As we prepare to celebrate Pentecost Sunday we ought to consider how the Church is strengthened and empowered for her great mission to go unto all the nations. The principal account of it took place in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2).
As we encounter the Church we find a Church that has been given quite a tall task:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matt 28:19-20).
And Luke adds a detail in his account:
Jesus said “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And (behold) I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Lk 24:46-49)
And so the Church gathered in Jerusalem, about 120 in all, and prayed for nine days (the origin of the Catholic practice of “Novena” wherein one prays nine days for an intention). On the Tenth Day the Holy Spirit came. During those nine days we find the little Church somewhat fearfully gathered. There is no evidence that they are boldly seeking converts. They are a small community huddled together, fearful, behind closed doors, and awaiting a fulfillment of the promise of Jesus to send the Spirit. This was something they probably only vaguely understood.
So there’s the image: a community fearfully and apprehensively huddled together, wonder how they would ever Go unto all the nations when they were too afraid even to go out side the doors where the huddled together.
This is all about to change, but for a moment, grasp the picture and consider with me if it does not look a lot like many of our Catholic parishes today. Increasingly small communities that huddle together and talk only privately about the Lord but are afraid to go out of the doors of the Church and speak a word about the Lord. Perhaps they will be laughed at, scorned or asked questions they cannot answer. The general approach of most Catholic parishes in terms of evangelization does not seem to be to open the doors and go out but, rather to open the doors and hope people come in. But Christ said “GO.” And still we huddle together fearfully and with an inward focus. We spend most of our time talking about inward things like what color to paint the women’s restroom, who will be the new Holy Name Society President, why women can’t be ordained etc. All perhaps important issues to resolve but the main mission of evangelization is neglected and we focus on inward things too much.
Hence we are huddled together, fearful, and lacking in proper focus. Outside the Church doors is a world that needs to hear from us, but still we huddle together, timid and fearful of opening the doors and going out.
To be sure it is not wrong to huddle together. It is essential for us to gather each week as a community to ponder the word of the Lord, hear his teaching and plan, be fed and strengthened for our mission. But if all we do is huddle, we are missing the point.
Consider a football game. The offensive team always huddles before the play. This is essential to make sure all the team members are on the same page and know their roles. The quarterback makes clear what each is to do. But at a certain point it is time to break the huddle and come out and execute the play. If you went to a foot ball game where all they did was huddle you wouldn’t stay long. The huddle is not the game or the point, is to prepare the play. And then it is time to hustle up and run the play.
What would you think of a football player that was afraid to come out of the huddle and run the play? Perhaps he is afraid of getting hit or something. Well it’s clear that we’d think he’s a pretty poor excuse for a football player. But this is our struggle as Christians. Too many of us are afraid to come out of the huddle (the Mass) and run the play. What play you say? “Go there are make disciples of all nations…..” The deacon or priest says it at every Mass: “The Mass is ended, Go in peace.” And this is short for “Go make disciples….” And so it is that the huddle is supposed to break and we are to go out on the (mission) field. But in too many of our parishes this is not happening. We are not passing on the faith well even to our children, let alone strangers.
Come Holy Spirit – The early Church was also huddled together behind closed doors. But on that tenth day (Pentecost) the Holy Spirit descended on them as a strong rushing wind and tongues of fire. And suddenly they started speaking boldly. The next thing we notice is that the door is open and Peter preaches a sermon to the crowd so bold that three thousand are added to their number that day.
And the Church went forth that day, unto all the nations. Sure there were fits and starts but the mission to the world had begun. The huddle broke and the play was executed. Surely the Church would huddle frequently, but then they would break huddle and hustle up to the line to execute the play: Go therefore.
How about your parish? How about you? Don’t just huddle….., hustle! When the Mass concludes “Go in peace” don’t miss that this is a commissioning. Get out on the field and execute the play. Move the ball, gain some yards! And if you loose some yards, get back up, huddle up again, and hustle again. But don’t give up! First huddle then hustle.
Here is an excerpt from the Sermon I preached last Pentecost at my parish here in Washington DC that makes some of these points. We have been conducting a neighborhood outreach this past year.