During the Pentecost Vigil mass we have several options for the readings for that mass. One of the options I like is from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel chapter 3. In this story God gives Ezekiel a vision of dry bones in a field and God asks Ezekiel an interesting question. God poses this question of Ezekiel – “do you think these bones can come to life?”
How alive is our church today? I recently visited New Orleans and had the opportunity to attend Sunday Mass in several different parishes. I was shocked to see how detached the parishioners were in every church I visited. It seemed to me that everyone there was there in body but their minds were somewhere else. The Presiders were equally detached and were uninspired as they performed a duty rather than celebrate the liturgy. It was no wonder that the pews in those churches were mostly empty. Yet I know from my travels that this is a growing issue in the world-wide church today.
Last week, on May 12th the Pew Research Center published a new study on religion. Their findings show the number of individuals who identify themselves as Christian is significantly declining. The largest declines were noted in mainline Protestant traditions and among Catholics. But if you look at the numbers carefully you will see that Evangelicals instead of declining are growing at an amazing rate. This data should give us more than simple facts about shrinking numbers of believers. This research should lead us to do some soul searching and seek the mind of God on how to once more set believers hearts on fire. One question we can easily answer is why are we declining and evangelicals are growing. I firmly believe that the biblical account of Pentecost shows us one of the reasons for this occurring.
For what happened on the streets that day shows us the difference between evangelization versus proselytization. After being filled with the Holy Spirit Peter bolts out of that upper room and boldly proclaimed Jesus as the messiah. After being prayed over for the Holy Spirit to come upon Paul he tells the community at Corinth “I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I was determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” We can learn from Peter and Paul about bringing people to a belief and faith in Jesus Christ long before we begin to teach them how to live out that faith according to doctrines.
Do you think these bones can come to life? Ezekiel had no response to that question other than to say “Lord you alone know that.” Perhaps one of the issues we are facing is that unlike Ezekiel we believe we have the answers to get our congregations engaged. We are fond of bringing in an inspirational speaker or another program on how to be a better catholic. We can learn a lesson from the masters of evangelization given to us in scripture. We should rely heavily on what God has provided for our spiritual life and less on programs based on the wisdom of man.
God said to Ezekiel, tell them (the dry bones) “I will bring my Spirit into you, that you may have life.” Later God says “O Spirit breath into these (bones) that they may have life.” These words remind me of the description in scripture when God breathed the breath of life into Adam. By God breathing into the nostrils of Adam he came to life physically and that same breath of the Spirit is given to us to bring us to life spiritually. Once that happens to us we will never be the same and what is unresponsive in us to the presence of God will come to life.
There is so much God told us of the Spirit that we have basically ignored. Today on this feast I am certain more than 99% of our churches will be hearing a homily about today being the birth of the church. That much is true for the scriptures tell us that 3,000 responded to Peter and were baptized on that day. But this is not about the beginning of the church; Pentecost marks the beginning of the fulfillment of the promises of God made to us.
What we need is not more programs on how to be a better Catholic, what we need is to embrace what God has provided for us by sending us the Spirit. The amazing thing is that every baptized Christian has this Spirit already. We have just somehow have not been taught how important this Spirit is for our Spiritual life.
Paul tells us that the love of God is poured out into our hearts by the Spirit (Rom. 5:5). If we would only ask the Spirit to do that for us, we would understand so much about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We would know the depth of mercy, the freedom of forgiveness and God’s restoration of us as holy men and women. God plan is to set us free from guilt, pain, anger, despair, hopelessness, and all that afflicts us.
I have come that you might have life and life in abundance. In the world is tribulation but in me there is peace. The fruit of a life full of the Spirit is love, patience, joy, peace, gentleness, forbearance and self-control (Gal. 5:22).
If God is offering us all of this and more why would we settle for less? Let us invite the Spirit into our hearts by saying Come Holy Spirit. Or if you prefer to do something that involves a little more effort, try a Novena to the Holy Spirit. Recite the words of that prayer believing that as you ask you will receive, as you seek you will find and as you knock it will be opened. If you will do that then Pentecost becomes more than a history lesson on the beginning of the Church; it becomes the beginning of life as promised by God.