Your Calling in Your Parish
I. Gideon and his army awoke to find themselves surrounded by the enemy. The Midianites, the Amelikites, and all the tribes of the east filled the valley like grasshoppers and the sand by the sea. So Gideon, inspired by a dream from God, called his men together and ordered: “Each of you, in one hand, carry a lit torch in a jar. In the other hand, carry a trumpet, and blow when I give the command.” In this way, they marched forth, with fire and noise, and God gave them the victory.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost.
The disciples were gathered under one roof, when there came “a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:1-4).
The fire and noise on the day of Gideon’s victory was only a hint, a foreshadowing, of this greater day of Pentecost. In the battle of old, the noise came from crude instruments of metal and bone. Today, we hear the triumphant rumbling of heaven and the wind of the Holy Spirit. On Gideon’s day, the fire was lit in jars of clay. Today, the fire is lit in jars of men and women.
II. The Holy Spirit often reveals Himself as fire.
When God first appeared to Moses, He came as fire lit on a burning bush. Moses warned that “the Lord thy God is a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24) and Isaiah uttered, in his prophesy about Pentecost, “the light of Israel shall be as a fire, and the holy One thereof as a flame” (Isaiah 10:17).
Fire is light. It opens our eyes so that we can see the path on a dark road.
Fire is heat. It thaws whatever is frozen and brings life where there was death.
Fire purifies. In his sermon on Pentecost, St. Ambrose asks, “What therefore is this fire? Of a certainty it is not built up from a lowly bush; nor does it flame up from the burning brambles of the forest. This is a fire which, as with gold, makes what is good better, and devours sin as stubble.”
Pentecost is the start of a new life. The fire of God enters into our hearts. We don’t have to stumble around in darkness. We don’t have to freeze in the frost of sin, despair, and meaninglessness. We’ve all been hurt. But we don’t have to stay broken. God offers us a new life.
III. Since the start of the liturgical year, we’ve been hearing lessons about the birth and life of Jesus Christ.
God became flesh in a manger. He walked among men, worked miracles, and taught the message of life. Then Christ gave Himself over for us on the cross to defeat death and rise again. Finally, after visiting and teaching his disciples, our resurrected Lord ascended up into the heavens. God experienced everything there is that makes us human, through the joys of birth and the sadness of death, and then brought that humanity up to paradise.
Pentecost is the fulfillment of everything. Humanity, sanctified by Jesus Christ, is now able to receive the fire of God. So, that fire, at the gathering of the Church, poured down from heaven and lit our hearts.
Pentecost is the alarm that wakes us up from our sleep. The journey begins.
IV. There’s a great mistake that we make as Christians.
We pick up the New Testament and read the story of Christ – Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John – and then shut the book. But it doesn’t stop there. The tale of Christ continues, in the Church, in His people, in the first century and in the twenty-first century. The fire lit on Pentecost day still burns today.
What were the disciples doing after Pentecost? They were nurturing the fire and spreading that fire. The Book of Acts tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs…day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…they traveled from town to town… the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (Acts 2:42-47; 16:4).
Everyone loves Christmas and Easter, but what about Pentecost? This is when our real work begins. This is our ‘Ite Missa Est,’ which we proclaim at the end of every Mass:
The liturgy means heaven and earth have met and we’re left with a “missa,” a mission, an odyssey. We are the Gideons with fire and trumpets, but this time with fire and wind from above.
Do you get this?
Do you remember what you’re doing on Sunday morning? We loose sight of it continually. We forget the significance of gathering at Mass. We turn church into a pious ritual at best, or a social club at worst. In both cases, we’ve lost the fire of Pentecost.
V. St. Augustine explains that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.
The soul gives life to your body. “It sees through the eyes, hears through the ears, smells through the nostrils, speaks by the tongue…It is present at the same time in all the members, that they may live…Such is the Church of God,” he continues, “in some of its saints it works miracles, in others of the saints it utters truth…in others this, in others that.” The Holy Spirit is the same in all of us, but it manifests differently in each of us, giving you and me and everyone our own unique gifts and our own quintessential job to do as the Church and as a parish.
St. Paul explains this in his first epistle to the Corinthians, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit…The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all. For to one is given the word of Wisdom…to another the word of knowledge…to another faith…to another gifts of healing…but now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’…If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it…if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (4-26).
VI. This is Pentecost.
God is with us. He is with us as a whole and with each of us separately, like that one fire carried in the hands of Gideon’s soldiers. And that same fire is breathing in our hearts for a purpose.
It isn’t enough to just come to church. It isn’t enough to say a few private prayers, drink the cup, and then go home. We are part of a body. We share a mission together, to eat together, to learn together, and to serve and build up one another.
VII. I had a friend who lost one finger while working with his power tools. You better be sure his whole body felt the loss. He hurt from head to toe. A little time passed and the pain went away, but something was missing permanently. That finger had a role to play. When it was cut, the role was no longer met. It’s no different with us.
Sometimes our role can feel pretty insignificant. Maybe we aren’t even sure we have one. But the gospel is clear. Every member of the body has the fire and a purpose for that fire. No role is less urgent than another. God ordains each. So the moment we drop our cross, the moment Church becomes ‘getting my needs met,’ rather than serving the needs of others, then everyone suffers for it. But the moment you pick up your cross, the moment you lift up your eyes and submit to God’s fire, then you and the whole family grow and strengthen.
This is parish life. This is the Church.
We have a mission.
Ite Missa Est.