The Birthday of the Church and the Path We Chose

Anything without heart, anything without love — and I mean politics, music, law, art, even religion —anything without love, no matter how brilliant, is finally inadequate and weak. At the end of the day, the human soul yearns to be loved, and to love in return.  And it won’t settle for anything less. 

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God loves us so deeply that he sent his only son to live, suffer, die and rise again for our salvation. That’s the message of Easter.  The message of Pentecost – the «birthday of the Church» that we celebrate this Sunday – builds on Easter.  In sending his Holy Spirit to the Apostles in the upper room, God invites each of us to join him in a passion for evangelizing the world.  We are Christ’s witnesses.  Our mission is to respond to the fire of God’s love.  But desire alone won’t remake the world.  So how do we accomplish the work God sets before us?

First, we need to wake up, shake off the cocoon of the world’s narcotic noise, and recover our clarity about right and wrong. We do this by praying, and we need to pray every day. Praying, no matter how unfocused we might be at first, clears the head and the heart. It also clears the ears, so we can hear God’s quiet voice. Setting aside some silent time with God each day plants the first seed of sanity. It sends down deep roots, and the soul grows a little stronger every day. If we listen well enough and long enough, God will tell us what he wants uniquely from each of us.

Second, we need to seek out confession regularly and stay close to the Eucharist. We can’t lose hope when we know we’re forgiven. We can’t starve to death when we’re being fed with the Bread of Life. And the stronger we get in the Lord, the more we have to give to others. The sacraments are literally rivers of grace. They bring us new life. They have real power.

Third, we need to share Jesus Christ consciously with someone every day. We need to make a deliberate point of it. And we don’t have to hit people over the head with the Bible to do it. Life naturally presents us with opportunities to talk about our faith with friends or colleagues.  Nothing is more attractive than a sincere, personal witness to the truth. And remember that what we give away in faith, we get back a hundredfold.

Fourth, we need to show a little courage. In the same Scripture passage where Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations, he also tells us that he’ll be with us always, even to the end of the age. If that’s so — and of course, it is so – then what can we really worry about? What better friend can we have in the struggle for soul of the world, than the God who created it and us?

Fifth and finally, we need to be faithful to those who love us, and to those whom God calls us to love. So often we overlook the simple fabric of daily life and the persons who inhabit it. But that’s where real love begins. That’s where all discipleship starts. It’s why Augustine wrote that «to be faithful in little things is a big thing.»

God made each of us to make a difference. Whether we seem to succeed or fail is not the point. We may never see how God uses us to achieve his will. But it’s enough that we try — and then profound things can happen.

Readers my age may remember that Dag Hammarskjold was secretary general of the United Nations many years ago, during the Congo crisis in the early 1960s. He was also a Christian serious about his faith. Hammarskjold died when his plane crashed on a peace mission in Africa in September 1961. After his death, his diary was found and published under the title, Markings. This is a prayer he wrote in his diary shortly before his death:

[Oh God,]

Have mercy
Upon us.
Have mercy
Upon our efforts,
That we
Before Thee
In love and in faith
Righteousness and humility,
May follow Thee,
With self-denial, steadfastness and courage,
And meet Thee
In the silence.

Give us
A pure heart
That we may see Thee,
A humble heart
That we may hear Thee,
A heart of love
That we may serve Thee,
A heart of faith
That we may live Thee,

Whom I do not know
But Whose I am.
Whom I do not comprehend
But Who hast dedicated me
To my fate.
Thou —

We live in an era wounded by sadness and cynicism, but also ennobled by men and women of grace; people not so very different from you and me. This year, on this Pentecost, we get to choose which path to follow, because while God’s Holy Spirit calls each of us by name to his service, we have the freedom to say yes or no.

If we really want to preach the Gospel, renew the Church and give glory to God in the years ahead, the only means that will work is to speak the truth in love through the witness of our lives. And it’s always been so. 

Lord, make us instruments of your peace — now and always.

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Charles J. Chaput

Archbishop of Philadelphia

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