It is a great joy for me to join all of you representatives and members of Catholic ecclesial movements and new communities in the United States.
The theme of the readings for the liturgy of the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time that we are celebrating today calls us to be alert to the presence of God in our lives, to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and to take courage always in the Lord. Jesus says to Peter today, “Do not be afraid.” The same encouragement is given to each of us: be of strong faith. With faith strong enough we can even walk on water.
What we are celebrating today however is not just the faith of members of Catholic ecclesial movements and new communities, but the dynamism of that faith which bears witness to God’s presence among us and calls others to join us.
Ours is an age of the new Pentecost. We keep hearing over and over Pope Francis calling us to go out, to reach out, to move beyond the confines of the Church, to invite others to experience the love, the mercy, the goodness of God.
We come together in the celebration of the Eucharist to invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit on all who are gathered here representing ecclesial movements and new communities that bring so much to the life of the Church.
There is a sense in which the events that occurred on the first Pentecost are renewed, repeated and reflected in each of us. Pentecost continues. There is still an outpouring of the Spirit. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are as much ours as they were the prized possessions of the Apostles.
While the work of the Spirit has been manifested in the Church for decades in the Catholic ecclesial movements and the new communities, we are also very much aware of the impetus that the Church sustained through the Synod on the New Evangelization and the great emphasis of Popes from Paul VI on through John Paul II, Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis on the call to continuous evangelization – the New Evangelization.
We are all aware from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, that the call to the New Evangelization includes a renewal of our own personal faith, on both the cognitive and affective levels, a renewed confidence in the truth of our faith, the truth in which we stand, and finally the desire to share this great gift.
We are also reminded that the work of the New Evangelization, the gift of the new Pentecost, takes place all around us and in almost everything we do.
Again in The Joy of the Gospel the Holy Father repeats for us the words taken from the Synod on the New Evangelization reminding us that evangelization is not just reaching out to people who have never heard of Christ – many of whom now live next door to us – but it also is manifest in the ordinary routine ministry of living and sharing our faith that takes place in the actions of parents, teachers, laymen and laywomen witnesses. But we are also reminded that the New Evangelization, the new Pentecost, calls us today to reach out in a particular way to those who have drifted away, to those for whom the Gospel no longer has the meaning and significance it may have once had.
To do this, to enter into the dynamic of missionary discipleship, multiple qualities are needed. There are many characteristics of the missionary disciple today but I am going to touch on just four:
- courage or boldness,
- connectedness to the Church,
- a sense of urgency, and
Before the outpouring of the Spirit at the first Pentecost, the apostles and disciples are described as coming together to pray and to strengthen and console one another. But their gathering is marked by apprehension. Beginning with the day of the resurrection we find them assembled in fear. A sense of doubt pervades the room and fills their hearts. There is a lack of confidence and, above all, no inner strength.
The new mood that is announced in the New Testament at this point is summed up in the word “bold.” When filled suddenly and powerfully with the Holy Spirit, these same timid, shy, awkward and fearful disciples become enterprising, courageous, bold proclaimers of the Gospel. Their doubts quickly disappear. Courage fills their hearts. Now they step forward and boldly proclaim the words of Jesus as the Spirit prompts them.
What caused this transformation from “before to after” to take place so dramatically and effectively? It was the result of the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the Church — on those apostles who were the very foundation of Christ’s new body which is the Church. They learned the meaning of the words “no one can say: ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). It is the gift of the Holy Spirit who makes us capable of accepting the faith, proclaiming it in words and living it in deeds.
As is being demonstrated around the world, the response to Pope Francis and his message of his “loving invitation” is extraordinary. He tells us, “A Church which ‘goes forth’ is a Church whose doors are opened” (46).
The evangelizers for the New Evangelization need also a connectedness with the Church, her Gospel and her pastoral presence. The authentication of what we proclaim and the verification of the truth of our message that these are the words of everlasting life depend on our communion with the Church and our solidarity with its pastors.
Pope Francis during his June 25 Wednesday Audience reminded us, “We are Christians because we belong to the Church. It is like a last name: if the first name is “I am Christian”, the last name is “I belong to the Church”.
He highlighted that “there are those who believe that they can have a personal relationship direct and immediate with Jesus Christ removed from communion and mediation of the Church.” He concludes that part of the audience by the simple exhortation “remember: being Christian means belonging to the Church.”
Another quality of the New Evangelization and, therefore, those engaged in it, is a sense of urgency. Perhaps we need to see in Luke’s account of the Mary’s Visitation of Elizabeth, a model for our own sense of urgency. The Gospel recounts how Mary set off in haste in a long and difficult journey from Nazareth to a hill country in the village of Judea. There was no time to be lost because her mission was so important.
This is our moment. Around us people look to the Church for the voice of God that nurtures and sustains the human spirit. Our work is and always will be spiritual. We are a faith community and it is God’s word and the love of Jesus that we proclaim. Pentecost challenges us to see how well we are carrying out our spiritual mission.
Finally, when we look around and see the vast field open, waiting for us to sow seeds of new life, we must do so with joy. In one of the final presentations of the synod, a woman from Africa, one of the auditors at the synod, reminded all of us that we need to smile when we teach the Good News. She added, “Even bishops can smile.”
Pope Francis begins his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, with the reminder that, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Christ…with Christ joy is constantly born anew” (1).
Our message should be one that inspires others joyfully to follow us along the path to the kingdom of God. Joy must characterize the evangelizer. Ours is a message of great joy, Christ is risen, Christ is with us. Whatever our circumstances, our witness should radiate with the fruits of the Holy Spirit including love, peace and joy (cf. Gal 5:22).
Our challenge, then, is not only to rejoice in the gift of the Spirit, but do the works of the Spirit that manifest Christ to others in a way that we bring them to Christ.
Our prayer today is that God will continue to bless all the ecclesial movements so that all of us together walking in the light of Christ and empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit might support each other in that great pilgrimage of faith that leads us one day to our eternal home with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.