When I first lived in Washington, DC I had the privilege of living at the parish of Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian down on East Capitol Street. The church there is well worth a visit if you haven’t been. Dedicated as it is to the Holy Comforter, the Spirit who strengthens, its decoration is full of imagery related to not only to the Holy Spirit, but also to the feast of Pentecost. Outside there are short quotations from that exquisite Sequence, Veni Sancte Spiritus, probably written by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Stephen Langton, which we hear in this Mass. Inside the walls are painted a deep red, and over the altar a canopy presents the text of the Introit from this Mass: Spiritus Domini replevit orbem terrarum; the Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world. The words are apt, for from the top of the canopy small pinnacles seem to leap like flames. And around the church, on its walls, are paintings of the many missionary saints of the Church’s history each with one of these little flames atop their head. The apostles are there, as are their successors; the missionaries of the Church to every land: Saint Boniface to Germany, Saint Francis Xavier to China, Saint Augustine to England, Saint Patrick to Ireland. Each of them is depicted engaged in the work of evangelization, each of them fulfilling that mandate of the Lord: “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.”
The stories associated with these missionary saints are something to behold. Their wisdom, fortitude, piety—the gifts that allowed them to be successful in their work—are inspiring. We rightly look to them for strength, to ask for their prayers, and as encouragements for others to continue in the missionary work of the Church, whether at home or abroad. What they achieved is extraordinary, but the point is this: what they did they did not for themselves, nor by themselves. They did it for God and his Church, through the strength and grace received from the Holy Spirit.
And this is where the feast of Pentecost envelopes not just the saints, but also us; those who aspire to sanctity, to the same holiness of life, to the same goal of living with God forever in eternity. Because the call of Pentecost, the great summoning of the Holy Spirit that we hear about and that we experience in this feast, is at once a call to the great body of the Church, and a call to each one of her members. Each of us has the duty, the obligation, to continue in this work. Each of us has received the gifts of the Holy Spirit precisely for this work. Each of us has been consecrated, in our own way and according to our state in life, and entrusted with the mission to go forth, to teach, and to sanctify.
This is in fact the very nature of the life of Jesus Christ. His power is precisely to teach, to govern, and to sanctify. His priestly office is precisely to carry out this work, and those of us who are joined to him in baptism, joined to his mystical body the Church, share in who he is and thus in the mission that is his. Not all of us will be called to carry out this work in foreign lands, to live as missionaries at the ends of the earth. But each of us is called to live in the strange land of this world, and to announce the truth of the gospel of Christ with the same passion, conviction, and fervour.
In the rather odd and unsettling times in which we live, the way in which carry out that mission—personally entrusted to each of us by the Lord—is perhaps more important than ever before in our lifetimes. The witness we offer to the importance and joy of a life lived in Jesus Christ and his Church is vital. In the face of global disease, in opposition to violence on the streets of this country and this city, and against the scourge of racism, the Christian gospel is the only true antidote to the unsettled hearts of our fellow man. And my friends, let me be frank: the only way in which our fellow man is going to hear that good news is not by darkening the doors of a church, but by the witness of others; by the witness of you: by the way you live our lives and interact with others. Yes, by words and encouragement, and even by condemnation of evil and error. But far more by the sincere, intentional, and courageous witness of the life of the Holy Spirit in you; a Spirit that comes as fire, to set the world aflame, to burn up what is evil, to cauterize what is wounded, and to warm into life the coldest and hardest of hearts.
Through intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, and all of the apostles, may we remain together, united in the breaking of bread and the prayers, that through the union of faith which is the Church of Jesus Christ we might be witnesses to the perfect charity of his heart, and conduits for his grace, poured out in the Church and in each of us, by God’s own Holy Spirit.