By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Pentecost Sunday 9th June 2019
Today is often wrongly described as the birthday of the Church. It is not, it is the day that the Church’s mission was launched.
St Luke and St John describe the coming of the gift of the Holy Spirit at different times. St Luke says it occurred at Pentecost, while John says it was on Easter evening when Jesus breathed on the disciples to strengthen them and commission them to become his agents with whom he would share his ministry. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a guarantee that the life that flows through the Church is the life of God himself.
Despite the differences, both St Luke and St John tell us that the Holy Spirit was given to the Church as it prayed together. The Church was a united community made up of Apostles, disciples, Our Blessed Lady and other women (Acts 1:14). The Spirit was given to the Church as a whole and only to individuals in so far as they were part of the community of faith. Individualism, or people doing their own thing is not part of the Church’s life and whenever it appears, the result is division and chaos.
The Church is One. All who are baptised with water in the name of the Holy Trinity are united with Christ, but the Church’s mission is only truly effective when there is a unity of faith, belief and life between the baptised members.
The Church is apostolic because the Church devoted itself to the teaching of the apostles with Peter as the leader. They were the link between Jesus and the emerging churches, and it is their successors the bishops, acting in unity and being faithful to the gospel truth and Church teaching, that hold the Church together. Bishops are not just nice decorative features in the Church, they are essential to the very nature of the Church
The Church is holy if it keeps its eye on Jesus. From the beginning the Church devoted itself to prayer and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42). Worship and prayer are the core of the Christian life and must be practised, not when there are no other better or more exciting things to do, but with discipline and in keeping with the teaching of the Church and in that same obedience to God’s will that was exercised by Jesus and Our Blessed Lady.
The Church is catholic because the Holy Spirit enabled the Church to preach the good news of Jesus and the resurrection to people in their own language. This is the reversal of the human grasp for power and control shown in the story of the Tower of Babel when God divided people by giving them different languages. Catholic means universal in the sense that the Church is open to all who are prepared to embrace the faith and values of the Kingdom of God and are prepared to accept the changes in their lives that are required.
Both St Luke and St John tell us that Jesus and the Church are partners in mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21). But Jesus gave the Church more responsibility than that. He gave it authority to set the limits of faith and morals for the baptised disciples. “Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whosoever sins you retain they are retained (Jn 20:23). Once again. This authority is given to the leadership of the Church who are in unity with each other and the successor of Peter, not to individuals
The Church is a body, but not a body of people like a club for people who have a common interest. It is the Body of a particular person, namely Jesus Christ. We are born into this body at our baptism when some gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us. No one person is given all of the Spirit’s gifts, and no-one is given no gifts. Gifts are to be shared and offered to the glory of God and for the benefit of the Church’s ministry.
Today is a celebration that reminds us that the Church’s primary purpose is to proclaim the gospel. We are called to be a missionary Church, not an institutional Church. We must live simply, be prepared to change often and to trust the one who will lead us into understanding God’s truth. Perhaps the challenges of our time will force us into re-discovering our roots and primary calling, and above all to remember that we are the Body of Christ, not a Body Corporate.
Monsignor Entwistle was the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.