Pentecost, launching of the Church

Pentecost, launching of the Church

Cardinal Francis Arinze

It was 10 days after the Lord Jesus had ascended into heaven. Jesus had told his Apostles "not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised" (Acts 1: 4). Obedient to their divine Master, the 11 Apostles went from the Mount of the Ascension, the Mount of Olives, back into the city of Jerusalem.

They stayed in the Upper Room and "joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers" (Acts 1: 14). During this time Matthias was chosen to replace Judas.

At the end of this exceptional novena of prayerful waiting, the promised Gift, the Holy Spirit, descended on Mary and the Apostles on the 10th day. They heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven. A tongue of fire came to rest on each of them.

Church launched

Remarkable things began to happen. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak foreign lan- guages. They proclaimed the Lord Jesus as the one and only Saviour. They were no longer afraid. They gave bold witness to Jesus. Three thousand people were converted on that one day (cf. Acts 2: 41). In short, the infant Church was launched. It was manifested to the world.

Jesus had given his Apostles, and through them to the whole Church, an unambiguous mandate. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time" (Mt 28: 18-20; cf. also Mk 16: 16).

This is a clear, sweeping and demanding assignment, especially when we consider that it was given by the Son of God a short time before he left this world, and to a small band of his followers.

The Apostles took their mandate seriously. They began to preach to the people about the Lord Jesus as the one Saviour for all. They gave witness to Jesus. They worked miracles. They called people to repentance, conversion and Baptism. The number of Christians soon rose to 5,000 (cf. Acts 4: 4).

The early Church was sent to a world which did not yet know Jesus Christ, his life and work and his message for humanity. The Church had to meet people of various religions and cultures. Not all would receive the Gospel message and embrace faith in Jesus Christ. Their freedom was to be respected. Yet Christians were still called to enter into dialogue with them, bearing witness to Jesus Christ as the Spirit guided them.

As the Church celebrates Pentecost, almost 2,000 years after the first Pentecost, she cannot avoid asking herself some relevant questions. What is Pentecost saying to the Church today? What progress report can be drawn up about how the Church for the past two millennia has carried out her divinely-given mandate of proclamation, witness and dialogue? How is the Church today announcing that Jesus Christ alone is "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14: 6) and that only in him do people find the fullness of religious truth and the means to salvation?

Moreover, the Church has also to examine her life of witness. How do members of the Church give witness to Christ by their lives as they find themselves living and working with people in varying situations: in societies marked by a sense of the sacred, respect for God and religion and awareness of the transcendent vocation of the human person, or in societies seduced by secularism, permissiveness and practical or even ideological materialism? How do Christians witness to Christ both amid persecutions and in time of consolations?

All Christians are not united under one fold and one shepherd. What can be done, through prayer, study and practical cooperation, to heal the wound of Christian disunity so common witness may be given?

Renewed commitment

Society worldwide is marked today by the presence of many religions. How effectively is the Church engaging in dialogue? What is being done to establish good relations of mutual understanding and respect, particularly with people of other religions?

Members of the Church are called to renewed commitment to Jesus Christ and to his Gospel. Considering that Christians form only one third of all humanity, the permanent validity of the Church's missionary mandate cannot be doubted.

The sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ demands of all of us fresh zeal and the use of modern means of communication so that the Word of God may reach more and more people. The love of Christ urges us on (cf. 2 Cor 5:14).

The infant Church was gathered with Mary the mother of Jesus and under the leadership of St Peter. The Church today trusts in the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, under the leadership of the Successor of St Peter, to continue to witness to Christ not only in Jerusalem, but also in all Judea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth.

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