Pentecost and Mission: His and Ours

Pentecost 2015

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.
1 COR 12:7

Today’s feast of Pentecost brings the celebration of the Easter Mystery to its climax or fulfillment and marks a fundamental point of transition in the saving mission of Jesus the Messiah. From the age of the Patriarchs of God’s Chosen People, the hope for a future Messiah, for a heavenly deliverer was gradually kindled in the faith of Israel. That hope was fulfilled in a way that no one in that long religious history of Israel ever suspected, that God himself would become man and be the long awaited Messiah and savior of Mankind.

This happened when the Son of God took our flesh from the Virgin Mary and began his mission of salvation in this world. His mission began from that moment of conception, but it became visible when he began preaching the Gospel of repentance and the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. His earthly mission culminated in his sacrificial death when he redeemed the whole human race by making infinite satisfaction for our sins. His resurrection marked a first moment of transition in his mission when his risen body became the first fruits of his saving death, as he brought into our world the new humanity, glorified and incorruptible, which was to be the destiny for all who believe and are baptized in Him. The Ascension is the glorious exaltation of the Messiah who now sits in power at the right hand of the Father and communicates his salvation through the sending of His Spirit upon the Church and those who belong in one way or another to this communion of salvation.

If the Resurrection was a first moment of transition, from Jesus as subject to weakness, suffering and death to the glorified Jesus who is exalted in glory and power, the event of Pentecost is a second critical moment of transition when Jesus hands over to his Church a share in his mission by permanently communicating His Holy Spirit to the Church, the same Spirit who had accompanied Jesus throughout his earthly mission and raised him from the dead and exalted him at the right hand of the Father.

The mystery of Pentecost marks this great point of transition in God’s saving work, the point at which the Church, instituted by Christ, is empowered with the Spirit so she can be the living instrument of her Bridegroom and His Spirit, can carry on the work of salvation till the end of time, gathering the elect of God into His Kingdom, into the Church herself which is the mystical body and bride of Christ forever. But it is always Christ’s own mission and He is the primary agent as Peter and the Apostles make Clear in Acts 5:31: “He whom God has exalted at his right hand as ruler and savior is to bring repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. We testify to this.” It is Christ who from Heaven brings repentance and forgiveness of sins, and every other work of teaching and sanctification. The Apostles are his witnesses and living instruments, as is the whole Church. That truth must always be kept in mind.

Indeed, the event of Pentecost teaches us many things that are important for our Christian life. First of all the sending of the spirit teaches us that salvation is not a purely private affair, simply a personal relation between the saved and God. God’s spirit was always active in this world from the beginning, but this communication of the Spirit which is the root and cause of salvation is directed not to any individual, but to the Church as a body, as a communion, as a living collective reality. Christ accomplishes our redemption through his own human flesh in which he dies and rises and now reigns in heaven. But this communication to us, this extension to us of our salvation comes though the mission of His Spirit, who is sent in a primary and fundamental way first to the Church and through her to all the individuals who will be saved through their incorporation into the mysteries of Christ by their being joined to his mystical body, the Church.

For those who would say today that they accept Jesus but not his Church, we must say they do not yet fully understand Jesus or His Church, or the mission of salvation as Jesus determined it. His mission was certainly to save individuals, persons made in His image and likeness, but not simply as individuals. He came to save us as one body, as members of His body.

Now the Spirit is the source, together with the Father and the Son, of this new saving mystery, that is, our bring united to Christ as true members of his body, that body which he called His Church. The Church is the body of Christ and the source of his saving grace, and we only participate in His grace by being organically united to Him in His mystical body, the Church. That is what the Spirit first accomplishes in us – he unites us to Christ in his new, mystical body which becomes the source of our life and nourishment as God’s children.

All the other saving works of Jesus, accomplished by Him through the Spirit He sent first on Pentecost and continually sends down through the ages, are but expansions on that fundamental work which Jesus described in John’s Gospel: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  Baptism in water and the Spirit is the entry point to the Kingdom which is in the end the body of Christ, His Church. It is the Spirit, then, who works though the sacraments, the Church’s ministry, to nourish that Life he gave us in Baptism; Jesus forgives our sins, through the Spirit, as we saw in today’s Gospel. Jesus confirms us, changes bread and wine into the life giving flesh and blood of Christ, etc., all through the Spirit who dwells in the Church’s body as a whole and in each of us as well.

Likewise, it is the Spirit who guides us into truth and the authentic Christian life based on truth, by means of the Church. That is, Christ does this through the mission of the Spirit, by the teaching of the Church on faith and morals, guaranteed to be the mind of Christ as Jesus himself taught, again in John’s Gospel when he promised Pentecost:

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away,the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. … “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, … 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

On Pentecost Jesus fulfilled that promise to send the Spirit to guide us into all truth so we can know with certainty what is God’s will for our faith and for our moral and spiritual life. Moreover,  Christ never stops sending the Spirit to teach us through the Church, and to give us the grace to put those teachings into practice in our daily life.

The Christian life, then, is an ecclesial life, in the Spirit; we live in the Church through the Spirit. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 12 exactly how different  our daily life will be in a  most practical sense when we possess the Spirit as compared to when we don’t.  This is the way he describes life in the flesh, that is, life without the Spirit, without the Spirit’s channels of Grace, and what follows when we separate our self from the grace of the Spirit by sin

immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy,
outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy,
drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Then he contrasts that life in the flesh to Life in the Spirit, life using  the means of His grace in the Church:

In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

       How sad, then, that so many Christians have decided that they don’t need the Church and they don’t need the graces of the sacraments in their lives. Pentecost reminds us that Christ told the Apostles not to attempt to carry out their mission, His mission, without Him, without His Spirit. He made them wait 10 full days for the Gift of His Spirit to drive home His point: “without me you can do nothing.”

And we all have things to do in order to participate in Christ’s Spirit.For in order for us to lead a fully Christian (which is fully human as well), we must each partake in the mission of Christ’s Church, which is to say, in the mission of Christ and His Spirit. Without Christ’s Spirit, and without the Spirit’s first instrument, the Church, we are headed for real disaster, in this life and in the life to come. We need this Gift of the Spirit not only for a good moral life (fully human) and fruitful spiritual life, but for a fully Christian life which always includes mission, because, as Cardinal Newman once wrote, “God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission.” That’s true for all of us, we each have our individual mission from God to accomplish some good for His Church and for Christ. Full Christian life includes Christian mission for all of us. St. Paul wrote, To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. (I Cor. 12:7) So our mission manifests the Spirit because it is in truth the Spirit’s work though us. And the some benefit Paul speaks of here, is always some benefit not only for us but first of all for Christ’s Church.

That is why we must pray today in a special way, and every day, if we are to be wise in our faith, something like this : Come Holy Spirit, fill our souls with the flood of your grace; make us the Church of Christ, and his brothers and sisters, children of One Father, His Father, and living instruments of His glory. Amen.

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