This year on Sunday, June 8, we mark the great feast of Pentecost, and it’s a good time to examine the language we use in describing God. Jesus was a male, and he called God his Father. That’s how Christians think about God, mainly in masculine terms. God is our Father. Jesus is his son, the New Adam; the king, prophet, priest and bridegroom. All these are masculine terms.
St. Paul tells us that all of us, both male and female, become sons in the Son, through Baptism. Of course, God isn’t literally male. But gender language is part of the way God reveals his identity to us … and reveals our own identities to ourselves.
Paul also tells us that Jesus is the bridegroom, and the Church is his bride. So this means that all of us, both male and female, are the spouse of Christ. The Church is not an “it.” The Church is a “she.” The Church is feminine. That’s why Mary is so important to the Catholic understanding of the world. Mary is the first Christian, the perfect model of the Church and the perfect model for each of us as individual disciples. We’re all called to be Mary. And that’s as hard for some men to accept as it is for some women to call God “he.”
Here’s the point. What did Mary do? She said “yes” to the Holy Spirit. And in that yes, God filled her with new life. The Early Church called Mary theotokos, which is Greek for “God-bearer.” As a creature, she allowed her Creator to act in her and accomplish great things through her. In giving birth to God’s son, Mary gave new life to the whole world. We’re called to follow her example, each of us in his or her own way.
Merely hearing the Gospel isn’t enough. Merely talking about our faith isn’t enough. We need to do something about it. Each of us, in a personal way, needs to be a kind of theotokos, a God-bearer. The seed of faith needs to bear fruit in a life of Christian action, a life of personal Christian witness, or it’s just words — and talk is cheap.
That’s why every Pentecost celebration is so important. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. Pentecost is our birthday as a believing people. The Church, like Mary, is about new life. The Holy Spirit filled Mary with new life at the Annunciation, and Mary gave birth to Jesus. The Holy Spirit filled the Apostles with new life at Pentecost, and they immediately gave birth to a new era through their preaching and example. God is a God of abundance, not sterility; of confidence, not fear. God relentlessly creates new life through each of us, if we allow him to. We’re meant to be fertile. We’re meant to bring others to new life in Jesus Christ. The “Acts of the Apostles” should continue today in the witness of our own lives.
In other words, faith should animate everything we do. It should bear fruit every day in beauty and new life. When Jesus told us, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19), he not only gave us a missionary mandate to evangelize the world, he also gave us the reason to have confidence in accomplishing it. The last thing he told the Apostles before returning to his Father in heaven was, “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt. 28:20). In that one simple verse is the key to the entire life of the Church.
Pentecost is not just the birthday of the Church. It’s also the feast day of the Holy Spirit, who set the Apostles on fire with zeal in the Upper Room … who opened the minds in the crowd of people that first heard them preach … and who’s guided and renewed the life of the Church for 2,000 years. The Holy Spirit has never stopped sustaining the mission of the Church. And just as he strengthened and encouraged the first Apostles, so too he will strengthen and encourage each of us — if we let him.
We begin to understand our vocation as Christians when we acknowledge that God alone is the “Lord and giver of life,” and we are his creatures. We become who we really are — we experience reality most vividly — when we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, and to work through us to renew the face of the earth. Each of us is called to share in God’s creative power to give life. That’s the meaning of the prayer we all learned as children:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and we will be created, and you will renew the face of the earth.
May God grant us the humility, joy and generosity to be the disciples he invites us to be.