“As the Father sent me, so I send you,” Jesus says to the disciples. The sending forth of the apostles and disciples for mission is an essential aspect of the Christian life. Jesus comes to gather all people into a communion.
He earnestly prays before his passion: “I pray not only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”
After the resurrection, Jesus appears to the disciples and says: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He then breathes on the disciples and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Earlier in the Gospel Jesus had told the disciples he was leaving them. He was going home to the Father. When Jesus tells them, “Where I am going you know the way,” Thomas objects saying: “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” To which Jesus replies: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus leads us to the Father. His work or mission continues in the life of the church through his apostles and disciples. His prayer to the Father, mentioned above, references this mission when he says, “I pray not only for these but for those who will believe in me through their word ….”
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, expresses the importance of Jesus’ mission continuing in the life of the church when he writes: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom hey have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)
On Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the church through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The first reading for the liturgy, from Acts of the Apostles, describes the event. The disciples are all gathered in one place together. The presence of the Holy Spirit comes upon them when they hear a great noise “like a strong driving wind.” Tongues of fire appear over their heads and they begin to speak in different languages “as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”
Pentecost was a major Jewish feast that commemorated the giving of the law to Moses. Because of this, there were Jews from different parts of the world in Jerusalem at the time. When the apostles start proclaiming the Gospel the visitors are amazed because they could understand in their own language.
The symbolic aspect of the event is important. The languages represent peoples from all over the world being divided by the various tongues. That reality harkens back to the account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis. Now, despite the different languages, they can all hear the same proclamation. From this point the apostles and disciples go out from Jerusalem, driven by the Spirit, to proclaim the Gospel and to invite all peoples to know Jesus and to be led to the Father by him.
Celebrating Pentecost, we pray that the Spirit might be continually poured out and into the church so that the Gospel may be effectively proclaimed. All of us are called to proclaim the Gospel. Most of the time this is done through the way we live our lives.
The first place of proclamation is the family. Within the relationships of our families, the domestic church, the Gospel is handed on, one generation to the next. Filled with the Spirit the Gospel is carried into our neighborhoods, work places, public life, our schools and universities, our playgrounds and stadiums.
We might ask ourselves, how do I spread the Gospel? How do I carry on the mission of Jesus? They are good questions to ponder. One aspect to the answer is that we do not do it alone, we do it within the Church. We all share in the life of the Church whose mission it is to spread the Gospel. Enlivened and united by the spirit we carry on this mission together, as one.
Another aspect is that each of us has been given different gifts by the Spirit to accomplish this saving mission. St. Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians describes it like this: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Sprit is given for some benefit. As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.”
Each of us is called to use the gifts we have received from the Spirit so that the Gospel might be proclaimed. Each of us does this in a manner particular to the gifts. Central to the life of Christian mission is Christian life. Living lives reflective of Christ Jesus is the boldest and most effective form of evangelizing.
We live lives of thankful praise. The Father sent his Son Jesus to show us the way to him. Jesus lays down his life in love and in doing so reconciles us to the Father and to each other. We live because he died and rose from the dead. All are called to share in this life.
In the one Spirit, we offer our prayer of thanksgiving and proclaim his wonderful deeds. In the one Spirit, we hear the voice of God calling us to conversion of heart and citizenship in his kingdom. In the one Spirit, we are sent so that all might experience the love and mercy that has been poured out on us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.