Fr. Michael McGourty is the pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto.
This Pentecost Sunday we read from the Gospel of John, which – on this last day of the Easter Season – takes us back to when this season began, on Easter Sunday. It begins with the words: “It was evening on the day Jesus rose from the dead, the first day of the week.”
These words situate this scene on Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. So many of the Gospel stories we have heard throughout the Easter Season have focused our attention on the fact that Christ appeared to his disciples after His resurrection as they were gathered together on a Sunday (for instance, the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus or the story of Doubting Thomas).
Over and over again in the Easter Season we hear of the importance of Sunday. It is the day He invites us to celebrate together and be reminded of who we are as His people.
On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the birth of the Church and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples so they may share the Good News with the world. However, I must confess to being a little sad that our own churches have been closed throughout this Easter Season. In the Gospel this Sunday, we hear that the disciples were locked in the room where Christ appeared to them. This year, as a result of COVID-19, our churches have been locked and those who might desire to come and receive the Lord have been kept out. This has been a hardship for so many people and a cause of great sadness for many across our archdiocese.
Today, I think particularly of the many young people in our own community who would have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. They – like the disciples in today’s first reading – would have received the gift of the Holy Spirit that was given to the disciples in today’s first reading and they too would have been sent – like all of us from the Church –into the world to proclaim the victory of Christ over death.
In the face of the sadness of our closed churches, I take great comfort and hope from the words St. Paul offers us in the second reading. Paul reminds us that any faith we have is a gift of the Holy Spirit, as he writes: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
The longing that we have to return to our churches and encounter Christ again is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts. By this gift of the Spirit – given to each of us at Baptism – we were all made members of Christ’s body, the Church.
Paul’s words in this regard are so important that they are worth repeating. He writes: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
These words remind us that the Church is not a building. The Church is the people of God. Each one of us is a living member of the Church, sent out to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s resurrection.
We sometimes think that the “church” is a building and that now that these church buildings are closed, our “Church” is also closed. Pentecost reminds us that we are the Church – each one of us are members of Christ’s Body.
It is certainly true that what we do in the churches makes us the Church. But we must remember that the faithful are the Church and we become the Church by doing in these “church” buildings the things that Christ asked us to do in memory of Him at the Eucharist.
Many Christian scholars say three things have always constituted the Church: Sunday; Baptism; and the Eucharist. Since the Eucharist depends upon an Apostle to celebrate it, I would add a fourth element: the Church’s apostolic nature that we profess in the creed.
As we celebrate this Pentecost Sunday, I would just like to reflect a little upon the importance of Baptism, Sunday and the Eucharist in our own faith lives, so we may anticipate the day we are able to once again gather in our parish churches.
It is through the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist that the community comes together, hears God’s word and is built up through the gift of the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, so we can be sent out into the world to proclaim Christ’s Good News. St. Augustine used to say as he gave out the Eucharist, “Christian, receive what you are to become, the Body of Christ.”
As we have heard throughout this Easter Season, the disciples encountered the risen Christ on Sunday. All of His appearances take place on this day. At the heart of being a Christian is to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. He did this on a Sunday and we are called by Him to remember His resurrection on this day.
So often we think that being a Christian is simply about being a loving person. But so many people are loving regardless of their religion. No, a Christian is a person who believes that Jesus rose from the dead and celebrates this on the day that He did so — Sunday.
As we stay at home during this pandemic, every day can seem the same. But Sunday is the day that makes us Christian. Let us continue to pray that we may gather again soon in our churches on Sunday.
Paul reminds us that through Baptism we received the Spirit and were made members of Christ’s Body — the Church. When the Apostles baptized and laid hands on adults, they initiated them with both the sacramental effects of Baptism and Confirmation. In our Latin rite, it was discerned that this laying on of hands should remain with the bishops in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Baptism and Confirmation became two sacraments often with the first celebrated when a person is a child and the second celebrated a little later on in life.
In Confirmation, we are given the gift of the Spirit that calls us to be witness to Christ and His presence in our lives. To be a Christian is not just speaking lovingly to people. A Christian is called to witness to Christ and the power of His victory over death. We do this by belonging to the community of believers and continuing Christ’s work in our daily lives. Sometimes I think the best witness we can give to our neighbours is by just going to Mass and speaking of the place that Christ has in our lives. During these days when we cannot go to Mass, perhaps we can witness by speaking to others of what we miss about attending Mass or perhaps we might resolve to bring a friend to church once we are able to gather again.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church and our lives as Christians. As Jesus appeared to His disciples in today’s Gospel, He said to them, “Peace be with you.” This is the same peace that He shares with us before we receive Him in the Eucharist at every Mass.
The Eucharist is the sacrifice that Jesus has told us to make “in memory of Me” in order that we might be His people and know His presence in our lives. He has promised us: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day … Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in Me, and I in them.”
As we reflect on Pentecost, when the Church received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we recall how we too received the same gift of the Spirit in Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist – and we long for the time that we might do so again in our churches. Because He has made us members of His Body through these sacraments, we know that Jesus abides with each of us during this time of crisis. Through the Holy Spirit, we know the peace of Christ and are certain that He is with us.
This Pentecost, instead of being locked in our churches with Christ, like the early disciples, we are locked out of our churches because of a pandemic. This causes us sadness. Happily, because the Holy Spirit was sent upon the Church, and because through Baptism we have been made members of Christ’s Body, we know that Christ remains with us and abides in us.
Let us use this time of separation from our communities to ask the Lord to help us realize what a gift the Church and the sacraments are. It is through them that we have come to know Christ’s love for us and were made His people.
Pentecost celebrates the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and reminds us that we, the members, are the living Church on Earth. It also focuses us on the reality that we are only the Church because of what Christ did for us on Easter Sunday and that we are called to live and celebrate that gift through our baptisms on Sunday at the Eucharist with our community, the Church.
On this Pentecost Sunday, let us pray that our hearts will open to the Holy Spirit that we received in Baptism and hope that we may soon celebrate Christ’s resurrection together on a Sunday by receiving His Body in the sacrament of the Eucharist, which He has given us as a commemoration of His life, death and resurrection.