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home : bishop : columns

5/19/2016 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
In the glow of Pentecost
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


Pentecost is a feast of divine mercy. Like every Mass, it happens where sinners are gathered together, longing for God's peace. Isn't that why we gather at Mass -- because we need peace; we need God's mercy?

True, Jesus did give us a command: "Do this in memory of me." We have to go to Mass. But a command (if that's what it takes) from God is itself an act of divine mercy: It is something spontaneous that arises from the heart of God, who knows that, without being commanded, we might never seek it.

In the end, it is a command that sets us free. We might never suspect that God loves us so much and has so much to give us that, were it not commanded, were we not driven, we might never think (or remember) to ask.

The Holy Spirit has a way of pushing us out of our comfort zone, even as it "pushed" Jesus Himself into the desert before He began His sacred ministry.

So, we gather together and, after the Sign of the Cross and the first greeting of peace, we are invited to acknowledge our sins. How else could we go on? None of us arrives at the table of God's mercy blameless.

It is for mercy that we arrive to celebrate the sacred mysteries. Think of that. Why do we come to Mass at all, if it is not to receive God's mercy? But how will we receive that mercy unless we first acknowledge our need and desire for it? What is the point of the so-called "penitential act" if we do not first acknowledge our sins?

If we have not taken at least a moment to recall our need for God's mercy, then why utter the words, "Lord, have mercy?" Why say empty words -- lying words -- to God, and only add to our sin?

But the words are never completely empty, even if not every priest at every Mass allots at least a moment's pause to recall at least one thing, one sinful scar that we have inflicted upon ourselves or others, so that our plea might be more sincere or less unworthy.

The liturgy is always still the prayer of the Church; the prayer of Christ, the High Priest; which is always bigger than us, more effective than the holiness or presence of mind or liturgical sense of any celebrant ("ex opere operato"). We are caught up in the eternal sin offering of Jesus Himself, lifting us up to the Father from all that would bury us in our own mortal misery.

Just as we begin every Mass, there had to be a pause before Pentecost. The Apostles, having lost all hope in the promises of Jesus, who now was dead, might have heard rumors of a resurrection from some witnesses who spoke of seeing Him. But, as the Scriptures clearly record, they were united in their doubt.

We, too, might approach the sacred mysteries, doubting the power of the Mass -- which is really Calvary, re-presented in sacrament -- to change our lives, to free us from sin and the doubt and cynicism sin tends to bind us in before it ends in despair. We might expect every Mass to be the same as any other.

But the Mass is always new. Every time we celebrate the sacred mysteries is a new moment of grace, a new offer of divine mercy. Will we accept the invitation of Jesus today to let Him change our lives? Are we ready for a new Pentecost, like the Apostles -- hopeless, huddled together at that first Pentecost -- were poised for the outbreak of the Holy Spirit they did not expect?

We do not know, from any of the accounts, where exactly the Apostles were huddled. Was it the upper room where they had last gathered with Jesus? Now, the doors were locked for fear (of whom or of what; does it matter?). Fear paralyzes.

Then, suddenly, walls are broken. Jesus bursts in, rattling the rafters, and breathes His Holy Spirit over them. One account describes a great wind, loud enough to be heard. The Apostles are suddenly so aglow in the power of God's breath that tongues of flame seem to rest on their heads.

I wonder if this was the inspiration for the birthday cake. They must have looked like one: a circle of candles, each one touched in a special way, now sent forth.

This may have been the shortest Mass ever celebrated, for no sooner does the Lord give them the Holy Spirit than they are driven, pushed out into the world in a mission of mercy: "Whose sins you shall forgive...."

The Spirit is not to be kept to ourselves. As we are shown mercy, so also do we give mercy. But that brings us back to where we started. If, entering the celebration of the sacred mysteries, we do not acknowledge our need for God's mercy, our complicity in sin and its deadly paralysis, then we have no need of God, no need of the cross, of Calvary, of the Mass.

But, then, neither does our life find purpose in being a messenger of God's peace, for we have no peace to give -- and for what purpose then do we live? Without peace, are we really even living?

Of one thing, there was no doubt on that Pentecost Sunday, that birthday of the Church: The Church was alive and glowing! Those who encountered the newly en-spirited Apostles heard them in whatever way they needed to. Wherever and however they needed to be touched by God's mercy, everyone got the message.

This is how evangelization works: It transforms the evangelizer, first by freeing each person from fear through the grace of being forgiven -- the first effect of divine mercy -- and then there is nothing else to do but live in the glow of that mercy, live that Pentecost.

If it is truly the Holy Spirit that drives us forth from the "room" that hitherto locked us in, the power of that awesome wind beneath our wings will buoy up our spirits, too, propelling us into the world to encounter every single person we meet as Jesus did, thirsting for each soul's heart, overflowing with God's generous, forgiving love that is the signature of the Holy Spirit.

We know we are in God's presence when we know that we are being blessed by a love we did not create, but which, being forgiven, we live in.

Go; the Mass IS.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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