'THE point about Pentecost "" is that it is the Church's birthday. She made her debut on the stage of this world in sensational style that Sunday morning in Jerusalem. And so began her long love-affair with mankind, the sacred love-affair which weds heaven and earth.
Whitsunday has also been described as the day on which Peter's ship was launched into the high seas of history. Nautically (or any other way) considered, the Church is altogether unique. She was constructed and powered by the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, the rushing wind and tongues of flame which attended her official send-off prompt comparison with the launching of a space-ship. Anyway, she is very definitely a time-ship, Her destiny is to sail the centuries till world's end. God has Himself guaranteed that the Church will endure until time's terminus is reached and clocks stop ticking for ever.
Pentecost marked the inauguration and investiture of the Church as the divine society charged with the mission of evangelising the human race. Her mystery is that she is at once organic and organisational.
She is an invisible organism of grace, made so by the Holy Spirit, who is her vital principle of life, love and truth. Yet at the same time He makes the Church a visible organisation eminently viable in our world of humanity and history. And this is brought about through the instrumentality of those men who succeed to the Apostles' authority and powers—the hierarchy.
It goes without saying that the Church, more than any other organization, requires a measure of command and control. For she has a tremendous destiny to fulfil. She must span the ages between Pentecost and Parousia, sowing all the while the seed of eternal life in the vast field of time. And she finds inimical forces also at work in this field; consequently her marathon course is fraught with perils.
Not the least of these perils arise from within the Church. Being human in her membership and leadership alike, she is all too liable to every frailty of flesh and spirit. Hence she bears many a sad memory of scandals and defections.
Many of her children, including some outstandingly gifted ones, have abandoned her. Others have fallen into doctrinal errors and—worsetried to deflect her off the delicate course of orthodoxy. Inasmuch as she is an organised society, the Church Is institutional, necessarily so.
But it grieves her deeply to see, as she sometimes does, the institutional prevail over the inspirational and crush it, as Caiphas crushed Christ. Thus
the Church's all-too-human hierarchs have been known to misgovern or overgovern or undergovem their subjects due to unenlightenedness or unscrupulosity or worse. Then there are those multitudes of the Church's members who are mere fellow-travellers. In a variety of ways they have fallen in love with this world, as Paul put it. Or in Augustine's words, they belong to the Church bodily but not with their hearts.
Next we come to the perils from without. The Church has suffered any amount of distress in this world, as her Master predicted. So multiple and wounding have these external perils so far been that the Church's course in history is equivalently a pilgrimage of pain, a way of the cross. Constantly she encounters trials and persecutions, scourgings and crucifixions, thwarts and digs, snubs and sneers. But, Christ-like, she forgives her enemies, prays for her persecutors, yearns to share with them her treasures of truth and life.
The point, however is this: the Church goes on, perils of all kinds notwithstanding. She is unstoppable. For she is dynamic, divinely so. In other words, God's power works within and through her. Christ foretold this when He said to the Apostles, "You will be clothed with power from on high" And so they were — on Pentecost morning. The Church founded upon them was perpetually endowed with the presence and power of God's Spirit. No wonder, then, she displays such durability, such elan. Though coming up already for her 2,000th birthday, the Church goes about the Father's business in our contemporary world with the nonstop energy of a two-year-old.
How many more birthdays —that is, Pentecosts—will the Church celebrate before her consummation? The question is as unanswerable as it is intriguing. But this we know, and it is no mere wishful thinking or hurrahing and triumphalese either; on the contrary, we have it from God : the Church will herself never fail, despite her many failings and
The rushing wind will carry her through to Doomsday and her rendezvous with the resurrection of the dead. Then, and then only, will the death-wind blow through the Church's being and through the world's. Human history will have reached its end. The Church will have run her course, her task accomplished. And her Master will raise her to the rewards and splendours of His abiding city, the brave new world of happiness without end.
Meanwhile the pilgrimChurch is en route through this brave old world of time and mortality. From the Coming of the Holy Spirit to the Second Coming of Christ she discharges her mandate in the world, to the world. The sad truth is that she is largely unknown or unacknowledged or misunderstood or (saddest of all) rejected by the world. Yet she remains deeply in lovecharity-love—with it none the less. For she is haunted by the awful realisation that her Founder died; on the world's behalf, a death of redeeming love.
Love — therein lies the Church's inner secret and strength. Pentecost made her the visible sacrament of the Spirit of Love, He Who is the mutual love between Father and Son. An immensity, then, of divine love for human beings burns in the Church's apostolic heart. And, because it is apostolic, the Church's heart is also catholic. She says with the poet, "My road calls me, lures me, west, east, south and north". She longs, like Ulysses, after far horizons and distant hinterlands. For there, waiting for her, needing her. lie souls, to whom she must communicate her gospel.
The Church communicates her gospel to a human, and therefore ever-changing world. For this reason she must needs periodically adapt herself to changing times and customs. She must gear her approach, apostolate and techniques to the mentality, the circum stances, the challenges and opportunities of the day.
In a word, she must keep shipshape, up-to-date. Here the wind of Pentecost, which supplies the Church with power and momentum. fulfils another important function. Wind-like. it serves to renew, to refresh, to spring-clean. It blows cobwebs out and the contemporary in. And it achieves these salutary effects chiefly through Councils. Thereby the Church is expedited and modernised for her mission to human society.
Nor does this mission rest solely with the hierarchy. The entire Apostolic Church—not alone the Apostles and their successors — received a missionary responsibility from the Spirit of Pentecost. That means the laity, too, hav,.. their part to play. It is a part peculiarly their own and needed more urgently than ever in today's world.
Moreover, in addition to the general mandate incumbent upon the whole Church, each of the faithful receives from the Holy Spirit their particular mandate. This comes to them in confirmation —their personal Pentecost. It empowers and commissions them to "feed the world on the fruits of the Holy Spirit", as Vatican II has reminded us.
The feast of Pentecost is meant to spur our apostolic zeal, Laypeople each in their own sphere and in the measure of the possible, are to cooperate, personally and wholeheartedly, with the hierarchical priesthood in the evangelisation of the world.
For so much of this gigantic task can be done only by those who, precisely in virtue of their secular status, are closely in touch with the world. Its social and political structures, its cultures and civilisations, its commerce and technology, its triumphs and achievements, its daily life and work, its entertainments and amenities, its pain and sorrow, its anxieties and ambitions, its hopes and dreams—everything must be sanctified by the Church and made to throb with the promise of the world to come.