Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost: 'Stewardship Sunday'

I’ve just finished our annual priests’ retreat. This year’s retreat master was Father Tom Rosica; as many of you know, he runs our homegrown Catholic television network, Salt+Light. He’s also an expert on the New Testament, so he gave us lots to think about.

As I prepared today’s homily, what first came to mind wasn’t what Father Tom said about the Bible, but something he said about TV. He mentioned that you can’t have too many wide-angle shots when you’re making a program or film: it gets boring. To tell the story you need not only the wide-angle lens, but also an intermediate and a zoom lens.

We can use these three “lenses” to look at Pentecost today. We need to look at the big picture—the panoramic view of the Church, born of the Spirit. We also look at the narrower view—the gifts God gave to the Church so it could do his work. And then we can zoom right in—on ourselves, gathered in this parish church on Pentecost, our Stewardship Sunday.

The Acts of the Apostles is the perfect place to start, not at the beginning of today’s first reading but with a wide angle view of that first Pentecost. Halfway through these eleven verses of Acts the story moves from the Upper Room to a public square in Jerusalem. We might even say it moves from the Church—the apostles and disciples, gathered with Mary as the Holy Spirit descends on them—to the world.

It’s easy to see how the story shifts from the Church to the world: St. Luke, the author of Acts, lists the languages that the crowd is speaking.  He tells us where they come from: this is no local crowd, but a multitude that represents the whole world. It’s the widest of wide-angle shots. The Spirit has not come in order to stay put; God is speaking his Word to everyone.

How does he speak to everyone? Through the Church he has created by his will and power. We see this “big picture” when every member of the multinational crowd hears the mighty works of God proclaimed in his or her own language. That public square offers a panorama of Pentecost and the Church.

We use the intermediate lens as we focus on today’s Gospel reading. Jesus sends the disciples out now that they have received the gift of the Spirit. They are sent by Jesus, just as he was sent by the Father.

And he gives them what they need for this mission. Jesus gives the apostles the power to forgive sins—authority to act in his name—while the first half of our reading from Acts show how Christ kept his promise to send the Spirit to those he loved and called. We see the Church born by God’s own breath, a mighty wind that breathes life into the Church much like the Spirit of God blew over the face of the waters at the creation of the world.

There’s the big picture: a Church as big as the world, called to make disciples of all nations. There’s the intermediate scene: a Church given the same mission as Jesus, a mission of mercy, and the tools to accomplish it.

But let’s move the camera in closer, zooming back to the Upper Room. There we see something remarkable: tongues of flame over the heads of each one present. Not a ball of fire in the middle of the room, but individual flames above them all.

That’s the close-up shot of Pentecost. It’s not only about the birth of the Church and the power granted to her shepherds; it’s about each and every individual Christian, called to mission by baptism and confirmation.

Let’s zoom in on each one here this morning. You’re “in the frame” of any film about Pentecost; and you’re not an extra but a key actor, no matter who you are. As Pope John Paul said in Toronto in 2002, “even a tiny flame lifts the heavy lid of night.”

Fortunately, each of us is part of a much bigger picture. On our retreat, Father Rosica pointed out that the Church is how God chooses to keep promises and dispense blessings. We’re a part of the Church, agents of that agency through which God keeps his promises—to us and to others.

But the fact is that we each have a role to play. There’s an invisible tongue of fire resting on everyone in church this morning; each of us has gifts, and each of us is called.

Pope Benedict put it wonderfully during the vigil at World Youth Day in Sydney: “Let us invoke the Holy Spirit: He is the artisan of God’s works. Let His gifts shape you! Just as the Church travels the same journey with all humanity, so too you are called to exercise the Spirit’s gifts amidst the ups and downs of your daily life. Let your faith mature through your studies, work, sport, music and art. Let it be sustained by the Sacraments… In accepting the power of the Holy Spirit you too can transform your families, communities and nations. Set free the gifts!”

“Set free the gifts!” These words help us to zoom in on ourselves at this precise moment. Because after Mass today each and every one here has a chance to put their gifts to work in the service of the Church.

Our Stewardship Fair, which takes place immediately after each Mass today, is a panorama of the opportunities for service and stewardship in our parish. It has been organized with enormous care so that it will challenge and inspire you.

There are some who may want to skip the walk through the gym. ‘I’m busy enough, I’m doing enough, I can’t manage more.’ Maybe so: but take the walk anyway just to lift your spirits—because the wind of Pentecost, the breath of God, is blowing in our parish, and men and women from many nations are hearing what God has to say.

But that powerful wind isn’t blowing at random. It’s blowing directly on you, at you. St. Paul couldn’t make it any clearer: “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

The golf course up the hill offers a social membership: you can join the club, but not play golf. But there are no social members of the Church. We’re all called, and we’re all chosen.

Take the time today to thank God for giving you his Spirit in baptism and confirmation. And as you walk through the gym (or as you simply think about your talents and opportunities, if you’re reading this on the blog) ask God to show you how he’d like you to serve him with the particular gifts of the Spirit he has activated in your life.

Set free your gifts!

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