My friends as much as you and I might find comfort in the changelessness of the familiar in our life, all of us realize that at its heart, life is indeed about change, transformation and growth. Dead things do not change – they remain lifeless. Only living realities, change, grow and develop. Perhaps that is the reason behind the ancient Latin maxim about the reality of the Church. The maxim is, Ecclesia semper reformanda est– the Church is always in the process of reformation, growth and development. It is only when we as a Church fail to realize this essential dynamic of our existence that we can get ourselves in trouble. One need only think of the Reformation in the 16thcentury to bring home the reality of that truth.
It is for this reason that today’s Feast of Pentecost that brings to a close our fifty-days of Easter rejoicing is so important for the life and ministry of the Church. Empowered by the life-giving spirit of the Risen Christ, the disciples experience a profound change, an earth-shaking transformation that first Pentecost morning. The fear that sequestered them in that upper room has now been transformed by the empowering spirit filling them with the courage to boldly take up the mission of the master. Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, paints a dramatic picture for us as the disciples boldly preach the good news of Christ and that message is understood by the men and women gathered from the four corners of the world in Jerusalem.
That life-giving and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit remains with us still whenever God’s holy people gather in the name of Jesus. That spirit is present in God’s life-giving word that can breath new life into people and structures as the Church down through the centuries lives out that maxim of being semper reformanda est –always in the state of growth, development and transformation.
That life-giving Spirit was pulsing in the heart of the 76 year old Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli when, to the utter surprise of many, he was elected Pope in October 1958. The Cardinal electors figured that after the lengthy pontificate of Pope Pius XII, they’d elect an old man who would be a temporary ‘caretaker’ pope and not rock the bark of Peter. Yet, St. John XXIII, was empowered by the Spirit and courageously brought the Church vitally into the 20th century by courageously calling the Second Vatican Council.
That same life-giving spirit gave a relatively little-known Austrian by the name of Franz Jägerstätter the courage to stand up to evils of the Nazi regime as it took hold of his homeland. A devout Catholic, who was married and father to three young girls, the depth of his convictions would not permit his cooperation in the darkness that was enveloping Europe. He was ultimately arrested and was executed on August 9, 1943 at the age of 36.
The Pentecost spirit within our Church is very much alive in this present moment. It was announced recently, that our Holy Father, Pope Francis will canonize this coming October, the great Salvadorian witness for social justice, Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while celebrating mass on orders of corrupt government officials in that country. He had given his life fighting for the rights of the marginal and social justice for the poor and the exploited of his country. In the face of death threats, it was the empowering spirit of courage that motivated this good shepherd to lay down his life for his sheep.
Finally, few would deny the fact that the second spring that we are experiencing as Roman Catholics in this country and around the world is being led by our present Holy Father, Pope Francis. Fearless in the face of naysayers who find comfort in the status quo, Pope Francis is bringing new energy and new life to a Church that is indeed ‘ever ancient and ever new.”
My sisters and brothers, where is that ageless spirit calling you and me this day? In what areas of our life are we in need of ‘new life’ or a ‘bold and courageous spirit?’
May our reflection this Pentecost open our hearts to the gift that God’s spirit is anxious to impart on each of us so that we can play our part in ‘renewing the face of the earth!’