May 19, 2013

After Eastertide we finally reach the feast of Pentecost, one of my favorite feasts of the Church Year. Pentecost commemorates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ followers and, as Fr. Rodney Kissinger notes, is recognized as the beginning of the Christian Church:

The Feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. For some 2,000 years now the Church has withstood the devastating ravages of time. It has seen empires rise, flourish and then fall. It has withstood diabolical attempts to destroy it from without and corrupting influences from within. Through it all the permanence and the stability of the Church stand out like a beacon in the night of a sin-darkened world.

God wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. The Good News Jesus came to reveal was meant not only for the people of his day, but for people of all time. So while Jesus was personally proclaiming the Good News to his contemporaries, he was preparing a means by which his mission would be continued after he had returned to his heavenly Father.

He began by gathering together twelve men whom he called apostles. He spent the night in prayer before he called them to “Come follow me.” He taught them by word and example. As an internship he sent them out two by two and gave them authority to proclaim the Good News and cast out demons. He gave them specific instructions about what to wear and what to do. When they returned they were glowing with success. Jesus took them aside for debriefing and further instructions.

Before he returned to his Father, he gave them their formal commission. “Go into the whole world; make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. And behold I am with you always until the end of the ages.” (Matt.28:19-20)

Then he told them to go to Jerusalem and wait until they received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth that would remind them of all he had commanded and remain with them forever. Then just as the human body of Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation, so too the Mystical Body of Jesus, the Church, was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And just as the human Jesus lived his entire life under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so too the Mystical Body of Jesus lives its entire life under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It was by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Gospel of Christ crucified, so incredible and paradoxical in itself, so contrary to human nature and preached by such simple, unlettered men conquered the known world in a few centuries.

God could have chosen angels. But he chose men; fickle, fallible, sinful human beings. AND IT IS THIS VERY HUMANITY WHICH IS THE GREATEST PROOF OF ITS DIVINITY. If it were only human it would have been out of existence a long time ago. After the Resurrection when the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin for teaching about the Resurrection, Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, said, “So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39) That was some 2,000 years ago. The Church today is still teaching the Resurrection.

If God had chosen angels would the Church be perfect? I don’t think so. How many myriads of angels said, “I will not serve” and were cast into the Hell prepared for them? And if the Church is perfect, how did you get in? How did I get in? How did any human being get in? If you are looking for a perfect Church and you find it, join it. And when you do it will no longer be perfect. The next time the humanity of the Church rears its ugly head let us not be shocked and scandalized. Instead of trying to twist the facts to deny the truth, let us realize that there is something here greater than all of us.

The Church is not God. It is the People of God. The Church is not Jesus. It is the Mystical Body of Jesus. The Church is human and divine. And the humanity of the Church is one of the greatest proofs of its divinity.

Back when I was a youth in the Episcopal Church and Anglican tradition it was called Whitsunday. Always liked that term – it just sounds so Anglican to these Anglo-Catholic ears. Reminds me of the St. Anne’s Episcopal Church of my youth and old Mr. Nichols.

Saturday’s Pentecost Mass at St. Mary Magdalene was as good as church gets – the setting with all the red linen, bright flowers in reds, oranges, and yellows, a large number of the congregation dressed in the same colors, and music that was perfect and perfectly-performed for the occasion. Father Will’s homily – on Pentecost being the New Testament reverse of the Old Testament’s Tower of Babel story – was enlightening and fascinating to listen to.

Now that Pentecost is over, next week is the Feast of the Holy Trinity when the Church Year goes back to the color of green and thereafter what is called ordinary time, which will close out the Church Year on December 1st with the start of Advent and a new Church Year. It’s truly hard to believe, and not a little bit frightening – just how fast this year is passing by.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 02:04 | Comments Off on Pentecost
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