By MSGR. THOMAS R. DUFFY
Pentecost Sunday, Christians throughout the world are invited to reflect upon and to celebrate their roots and their mission, that is, their reason for being Christians.
St. Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles that before his ascension into heaven, Jesus met with the apostles. They asked him: “Lord, has the time come for you to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He told them: “It is not for you to know times or dates that the father has decided on his own authority, but you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come to you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to earth’s remotest end.” With these words he left them, ascending into heaven.
It was a few days later on the feat of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit descended upon the 12 apostles (Matthias had been chosen by lot to take the place of Judas) appearing to them as “tongues of fire.” They then went out into the city of Jerusalem to begin bearing witness to Jesus, his love for them, his love for all people, even for those who had participated in any way in his crucifixion. The apostles were no longer afraid of those who had killed Jesus and behold many of those who had earlier approved of his crucifixion repented and were baptized. All did not believe in Jesus and eventually all of the apostles (except John) and many other believers in Jesus would die because of their continued witness to Jesus. Their deaths, however, would not result in the destruction of Christianity but in fact would be an instrument in its continued growth. The writer, Tertullian, wrote of the church in the third century A.D.: “We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed.”
In a sense, Pentecost can be seen as the birthday of the church. St. Isidore wrote in the seventh century: “The church began at the place the Holy Spirit descended from heaven and filled those who were sitting there together.” But the roots of Christianity go back to the Garden of Eden, when after the sin of Adam and Eve, God the Father promised a redeemer who would come to seek to save all their children. In Luke’s Gospel, this is indicated when he traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam.
Yes, God so loved the world, each and every child of Adam and Eve, that he sent his son to pay the price for our redemption. Yes, Jesus, the Son of God who became human and is still divine, died for all of the children of Adam and Eve. The Holy Spirit, who is God, came to help us remember that all people are loved by God and that we as Christians are called to bear witness to that love by loving everyone.
Too often, we forget that God is father, redeemer and sanctifier of all human beings and so all of us are brothers and sisters to one another. We keep dividing ourselves into groups seeking to identify ourselves according to race, sex, nationality or any other number of ways including religion, economic status or even where we live or what school we attend. Seeking our identity in these ways may align us with some but always divide us from others.
At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic bishops of the world challenged members of the Catholic Church in what they called The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World to remember that “the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of human beings, human beings who, united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, press onwards towards the Kingdom of the Fathers and are bearers of a message of salvation intended for all.”
May all Christians who celebrate Pentecost remember our roots and our mission. We must be united in love for each other, not to stand in hatred of anyone but united we stand in love of everyone.
Msgr. Thomas Duffy is pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City, and dean of the Pee Dee Deanery.