“Lord, send out your spirit, and renew the face of the earth!”
Today we celebrate the culmination of the Easter Season – the fulfillment of the promise made by Christ to his disciples to send another Advocate, a counselor. Today, the whole Church rejoices in praise and thanksgiving and receives with great joy the gift of the Holy Spirit who came down upon the apostles and Mary in the Upper Room in Jerusalem and, in an equally real way, comes down upon us in this house even now.
This solemnity is ultimately about one thing: mission. Christ’s mission, carried out by the Church, is to bring salvation to the ends of the earth; to seek and to save what is lost; to make all things new.
Our involvement in this mission and our fidelity to it make all the difference. The preaching of the gospel to every corner of the earth is not the job of priests and deacons and “Church people” alone; this is the message entrusted to each and every one of us. Whenever we gather in this church for the celebration of Mass, we renew our fidelity to the new and eternal covenant; then, marked by the blood of that covenant, the blood of Jesus Christ, we are sent out with his word and Spirit and, by them, bring Christ to the world. Mass – in Latin, ‘Missa’ – means “sending” or “mission.” Therefore it follows that what we do here – the proclamation of the Word of God, the renewal of fidelity to the new covenant by partaking of the one bread and cup, doing it in memory of the One who gave it to us, praying with and for one another, and then being sent forth out among the nations of suburbia – is something of a microcosm of the whole mission of Christ and his Church.
The essence of this mission can be summed up in two words: Power and Gift. Consider the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those apostles gathered in the Upper Room. Imagine what is was to be an apostle – Christ is gone, the Jewish community is skeptical of you, at best, and, at worst, wants you gone; so you’re resigned to being locked in a room out of fear when, out of nowhere, a “strong driving wind” fills the entire house where you are. As you look around, “tongues as of fire” are falling from the sky – not upon the furniture, not upon the windows or the floor, but upon you. Then, a new and indescribable feeling: utter fulfillment and peace. Surely this ordeal would have created quite a ruckus.
Indeed it did, for “at the sound” a large group of devout Jews visiting Jerusalem “from every nation” gathered into a large crowd and heard the apostles speaking, but each in his own native tongue. The power of the Holy Spirit spilled out of the upper room and into the lives of all those who heard. The Holy Spirit is still as active in the Church and in us as he was in the upper room. What kind of sound does our parish make? What is the Holy Spirit doing in us that is attracting those who drive by here every day, who know nothing of us or our mission? When people encounter us – you and me – in the grocery store or the park, the office or classroom, do they hear us speaking their language? We are Christians, and are real people living in the real world at the service of the real mission: to go out to every place and bring those we meet to Christ.
Those who met the apostles in the streets of Jerusalem could not believe what they were hearing, and said to one another: “How can this be? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear.”
What do those who hear us say? “How can this be? We are businessmen and lawyers, bus drivers and teachers, first responders and fry cooks; we are Catholics and protestants, we are atheists and seekers from the East and West sides of the tracks…and yet we hear.”
The power of the Holy Spirit endows us with certain gifts, which we receive for the first time at our baptism and are strengthened and sealed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. There are the classic “gifts of the Holy Spirit” – wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, fear of the Lord which inform the particular charisms needed to carry out the mission as it takes shape in our state and place in life. These charisms, according to Sherry Weddell, range from prophecy and the discernment of spirits to administration, service, mercy, and hospitality. By the power of the Holy Spirit and the utilization of these particular gifts which it endows in each one us, we are able to proclaim, with St. Paul, “Jesus is Lord!” The mission is one, but the body entrusted with carrying it out is built of many parts who are brought into one in Christ.
Just as it did not matter where those devout Jews in Jerusalem came from, there cannot be distinctions among us; in Jerusalem that day there was no Jew or Greek, slave or free; all “were given to drink of one Spirit.” Here, too, in this church in this town on this date in this year: the mission is real and we carry it out only with the help of the Holy Spirit who is alive and, indeed, is present in our midst.
As we approach this altar today, may our “Amen” be, too, an echo that sequence we heard before the Gospel today: Come, Holy Spirit! Come, Father of the poor! Come, comforter blest! Heal, wash, bend, melt, guide, and give: give us your power and your gift! Lord, send forth your spirit and renew the face of the earth!