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May 31, 2020 Pentecost Sunday Homily

Do you know that birthday parties have a ritual and liturgy? They do; there is always the ritual of fire in the lighting of candles, the making of a wish, and then, with a big breath, breath blowing them out, followed by a hymn: “Happy Birthday to you…”
You can see, I am sure, the parallel with the coming of tongues of fire on the apostles gathered in the Upper Room accompanied by the wind from heaven, the breath of God.
Are the origins of our birthday party rituals found in Pentecost?I don’t know. Perhaps scholars will one day tell us. Nevertheless, today’s celebration of “The Birthday of the Church,” Pentecost, finds heavenly fire and wind as essential elements.
Just why is Pentecost spoken of as the “Birthday of the Church’? One might consider Good Friday, with the flow of water and blood from the pierced side of Christ hanging on the Cross-, to be the birthing of the Church. Or perhaps Easter Sunday ‘ Sunday of the Resurrection could be thought of as the birthday of the Church. At any rate, today is certainly the day when the Church first “went public”, when the Church burst out from the womb of the Upper Room into the world of the public square. It’s good to celebrate this day, living as we do in a time when some people want the Church to be put back into the closet.
This being the birthday of the Church in the public sense, I’d like to point out some things that are right about our Church. We have plenty of people telling us about all that is wrong. They’re a dime a dozen. At a moment’s notice, in the most inopportune of moments, and in most inappropriate of ways, they tell us about all that’s wrong in the Catholic Church. There are opportune moments and appropriate places for criticism, but critics seem to enjoy the public stage more to satisfy their own egos than to find effective and constructive avenues to effect changes in the Church.
There are also those proclaim that they don’t go to Mass because of all the hypocrites they claim that are at Mass. In other words, you are all a bunch of hypocrites and the critics don’t want to be seen among you! Yes, we are all sinners, but out of God’s love for us we are being redeemed sinners. And as for priests? Well, I don’t need to tell you what is being said about them… you’ve heard it all, I’m sure.
At least once a year on what is considered to be the Church’s birthday – Pentecost — in the interests of fairness, we ought to take a look at what is right with our Church. After all one doesn’t attend a birthday party to tell all of the other guests about what’s wrong with the guest of honor!
1 – The first thing that’s right about the Church is that she is the creation of God. The story about her birth is told symbolic language. Literal language simply can’t bear the weight of what’s being communicated. Sometimes only the language of poetry, songs, and symbolic language is strong enough to be adequate to the task. God wanted the Church and he founded her.
The Church is not the result of mere human creation. It is not simply a voluntary association of like-minded individuals who have banded together to form a legal and political entity known as the Roman Catholic Church. Human hands did not create the Church. Certainly the way it was created was not the way humans create social or political, or legal entities.
2 – The Church has a mission, a purpose given to her by God. She has a clear self-identity and a fixed purpose. Her mission is universal and is communicated to people of every race, nationality and tongue. It speaks fiery words of love, of challenge, and of vision. It speaks in words that can be understood by people of every age, culture, race and continent. It needs to say the same thing over and over and over again until we finally “get it.” And it needs to proclaim its message as well in language and in imagery that is inspiring, illuminating, encouraging, comforting… and yet challenging.
3 – The Church is a community, a family, a place where individuality and personal rights are balanced in a common good, in commonly shared rights and responsibilities, much like a family. Families are places where persons are individuated, where individual personalities are formed and shaped in their relationships with others. One finds out who one is by belonging to a family.
And the Church is directed outward, directed toward others. It needs to be an outreaching family, living out concerns for the marginalized, the oppressed, the dispossessed, and the little ones, however hidden and unrecognized they may be. It needs to be the community in which  sermons are not simply preached but actually lived. The Church is that privileged place where God’s spoken Word is received in its living and in the way we act it out, not simply listening to it.
4 – The Church needs to be, and in fact is, the continuation of that body of disciples, who first followed Jesus, who listened to what He had to say and then put His teachings into practice. Our Church strives mightily to remain fully integrated with the Church of the Apostles, to retain the integrity and the truthfulness of full integration with the Mystical Body of the Risen Christ.
There are things that are wrong among Catholics and in the Catholic Church itself. Certainly Pope Francis has made that known! There are attitudes and structures that need to be changed. But that’s the way it has always been in our Church from its very beginning, from the time when Peter and Paul had to settle their differences about whether or not non-Jews could be members of the Church. Polarities, diversities, and dialogue have vitalized the Church from its inception.
Perhaps there is something wonderfully right about our internal differences. Perhaps there’s something wonderfully right in our diversities, and even in our disagreements. Perhaps that dynamic allows us to turn to the Holy Spirit so that we might continually be re-shaped, molded, and re-formed as God would have us.
Finally, we might even say the Church’s birthday party is not over, and never will be, because God’s Church is continually being reborn, renewed, and raised up in a never-ending cycle of passion, suffering, death, and resurrection. Perhaps, in spite of what all of the critics are saying, there’s a whole lot that’s right about our Church and that being in the Church is really a good place to be. Hopefully that’s exactly why you are here. I know that’s why I am here.

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