SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHURCH!

“Peace be with you. As the Father sent Me, so am I sending you … Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20: 21, 22).

Today is Pentecost Sunday! And I love to say to us all: Happy Birthday!

It is proper that we wish ourselves a “Happy Birthday” today because according to traditional theology today is the birthday of the Church.

Being the birthday of the Church, it is proper that today we reflect on the nature of the Church and how the Holy Spirit has been unfolding His power and love in the Church and in us. The best way to do this within the time at our disposal is to look at the Four Marks of the Church. This is what we profess in the Creed when we say: “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

The Church is One: In the First Reading from Acts of the Apostles (2: 1-11), which is the only detailed account of this historical event with rich theological meanings, the author, St Luke records that “When the day of Pentecost came round, the apostles had all met in one room …” The apostles together with Mary, the Mother of our Lord, were all gathered in one room or one place. They were united in prayer in anticipation of the “Promise of the Father.” Similarly, the disciples were all gathered in one room when Jesus made His first appearance after the Resurrection and breathed upon them: “Receive the Holy Spirit” as recorded in the Gospel at this Mass (John 20: 19-23). The oneness of the Church was its earliest sign. Ut unum sint (May they all be one – John 17:  21) was the wish and prayer of Jesus, our Founder. In Matthew (16: 18) Jesus declared Peter the head of His Church when He said: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church.” The oneness of the Church manifests in the one flock, one shepherd structure of the Church (John 10: 16) under Pope Francis, as we have it today. When the Church is united together in prayer the reality of the Church as the Body of Christ becomes more much more real. When we gather together as a family of love and a community of faith we become more powerful because it is in the expression of our unity that that the power of the Holy Spirit becomes more profound. This is the why the present fracture and polarization of the Body of Christ should be the greatest scandal to all believers. We pray that the Holy Spirit may guide us in obedience to the teaching authority of the Church, so that can be one in heart and mind.

The Church is Holy: Within the context of the Pentecost, to be holy is to be filled with the Holy Spirit: that Spirit of love between the Father and the Son; that Spirit that comes to teach and to remind us all we need to know; that breath of God at Creation; that Spirit of oneness and unity. The Church is holy because she was founded by the power of the Spirit, Who is Holy. This divine and holy foundation of the Church cannot be dampened nor dented by the manifestation of the weaknesses of her members. The Church remains Holy. Her mission, simply put, is to make people holy. All the witnessing, evangelising, the apostolates, missionary endeavours, works of charity, education, healthcare services and all the corporal works of mercy undertaken by the Church are geared towards this one goal – to make people holy. As members of the Church we are called to give a daily response to the divine call to holiness: “Be holy, as your heavenly Father is holy” (Leviticus 11:44; Matthew 5: 48; 1 Peter 1: 16). We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart” (1 Peter: 1: 16). We have to be open to the Holy Spirit to guide us in holiness of life.

The Church is Catholic: The word “Catholic” simply means “Universal.” To be universal means to relate to, to be comprised of, to cover the totality of the world. The Church, as commissioned by Christ was intended to stretch to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). In the missionary mandates given by Christ, He was very clear that they were to preach repentance and forgiveness in His name to all nations (Luke 24: 47), to baptise and teach people of all nations (Matthew 28: 19-20). Do you then wonder why the apostles were empowered to speak in different languages so that they could be heard and understood by all peoples from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2: 5)? It is simple, the Church founded by Christ was intended to preach message of the Gospel in all languages to all the nations of the earth. Catholic means faith beyond boundaries and barriers.

The Church is Apostolic: On the day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that inaugurated the birth of the Church, “the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles as tongues of fire” (Acts 2: 1- 4). Having received the power, they were emboldened and they went out and preached fearlessly to a large crowd (Acts 2: 1-36). This, in the practical sense, was the beginning of the Church as the “mouthpiece” of Christ. The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.” This is exactly what Jesus was doing in the Gospel we listened to (John 20: 19-23). “As the Father sent Me, so am I sending you”, He commanded. Therefore, the Church, is essentially apostolic, one who is sent, Messenger of Christ, a Missionary. By the virtue of our baptism, this is what we are – the new apostles. We have been sent by Christ. We are messengers of Christ. We are missionaries.

On this day of Pentecost, we, the members of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, Carshalton Beeches and our friends, celebrate in a very special way, our diversity. This is to remind ourselves that Christ came to die for us all; that He resurrected to win victory for each of us as we are; that He ascended to the Father to plead forgiveness for our personal sins; and that He sent the Holy Spirit to minister to us in our different nations, cultures, race and language in order to bring us together as members of His One Body, the Church. We celebrate this day to challenge ourselves to admire, love and respect our differences as a gift from God. We celebrate our International Day on this day of Pentecost to activate in our minds that we were intended to be make each other whole and complete for no man is an island. Dear friends, let us always keep in our minds that we were uniquely created to be choristers with different parts blended by the love of the Holy Spirit into a universal choir continuously rendering unstoppable melodious harmonies to the glory of God.