Pentecost and Polarization: How Evangelization Is Needed More Than Ever

EDITORIAL: We cannot afford to be complacent about the New Evangelization.

People gather at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church to pray for the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 25, 2022.
People gather at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church to pray for the victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 25, 2022. (photo: Chandan Khanna / AFP/Getty)

The Old Testament prophet Joel spoke of the coming “Great and Awesome Day of the Lord,” the day when God pours out his spirit on all men and women, who will prophesy, with the young seeing visions and the old dreaming dreams. 

Today, as we look at the religious and political polarization that plagues our churches and the public square, the fulfillment of that prophecy seems a distant dream at best.

Yet Pentecost day is a reminder that Joel’s prophecy roared to life when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary and the apostles gathered in the Upper Room. On that day, more than two millennia ago, the Church sprang forth. St. Peter fearlessly preached Jesus Christ’s Gospel, such that 3,000 Jews and Jewish converts embraced the fullness of faith found in Jesus. From there, the Church, the fellowship of Jesus’ disciples without political power or wealth, turned the entire world upside down with the power of the Gospel.

Since that first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has not left the Church, nor has his power diminished. Amid the apparent hopelessness of this age, this Pentecost we must pray for the Holy Spirit to give us the courage and power to proclaim Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, in our own day to our own communities.

As recent events show, the world cannot afford disciples of Jesus who receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and lock themselves in the Upper Room. How many barbaric tragedies do we need to recognize that the world is sick, dying for lack of the Gospel? 

We will not change our country’s laws, policies or culture on any matter, be it abortion, guns, social safety nets or education, until we recognize that Jesus Christ is calling us as his followers to be missionaries that bravely go into the darkness. And we absolutely need the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to bring true hope, conversion, healing and unity to our world, even at the risk of persecution, injury or death. 

To no one else but the disciple does Jesus say, “You are the light of the world.” And to no one else does he give the command, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” 

We have to confront head-on the spiritual nihilism that pervades our world and vents violent rage on so many innocents. In the span of 10 days, the United States has seen young men arm themselves with military-style rifles to deliberately massacre innocents with calculated evil intent — one invoking anti-Black racist ideologies he devoured from the internet, the other nurturing a violent fantasy fueled in part by bullying and family chaos. Two communities on opposite borders of the United States are grieving. 

How can we afford to be complacent about the New Evangelization? How can we afford to worry about the Church’s collapse in Germany if we are not earnestly toiling for the Gospel in our own communities? How many of us have stopped to realize that the decision to love the people in our own community and give them Jesus Christ could not only save a soul, but save lives we may never meet? 

We cannot allow hyperpolarization in our society to lead us to sin against the Holy Spirit by doubting his power to transform the hardest of hearts. We cannot forget that Saul of Tarsus, a mass murderer of Christians, became the Gospel’s greatest evangelist, St. Paul. 

We need the faith of St. Ananias to restore sight to the blind by radically loving the most unlovable person as Jesus commanded. St. Ananias’ reliance on the Holy Spirit changed St. Paul, and that changed the world. The Holy Spirit gives us power to transform our society, as well — not by political maneuvers but by something much greater: giving fearless witness and bold testimony of Jesus Christ’s saving love for the people he places in our lives. 

We can see the Holy Spirit sustaining this very work in our day. In California, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles donated an empty convent to provide shelter for homeless pregnant women who otherwise would be on the streets. In Wichita, Kansas, Catholics have embraced a stewardship culture so that Catholic schools can be tuition-free, allowing students to get an education informed by Catholic faith and values. Dedicated Catholic disciples are rebuilding the spiritual architecture of their parishes through small groups that evangelize; priests are discovering community is the indispensable setting for the jewel of celibacy and sustaining each other’s joyful ministry. 

And there is so much more that we can do when we commit ourselves to discipleship and community. 

We need the Holy Spirit to launch us forward. We need the prayers of the holy men and women who planted the faith in the U.S., laity and clergy, missionaries and martyrs. We need unity among disciples of Jesus to make us more effective in spreading the Gospel. In this respect, pastors can look to the synodal process, not as a burden or an advocacy channel for heterodox ideologies, but as a way for Catholic men and women to come together as priests, prophets and kings; where the old and young together can realize a dream for evangelization that saves captive souls from spiritual death and crushes Satan under our feet. 

This is the power of the Gospel the Holy Spirit seeks to drive forward. His power is undiminished, but we must embrace it. On Pentecost, let us pray for the Holy Spirit to bring us out of our upper rooms and fearlessly proclaim Jesus Christ to the mission field that is our community. 

Come Holy Spirit, come!