The Church in the United States celebrated Pentecost early this year. The Mass Pope Benedict XVI said at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C., was identical to the Mass the Church celebrates on Pentecost Sunday, except that the second reading was changed.
It was as if the Holy Father was so eager to call down the Holy Spirit on Catholics in America that he just couldn’t wait. In fact, he said the main reason he came to America at all was to pray for a kind of new Pentecost in America. Using striking, formal language, he said:
“In the exercise of my ministry as the Successor of Peter, I have come to America to confirm you, my brothers and sisters, in the faith of the apostles. I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah. … I have come to repeat the Apostle’s urgent call to conversion and the forgiveness of sins, and to implore from the Lord a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in this country.”
He spelled out his Pentecost program. He hopes for all Catholics to “reaffirm their unity in the apostolic faith, to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope that inspires them, and to be renewed in missionary zeal for the extension of God’s Kingdom.“ We’ll look at each of those in turn.
1. Unity in the faith
It’s a sad truth that Catholics in America are factionalized and divided. Newcomers to the world of Catholic action in America are often startled at the viciousness of these divisions. Catholics of different styles and stripes are continually judging each other, summing up one other uncharitably, and sharing their opinions with whomever will listen.
In the midst of this, the Holy Father called Catholics to unity, and identified the place to find it: in Church teaching, particularly as expressed in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
The Church has been threatened from the beginning with divisions — from the apostles’ arguments about who was greater, to the animosity already apparent in the early Church. The miracle is that the Church has survived, united, through all of that division. Whatever the different opinions and directions Catholics had, the truth of the Catholic Church has always been stronger.
The Holy Father even identified a means for us to tap into this strength: catechesis, especially for the young.
“Much progress has been made in developing solid programs of catechesis, yet so much more remains to be done in forming the hearts and minds of the young in knowledge and love of the Lord,” he said. “The challenges confronting us require a comprehensive and sound instruction in the truths of the faith.”
2. Hope through reconciliation
Next on the papal Pentecost program was hope. He pointed out that Americans are people of hope, but that the current context makes hope difficult.
The sex-abuse crisis in the Church took the wind out of the sails of many Catholics in America. Benedict’s answer to it: Serve the victims, continue safety measures but also reaffirm the priests who have done nothing wrong and whose reputations have been hurt by the scandals.
The painful reality makes hope seem farther off, but the Holy Father pointed out that it’s the Holy Spirit who brings hope, not favorable human circumstances. He called Catholics to unite to the Holy Spirit in deep prayer.
Said the Pope: “This is a prayer that yearns, in the midst of chastisement, for the fulfillment of God’s promises. It is a prayer of unfailing hope, but also one of patient endurance and, often, accompanied by suffering for the truth. Through this prayer, we share in the mystery of Christ’s own weakness and suffering, while trusting firmly in the victory of his cross.”
If the difficulties the Church has faced have left us less disposed to hope on our own, they have also created the conditions necessary to allow God to become our only hope.
This difficult hope comes from confronting the past and turning to God in confession, said the Pope, reminding us that it is through the gift of the Holy Spirit that the Church has the power to forgive sins.
3. The New Evangelization
He thanked Catholics who participate in the New Evangelization — the efforts to re-Christianize sectors of society that have drifted from the faith.
He set an even bigger goal. The goal, he said is “that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to his Church, and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior.”
There are many ways to participate in the New Evangelization. The Register exists to report on those ways. In this issue, for instance, find on the previous page a list of places you can go to spread the faith.
The Church in the United States was blessed to have a papal preview of Pentecost Mass. And in his words, we are blessed to have a preview of what the future will look like if we respond to the Holy Spirit.