Editor’s note: The prepared text of the homily Bishop Douglas J. Lucia preached for Pentecost Sunday, May 23, follows.
On this Pentecost Sunday, in our Gospel reading we find that the disciples of Jesus are still in hiding. They are hiding in fear behind closed and locked doors. They are shutting out the rest of the world at their doorstep, which is seen as hostile, persecuting, and terrifying. They feel better huddling together, in isolation and planning what to do next, and where to go.
Sadly, this scene is reminiscent of the current cycle of violence in Jesus’ homeland where people are hiding in fear at the sound of the air-raid siren or the shouts of a mob scene. This weekend, in particular, we have been asked by Pope Francis to keep in prayer the Church of Jerusalem and to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and its environs.
On Friday, His Holiness asked “all the pastors and faithful of the Catholic Church to unite themselves spiritually with this prayer. May every community pray to the Holy Spirit ‘that Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness, be patient builders of peace and justice, and be open, step by step, to a common hope, to coexistence among brothers and sisters.’”
Yet, brothers and sisters, we recognize as well that this prayer is not only needed for the Church in Jerusalem, it is needed also in the Church universal. More than ever we live in a cynical age! These days there are voices across the globe trying to intimidate religious believers to keep their beliefs to themselves, or at least keep them private. In part, this has occurred as a backlash, because as disciples of Jesus we have failed to welcome the disenfranchised of society — those who are pushed off to the sides or who if we pretend not to notice might go away — with the charity owed to every human being created in the image and likeness of God.
It is into these closed doors, environments, and minds that the Risen Christ seeks to enter this Lord’s Day. Through closed doors He walks, sisters and brothers. Certainly, the reaction we find in this Sunday’s Gospel is one of surprise, then joy, as the room’s occupants realize who is among them. In the encounter, Jesus tells them to get out of their isolation and fear and go and announce the good news! To be the bearers of the Gospel — the announcers of salvation and forgiveness.
But the apostles are scared and unsure, so Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit — the presence of God — who will enable them to do what they cannot do themselves. The same Holy Spirit who brooded over the waters when God made heaven and earth. The same Holy Spirit who spoke through the Old Testament prophets. The same Holy Spirit who overshadowed a young girl and made her the Mother of God. The same Spirit would descend upon the Apostles in tongues of fire and transform cowards into heroes.
Sisters and brothers, have you ever considered how the Good News of Jesus Christ — the Gospel — did spread from a locked room to literally the four corners of the earth? Those in that room would not die in their beds in Judea and Galilee: Peter would share in his Master’s crucifixion on the Vatican hill in Rome, while his brother Andrew would meet the same fate in ancient Greece; Thomas (who was known for his skepticism) would die on the shores of the Indian subcontinent and begin a faith community still to this day known as “Thomas Christians”; Bartholomew would bring the message of the Gospel and the seeds of Christianity to Armenia, whose soil he would water with his own blood; Simon and Jude would show the face of Christ to Syria and be martyred in the still existent city of Beirut; Philip and John would find themselves at the end of their earthly lives in present-day Turkey; James and Matthias would die in Jerusalem; it is claimed that Matthew gave witness to the Gospel in Ethiopia, where he shed his blood for the faith — again, what is so interesting is that Ethiopia is one of the earliest Christian nations. Just these simple facts beg the question, “How did this happen then and now?”
You can almost surmise Jesus saying to them, “Come on, git … Go, you have a mission!” And Jesus, in sharing with them the gift of the Holy Spirit, connects them with the power, the energy source, needed to literally light up the world.
My brothers and sisters, this is the potential to be found in this Sunday’s feast of Pentecost. Its fruit can be found in us also, if like the Apostles we are willing to connect with God, and in the words of St. Paul, “Stir into flame the gift of God that you are” (2 Tm 1:6).
We still might be asking, “What does this mission look like?” Well, maybe a look forward to next Sunday’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity might aid us. May I suggest that it is to be found in how you and I help another see the face, the presence, of God in his or her life? Permit me to leave you with a story to help your reflection on the mission entrusted to us this day.
A little girl in an orphanage was a real problem child, or so thought the headmistress. One day she saw this child walk outside the main gate, which was expressly forbidden by the rules of the house. The girl walked to a tree down the block and tied some pieces of paper to the tree. “Aha,” thought the headmistress, “now I’ve got her.” She went out and retrieved the pieces of paper. On them the little girl had written, “To whoever finds this, I love you.”
Sisters and brothers, how will you and I note God’s forgiveness and care for others this week? When you get right down to it — isn’t that the mission?