This weekend celebrates the feast of the Church, born from the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Spirit is sent on those in the Upper Room. As also on us – not as a gift in and of herself, but so that we might be empowered for mission. Today’s solemnity is the close of the 50 days of the Easter season. For John Easter and Pentecost are the same: it is the Lucan scheme found in Acts that brings the giving of the Spirit to the end of the season.
One of the important themes this weekend, bringing together Pentecost and Easter, is to emphasise that the Spirit which gives rise to the Church and strengthens the mission task, is the Spirit of the Risen / Easter Christ. The Church is founded not as an entity in and of itself, but as a grouping of witnesses brought together into one. They have a mission – to witness to the death and resurrection and to the wonderful works of God in our midst…to the ends of the earth. Each generation can be confident in taking up this mission because of the teaching function of the Spirit. Jesus is truth, and so the Spirit is teaching ‘in truth’. God’s assistance is there while they are bearing witness to Christ. Preaching must be able to refer to Jesus and his teaching – and this is facilitated by the Spirit.
That the Church exists for mission is a strong emphasis in the teaching of Pope Francis. He urges all Catholics ‘to overcome the temptation of self-referential closure and every form of pastoral pessimism to open us to the joyful newness is at the core of the Pentecost celebration. The emphasis that, on the day of Pentecost, people of widely diverse backgrounds heard the apostles preach ‘ each in his own language’ suggests a new unity was being created which overcame the divisions of Babel. Thus, the gift of unity among Christians as believers and unity in their mission, is a teaching highlighted at Pentecost. It is a topic that Pope Francis addressed the day after his election. Christian truth is attractive and persuasive because it responds to the profound need of human life, proclaiming convincingly that Christ is the one Saviour of the whole person and of all people. This proclamation remains as valid today as it was at the origin of Christianity, when the first great missionary expansion of the Gospel took place.
Canon Francis Brown