into Heaven, that the Holy Spirit descended upon the nascent Church, about 120 disciples gathered in the upper room waiting and praying. As the Acts of Apostles tells us:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language…. So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2: 1-6, 41).
Some call this the “Birthday of the Church” because, in a certain sense, it was the day the Church came to life. Of course, other days are also called the “Birthday of the Church,” for example, Christmas and Good Friday. Perhaps the best analogy here is to relate this “birth” back to the creation of Adam; as Genesis tells us: “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2: 7). Now, the word “breathed” and “breath” here are translating two forms of the Hebrew words “ruah” which means “breath” or “wind”—or “spirit.” (Note that the Latin root word “spirare” forms the root of not only the word “spirit,” but also “respire” (“to breathe”) and “inspire.” So the “breath of God” or the “wind of God” also points to the Spirit of God. In a parallel to the creation of Adam, during His life on earth, Christ had built up a body for His Church, not from the “dust of the earth,” but from the simple human beings he had brought together under the leadership of the apostles. And in a certain sense it was like a lifeless body, as the disciples locked themselves in the upper room filled with fear (but also hope). Until the Pentecost, when the Lord breathed His Spirit, “like the rush of a mighty wind,” into that body and it came to life, as we see in the above passage.
That Spirit remains alive and well in the Church today, coming to individual members of the Church in vari- ous ways, but in particular through the Sacrament of Confirmation—which I wrote about in my column two weeks ago and which 90 of our parishioners (mostly our eighth graders) received last Wednesday. If only we would recognize and use with faith and confidence the gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive in that sacrament!
But the Holy Spirit remains with the Church in many other ways, as well, continuing to give it life and mak- ing it the true Body of Christ on earth. It remains acting in all the sacraments, and in the preaching of the Church, and in the love of Christians. And it remains in the Church, acting through its hierarchical structure established by Christ through His apostles.
Some ask, why don’t we experience the Holy Spirit like they did on that first Pentecost—with the tongues of fire, the sound of the wind and the speaking in foreign tongues. Many scholarly saints have proposed that in the very beginning the Trinity deigned to show Its power and presence in the Church in these extraordinary ways in order to draw attention to this new and world-changing phenomenon, and to found the Church with a dramatic event that would always be a sign to all generations that the Holy Spirit had entered the Church and world in a unique way that day.
But don’t we need that same kind of extraordinary and dramatic event/sign today? Perhaps. Then again, don’t we actually have such a sign? What about the “sign” of the presence of the living Body of Christ, the Church, still alive and vibrant 2000 years later, not having 120 members, or 3000 members, but over 1 billion mem- bers (actually, 2 billion when we count all Christians) living in almost every nation on earth. What other insti- tution, group or society has survived in any comparable way for so long, and with such an effect on human lives and human history? And considering all the frail and sinful human beings who have found a home in her over all these centuries—whether layman, priest, bishop or pope—to me it seems her survival and flourishing is the greatest sign we could imagine or hope for of the Holy Spirit’s continuing power and presence in the Church today.
Let us pray together that all Christians—Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox; layman, religious, priest or bishop—may be aware of and cooperate with the Spirit in all things, so that we can share in His work in bringing the salvation of Jesus Christ to the world we live in—beginning with ourselves. May the zealous fire of the Holy Spirit transform our lives so that at every moment and in every circumstance we may live and breathe our faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ.
Confirmation. Congrats again to our new confirmandi—let us keep them in our prayers. And thanks to all those who helped prepare them for the sacrament, especially their parents, Maria Ammirati and Janice Gorrie (in our Religious Education office), and their teachers: Sandi Draude, Mike Turk, Tom Quigley, Terry Rihl, Sue Smith and Julie Maimone. Thanks also to the choir, the altar servers, the Knights of Columbus and all who helped decorate the church and to prepare the reception afterwards. (Sorry if I left anyone out!)
Another New Priest in the Parish. Last Friday, Bishop Loverde gave permission for a priest from India, Fr. Joby Thomas, to reside in our parish and to assist me and Fr. Pilon in carrying out our pastoral responsibili- ties. I informed Fr. Thomas of this over the weekend (he was visiting friends in Houston) and the next thing I knew, he jumped on a plane and here he is! Father is a member of the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament (MCBS), in Kerala, India. “Fr. Tony” Mannarkulam—whom many of you know— recommended him to me a few weeks back, as his friend and former student, as well as a good and faithful priest. Since Fr. Thomas will not be going to school while he is with us, I will be counting on him to be a big help to all of us. He will stay with us for the duration of the summer….and perhaps a while longer, God will- ing.
Please join me in welcoming Fr. Joby Thomas, as well as Fr. John Lovell (see last week’s column), to the parish.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles