BISHOP’S MESSAGE FOR
Today we celebrate an event that many have called the birthday of the Church. I like to think that itis the day when the Church assumed its task of proclaiming the Good News of Salvation won for us by Jesus Christ. In that sense it may be considered to be a new beginning but it is also an event of a renewed direction. The event is recorded in Chapter 2 of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The Tradition of the faith of the People of God of the First Covenant (the Old Testament) can help us to abetter understanding of Pentecost. It should be remembered that our Feast of Pentecost was not a Christian invention but rather the continuing of a particular celebration and observance still held in many (if not all) Jewish congregations. One very strong understanding is that the Jewish Feast of Pentecost concluded the observance of the Passover Festival and has also been called the Feast of the First Fruits.
Certainly, in the Christian context, both of these images have a great deal of meaning. The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus have been the significant focus of our Christian life over these last few weeks. They began with Jesus’ own celebration of the Passover Feast (we call it the Last Supper) with his very small group of Apostles. That timing was a deliberate choice and decision so
that the New Life won for us and shared with us by Jesus is always to be seen as a connection with all that had happened in the relationship between God and his people since the beginning. The Passover itself celebrates the “Exodus Event”– which was a release from captivity into an opportunity to be freely God’s People again – a new beginning on the journey towards the place promised by God for his people. When Jesus died and rose again he brought us new life and we became the ‘first fruits’ of the New Covenant.
A very old anthem (prayer) of the Church says “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and fill them with the fire of your love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created and You shall renew the face of the earth”. There are differences between the Jewish Tradition and some Christian Traditions about the purpose and expressions of festivals. Many take the opportunity to celebrate a feast as an important reminder of significant moments in history. They serve to remind and refresh our understanding of what happened. In the Catholic Tradition our celebrations are not confined to reminding or recalling something but have an added dimension that celebrates the constant ongoing nature of the event. What happened then also has meaning today and an ongoing effect in our lives. That is beautifully expressed in that old anthem. In celebrating Pentecost as both a Jewish and a Christian festival we are immersing ourselves in the ongoing love of the Father who gently but purposefully continues to show His desire for us that we would always be aware of His presence. Before Jesus the reminder is of a call to freedom from sin and the condition of slavery. Since Jesus the festival reminds us of a promise fulfilled that he would send the Holy Spirit who would remind us of all that Jesus had taught us and to strengthen us with his power to be his witnesses. This is a promise of freedom, of renewal, of insight, of confidence and of salvation. One can only imagine the feelings of the first Apostles – the tremendous task that lay before them of telling everyone about Jesus. As the rest of the Acts of the Apostles shows that message was met often with hostility and threat; with rejection and criticism; with belittlement and ridicule; with disbelief and dismissal. Yet the rest of that book also describes the achievements and growth of the community; the wisdom shown and miracles performed in the name of Jesus; the acceptance and comfort the message of Jesus brought to a whole variety of people. And this is a story that has constantly repeated itself down through the ages through division, persecutions, plagues, wars, natural disasters as well as at times of revelation, new understandings, achievements, reconciliations, healings and developments. Through all this the Holy Spirit has been present as the action of God in this world and in our lives. The promise is fulfilled constantly and we are renewed in purpose and in faith and encouraged in our efforts to continue the work of making Jesus’ presence known, his freedom felt, and the salvation he won for us experienced. In our own day we can easily identify that the situation is the same. As we try to draw close to Jesus there seem to be many things that distract us or limit our ability to see the love of God in ourselves and in each other. As the witnesses of Jesus today we also are confronted with people who are opposed to the message of Jesus. We have to deal with ridicule, rejection and sometimes hostility from those who reject the Gospel principles of life. There are some who strongly advocate that our religious belief and practice should be strictly private and have nothing to do with public life in terms of social values, laws, and behaviour. We can come into conflict with those who live by a principle that promotes productivity as the only measure of human value. We are all aware of people who have adopted the principle that their real value and purpose is to be successful in amassing material goods and financial wealth above all else and of their increased levels of anxiety and concern because their own standard of self – worth has diminished as a result of the current economic situation. We also have to deal sometimes with our own questions and confusion about our faith because of the seeming contradictions that spring from others who also claim to be living a Christian life. At times, therefore, we must have similar feelings as those of the first Apostles as they awaited the promised coming of the Holy Spirit two thousand years ago. Let us grasp the special graces of this feast this year. Jesus knows our needs. In Him we see the life that God has given us, the love that the Father has for us, and the hope that He gives us for our encouragement. Because we have come from God, draw our life from Him, and see our final purpose as being forever in His presence we have a different understanding of the value of the human person. We genuinely try to treat each other with dignity and a genuine respect that are signs of the love we share as brothers and sisters in the Lord. We seek to show the presence of Jesus by the manner in which we live our lives always aware that we have the strength of the power of the Holy Spirit as the Gift of the Father sent by the Son’s request precisely for that purpose. Mary’s presence at the Pentecost event is a clear indication that the Gift of the Holy Spirit was meant for the whole family of God. We continue to draw inspiration from her life and devotion. We also continue to seek her assistance with our prayers as we try to live as her Son would want us to live. Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us the Lord. We seek to show the presence of Jesus by the manner in which we live our lives always aware that we have the strength of the power of the Holy Spirit as the Gift of the Father sent by the Son’s request precisely for that purpose. Mary’s presence at the Pentecost event is a clear indication that the Gift of the Holy Spirit was meant for the whole family of God. We continue to draw inspiration from her life and devotion. We also continue to seek her assistance with our prayers as we try to live as her Son would want us to live. Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us.