On this great Solemnity that we celebrate today, the Church sings out in the ancient Pentecost Sequence, “Come, Holy Spirit, come!” With this plea, we remind ourselves that the Church, which was filled with the breath of life on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), is the Spirit-led yet divine presence of Christ in the world.
Our Church’s beginning lies in the Spirit empowering the Apostles to take their first steps out into world, speaking in a language that all could understand and proclaiming the mighty works of God. This wonderful story is told in today’s readings for Mass, but what we hear is not just the dramatic account of how our Church came into being, it is also the account of how each of us has been called by our Baptism and Confirmation to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles and be witnesses ourselves to God’s love and mercy for the world.
Endowed by the Holy Spirit, we share in the missionary life of the Church. Pope Francis reminds us of this in his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, calling all of the People of God to be Spirit-filled “missionary disciples” (Evangelii Gaudium, 119-21, 259-83).
Recently, the students and staff at the Pontifical North American College, our seminary for men from the United States who are studying in Rome, had the privilege of welcoming Pope Francis for a morning of reflection. Our Holy Father spoke to the challenge of being missionary disciples today, pointing to the legacy of the apostles and evangelizers like Junípero Serra, saying, “These missionary disciples who have encountered Jesus, the Son of God, who have come to know him through his merciful Father, moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit, went out to all the geographical, social and existential peripheries, to bear witness to charity. They challenge us!”
Pope Francis then asked our seminarians, and through them asks all of us, if “we are able to respond with the same generosity and courage to the call of God, who invites us to leave everything in order to worship him, to follow him, to rediscover him in the face of the poor, to proclaim him to those who have not known Christ and, therefore, have not experienced the embrace of his mercy?” (Homily of May 2, 2015).
It is precisely through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can respond with courage and generosity to be God’s witnesses. It falls to us now to manifest, to make present, by our fraternal love, the beginnings of the kingdom here and now.
A year ago at Pentecost, the Archdiocese of Washington held its first Synod to assess how well our local Church is responding to the promptings of the Spirit in reflecting the face of Christ in our local community. At every step of the two-year synod process, we invoked the Holy Spirit, understanding that it is only through the gift of the Spirit that we are enabled to carry out our mission.
From more than 15,000 suggestions from people all over the archdiocese, the Synod members formulated a series of recommendations to strengthen all areas of Church life: worship, education, community, service and administration. Following on their recommendations, I then promulgated statutes to govern the archdiocese so that we can be the best Church we can be.
Most importantly, we came to realize the need to embrace more completely our Catholic identity as missionary disciples. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3), we are called to joyfully testify to being completely loved by Christ and, therefore, capable of loving others.
Today as we complete the first year of the implementation of the fruits of the Synod, we ask again that the Spirit fill us with God’s presence so that we manifest his kingdom in our community and thereby renew the face of the earth. Enkindled by the fire of his love, we can bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world so in need of healing, solidarity, justice and peace, we can be a light to those who struggle in darkness, and build up the common good in a culture of life, solidarity and fraternity. Come, Holy Spirit, come!