Seventh Sunday of Easter: "Spirit and the Church"

As you know the liturgical year follows the chronological development of the church. Every year we find ourselves in a place between the Ascension and Pentecost.

In the Feast of the Ascension, we find that Jesus—who came into the world to reveal who the Father really is—was unsuccessful in convincing the inner circle of his Twelve Disciples all he desired them to know.

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I used the word ‘unsuccessful’ because at Jesus’ death there was great confusion, fear and doubt. It was not until after his death—when Jesus returned, resurrected and spent 40 days [in Luke’s account] with the disciple—that the church began to be formed as a strong community of believers. They became convinced that Jesus was truly the Messiah! They began to understand his message. They began to organize.

This activity was the work of the spirit poured out at Pentecost. The spirit who helps us to understand all that Jesus taught. It is that same spirit that sets us apart as church; the spirit who guides the church.

In the first reading we find a God-guided election for the successor to Judas. What is important here is the reliance on God’s personal care for the church, small though it was. So with a flip of a coin Matthias was not just a winner, but elected for the service of witnessing to the Resurrection of the lord. That witnessing was the mark of true discipleship.

It was important for this circle of disciples to be complete. In scripture twelve is a symbolic number; it represents the twelve tribes of Israel; it represents wholeness and completeness. And so God was creating a whole and complete community, ready to experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. God was creating the church.

In the gospel we find Jesus praying for his followers, the timber of the young church. Jesus’ language is such that he asks his Father for his followers to be “in the world, but not of the world.” The strength of a community that is in the world but not of the world is based on principles that are different from the world’s principles.

Our challenge as church is to be in this world but deeply committed to transforming it. There is a temptation in every church community to be gathered in an inward circle, finding strength around each other [and a common form of worship that is comfortable].

Yet there is a danger in being a church based only on common likes and dislikes. The true church, in its full expression, is not found solely in being turned inward. True church is found in a community fed by the spirit and looking outward.

We need to be interested in the world, caring about it and desiring to draw others into the circle.

What we experience between the Ascension and Pentecost is the formation of the church, the molding of that small motley crew of the followers of Jesus, into the seed of the early church, which ultimately grew to its present dimensions today.

Just so God desires to enter into our lives, he longs to give us his truth, he longs to give us strength and a power we do not have of ourselves so we might be able to be sources of goodness and life for others. An individual called into the life of Christ has a certain destiny! That destiny is for each of us!

The challenge is to understand that destiny so we can fully become church.

Pentecost marks the beginning of the church; and the word for church is ecclesia which means “to be called out.”

What does it mean to be called into this place of dedication? What does it mean to be set apart for this mysterious work God has called us to?

We all desire to be called out of negative things, out of addiction into freedom, from a place of darkness into the light. We want to move from self-centered lives toward something that has more meaning and purpose. The spirit is the source of all of this internal movement.

As a Catholic community we gather around two things—the story and the presence. The story in scripture is always reflected upon and broken open. Weekly, even daily, we try to understand it more fully.

But the story is not enough—the story alone is not the end of the story, so to speak—as we realize that before we depart this church, we need to pause around the altar and gather ourselves into the presence; into being able to take in and celebrate and be empowered by the body and blood of Christ. The spirit of God, the spirit of Jesus animates and enables us to truly live this message; to truly live out what church truly is.

One last thing: Jesus has been sent and is still being sent into this world of human beings who are his sisters and brothers, whether they like it or know it or not. There exists a ‘world-spirit,’  a spirit of darkness. It is within each of us and will hate us if we turn against it.

If this spirit has its way it would stop our protests, silence our ‘truths,’ stop our witnessing and mute our voices from the disputes of the day, the discourse of the public square. This spirit wishes to resolve these issues in darkness.

There are political and social issues to which the church is speaking and the dark spirit of the ‘world’ is moving to silence the church’s voice. It is trying to convince us that the church does not belong in the ‘world’; does not have the proper values of the ‘world.’

We each will hear these voices within ourselves and say, “Ah, let it to the politicians.” Yes, this is partly true, but they need our voices as well. There is no more fleeing the ‘world’ after reading this gospel, after receiving the Eucharist and being encouraged to “Go in peace to glorify God in your lives.”

As the Gospel reads: “As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world.... [They do not belong to the world any more than I belonged to the world...] And....I consecrated myself for them, so they also may be consecrated in truth.”

John P. Schlegel, S.J.

 

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