In this week’s discussion, communications manager David Hazen interviews Archbishop George J. Lucas about the Feast of Pentecost, the celebration of the day the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples of Jesus and inspired them to share his Good News with everyone around them.
Q: On May 20 we celebrate Pentecost – a feast sometimes called the birthday of the church. Archbishop, how do we continue to live the experience the apostles had on that pivotal day?
That’s a great question, one we should be asking ourselves every day.
We know during his public ministry and then in some particular ways after his resurrection, the Lord gave his disciples the Great Commission. He gave them work to do, a sharing in the mission that his heavenly Father had given him.
Jesus’ public ministry was limited to just several years. Perhaps a few thousand people got to see him face to face or hear his voice. But the saving plan of God extends across the earth and down through the ages, and in God’s plan the disciples of Jesus were to pick up where he left off. They had been given this Great Commission, but I imagine they were not sure how they were going to fulfill it, or whether they were capable. Jesus had promised them the Holy Spirit. Up until then, they were not really acquainted with the Holy Spirit, so they could count on Jesus’ word but probably did not know quite what he was talking about.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples were praying on the day of Pentecost. They then had a powerful experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Their response is striking and instructive: They went out the door of the place where they had been gathered, and they began to talk about Jesus. They used their own words, gave examples of their own life with Jesus, they witnessed their faith in him as the risen Son of God, and an amazing thing happened: People believed them.
Not everybody believed, of course, but we could see right away that what Jesus had in mind is doable and effective with the cooperation of disciples and the animation of the Holy Spirit. We call it the birthday of the church, because that was when the church went public. The disciples of Jesus felt equipped to not be private disciples, but saw that the very essence of discipleship is to know Jesus and to be close to him, but also to be ready and anxious to share him with others.
The power of the Holy Spirit working through the disciples was so effective that when people were meeting disciples of Jesus and experiencing their witness, it was as if they were meeting Jesus himself. Disciples in every generation are incorporated into the living body of the risen Jesus in the church. So he is alive, and if he is alive, it is fair to say, “Well, where is he? How can I meet him?” In Jesus’ plan, people are able to continue to meet him in a fresh and vibrant way through his disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Q: How can our celebration of Pentecost this year help us to similarly embrace the mission Jesus gives us?
One of the meditations I enjoy on the Feast of Pentecost is thinking back on the chain of witnesses that brought me knowledge of Jesus and the opportunity to be part of his living body. I did not pick my faith in Jesus up off the ground. I know him, and have a credible experience of him alive in the church and in the world because a number of people thought enough of me to share that precious gift, their experience of him. I think of my parents, grandparents, godparents, teachers, friends, coaches, all the different people who in their own way shared the love of Jesus with me. They saw that part of their vocation, whoever they were, was to look for opportunities to share the light of the Gospel with others.
There are a few people, I think, who read themselves into the faith, but even that is reading somebody’s expression of the faith. Often it is more personal, more flesh and blood than that. It is somebody else’s witness that has brought the light of the Gospel to us. Jesus is asking us to keep it going. That chain of witness is not supposed to stop with me, but it is meant to continue to spread to the ends of the earth. That is the commission of Jesus.
When we think of evangelization or think of how the faith is going to be spread, how the good news is going to be communicated, it is easy enough to say, “Well, God can’t be thinking that I am going to do that. That’s not the sort of thing that I’m cut out for.” Oh, yes, you are! That is exactly what God is thinking. In God’s providence things are all set up for it to happen. There are people around us who are open to learning about God’s love for us in Jesus, and we are invited to be alert to who they might be.
We should not think of evangelization as presenting people with the answers to all their questions. Jesus is the answer to the deep questions of human longing, and he is sending us to communicate that answer in and through him to others.
Q: Pope Francis recently established a new feast day on the Monday after Pentecost: Mary, Mother of the Church. Why is he presenting this new feast day to us?
Mary is particularly connected to Pentecost, particularly connected to our understanding of discipleship and evangelization. We know that Jesus gave her to St. John and to all of us as our mother. Pope Paul VI used this title for Mary at the close of the Second Vatican Council.
Even though it was used by some of the Fathers of the church over many centuries, it has become more of our focus in understanding one of the roles of Mary in the history of salvation. Pope Francis has decided to enshrine that title and to call more attention to Mary on a new feast day. Mary had an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit at the conception of her son, Jesus, and began right away to shape her life around him and his saving mission, and to support that and enhance that as only she could.
She prepared him in various ways to go out when the time was right in the Father’s plan to begin his public ministry. She shared him with others and then witnessed by her own faithfulness and confidence in Jesus that they could put their faith in him. She led others to him and continues to do that in the church.
Just as a good mother has a unique role of evangelization within the family and household, Mary has that role with all of us in the church. Beginning this year, we all celebrate that together in a more formal liturgical way.
Q: And speaking of special celebrations of Mary, you are planning to consecrate the entire archdiocese to her a year from now, as one aspect of a gathering of all the faithful here in Omaha. Can you tell us what we have to look forward to?
Sure, I’m happy to give a preview. On June 8, 2019, the Vigil of Pentecost next year, we are planning an archdiocese-wide gathering. Catholics and our guests from around our area will be invited to a day-long celebration of our faith. Our preliminary plans include a consecration of the archdiocese to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the beginning of the day, and we will have some prayers and devotions leading up to that consecration to help us prepare for it. We will celebrate the diverse gifts of our archdiocesan church and how they are brought together by the power of the Holy Spirit to make Jesus visible and present in our time and in our place.
There will be a lot more information about it, but we are already hard at work making plans for the gathering. I invite everyone to pray for the success and fruitfulness of this gathering and also to make plans to be there.
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