Vigil & Mass of the Day
20 May 2018
The Church concludes this weekend the Holy Season of Easter with this great solemnity of Pentecost. Pentecost is the celebration of that day when, after having prayed for Christ’s promised gift, the Holy Spirit descended upon the early Church, with His gifts and power being poured out upon the Apostles and disciples. We also pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us today. Listen again to part of the opening collect of this Mass: “with the divine grace that was at work when the Gospel was first proclaimed, fill now once more the hearts of believers.” In this weekend’s Mass the Church throughout the world prays that the same Spirit who came at Pentecost would continue to work through us.
Before the beginning of Christian faith, the Jewish faith observed a feast of Pentecost. For Jews, the celebration of Pentecost was a summons to return to the Holy City Jerusalem to recall their birth as the chosen people of God. Perhaps that origin in Jewish faith of recalling birth as God’s people is why the Christian feast of Pentecost has always been viewed as a birthday. It is viewed as the birthday of the Church. Before the first Christian Pentecost took place Jesus had called together his first followers, gave the Church her essential structure and mission, and declared that his Church would be established upon the rock of St. Peter, a foundation that the gates of Hell would never be able to destroy. As if the time leading up to the first Christian Pentecost was like a time of gestation, the Catholic Church’s birthday is commonly viewed as that first Pentecost described in the Acts of the Apostles. Finally filled with the very Spirit of God and empowered with His gifts, the Church Jesus established went out boldly to proclaim Christ to peoples of every tongue, land, and nation.
Sticking with that idea of birth, we might consider how in most cases we expect that a pregnant woman will receive some pre-natal care. She will avoid things that will harm the child within her. She will be guided by people with medical knowledge to arrive at that day when a healthy child may be born into the world. Given that Pentecost is a birthday, and that we pray today for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives, perhaps the analogy of pre-natal care can instruct us on how we should live our Christian life so that Christ comes to fuller birth in each one of us. Pentecost is the completion of the Paschal mystery that is, the mysteries of the eternal saving value of Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. He has made it possible for a new life to come to birth in us, a life that will come to full development in the eternity of Heaven. Pentecost is our call to live this life more fully beginning here and now. But what sort of “pre-natal care” do we need to give the grace of God in us so that it comes to fuller birth? You see, we make a mistake if we think there is nothing more any of us must do in order to arrive at Christ’s offer of salvation. We need to make sure that we nourish, protect, guard, develop this deposit of the Spirit placed in us by faith and baptism. Christ has redeemed us, yes. He has bridged the gap between us and God, yes. He has opened the gates of Paradise, yes. But it remains for us to live united with Christ now so that having turned from sin we allow his life to come to fuller birth in us. Only this will lead to eternal salvation. The Scriptures also can be seen to hint at awaiting this birth where St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God” (Rom. 8:19). In fact, St. Paul goes on to use that very image of birth just three verses later: “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains” (Rom. 8:22).
The whole creation eagerly awaits the revelation – that is, the showing forth, the birth – of God’s children. How should we care for the life of grace in us? What changes must we make so that the life of grace isn’t harmed or unable to come to fuller birth? Certainly our spiritual “pre-natal” care must include the spiritual life-blood of prayer, it must include confession of the poison of our sins that does harm to that life placed within us, it must include the nourishment of the Holy Eucharist worthily received, it must include service to others and study of God’s Word and the saving teachings of our faith. Will you give God’s grace in you this “pre-natal care?” The whole creation groans and waits for how our world will be different if we live fully by the Holy Spirit. You see, Pentecost is not just the birthday of some institution, the Church. It is your birthday too! We rejoice that we have been made adopted sons and daughters of God. We rejoice in the completion of Christ’s saving mysteries. We rejoice in the birthday of the Church. Our joy can’t be complete, and we can’t be the people we are called to be for the good of the world, until we let Christ’s life come to fuller birth in us. And so we pray today and always, Come, Holy Spirit!