- Today in Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
- Pentecost Sunday
- 31 May 2020
The feast of Pentecost is traditionally known as the birthday of the Church and this particular Sunday carries even more particular meaning with the gradual reopening of the church. The word “Church” is taken from a Greek term, which literally means “gathered community.” Although the gathering will be limited in number and distanced according to safety protocols, we will once again be open for the Eucharist. Thanks be to God.
The Church is composed of people who are united with one another and gathered by God in the name of Jesus Christ, and in communion with Him. What this means essentially is that the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles is the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus: “I will be with you always, to the end of time.” Over the last two thousand years, the Church has struggled with the implications of this doctrine. Many of the questions were resolved in the early Church, but it took hundreds of years to sort through other issues, and we are still working on some of them.
On the night before He died, Jesus prayed that we all might be in complete unity with Him, as He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. John’s gospel goes to great lengths describing the nature, purpose, and character of this unity, which Jesus extends to His Church. Ultimately, the existence and authority of the Church rests on one foundational belief…the doctrine of the Incarnation. God, who is completely and radically distinct from the natural universe…and from our own experience…is now “contained,” wholly and completely in the natural world in the person of Jesus the man…“a man like us in all things, but sin.” Since it is logically impossible for the infinity of God to be specified to a time and place, the incarnation of Jesus as the Son of God is a miracle! This is what Christmas is all about. In the choral music of Handel’s Messiah, Jesus is named: “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” With the death,
resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the same Holy Spirit, who
binds the Father and Son in complete communion, is now extended
to the Church and completed at Pentecost.
The language of the Nicene Creed, which we recite together every
Sunday, articulates that Jesus became a man by the power of the
Holy Spirit. This same Holy Spirit, who spoke through the
Prophets, now gives the indelible imprint of holiness to the “one,
holy, catholic and apostolic Church. As a result, the Church is
now the presence of Jesus in the world…who is the presence of
God…and as His Body, carries the same authority to forgive sin.
The big danger here is that many Christians have interpreted the
promise of Jesus…“and I will be with you always”…in the
singular. Meaning that the individual believer is the total presence
of Christ and carries the total authority of Christ. This is a
distortion of the truth and has been the cause of numerous heresies
and divisions through the centuries. Since God, in God’s own
being, is a community; we the Church are essentially a community
as well…individual members, but one Body. All of the sacraments
flow out of this understanding and belief.
In the present time, with our heavy emphasis on individualism and
the importance of each person’s experience of reality, there is now
the prevalence of a universal belief that I, myself, am the arbitrator
of the truth. In the West, we have come to know this perspective
as “cultural relativism,” and we have learned the hard way to live
with one another by accepting the perspectives of others.
However, there is an important difference between accepting and
embracing…and there’s the rub today. Many Catholics have
embraced the theories and practices of “cultural relativism” and
have consequently succumbed to “moral relativism” as a result.
That’s why the presence of the Church is so important and our
participation in the life of the Church is so essential. We need the
Church…I need the Church…and the Church needs us…to be the
authentic presence of God in the world that we are meant to be by
the commandment of Christ Himself. If we can just keep our focus
on Him, instead of ourselves, our Church will be the instrument of
salvation that we were always intended to be.