As we gather for the Inaugural Eucharist this morning and invoke the presence and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I cannot help but feel how the two readings from Scripture today reflect so much of our experience over the past few years.
Like the disciples in the Gospel of John, many of our communities gathered inside our houses, in our own ‘upper rooms’, with the doors locked. Even the doors of our Churches were locked. The doors were locked out of fear – fear of contagion from the pandemic, fear of passing on the virus to the most vulnerable among us, fear in the face of government-mandated restrictions. Little by little, as the restrictions eased in many countries, we ventured out again, very carefully – much like the disciples after the resurrection. We opened our Churches again but to limited numbers. But we still didn’t feel ready to assemble in large gatherings or to travel very far and wide.
We know that the pandemic is not yet over. And, to make matters worse, we now find ourselves in the midst of war. Social and political divisions afflict many of our countries. The growing realization of the effects of the climate crisis challenges us to care for our common home. In many of our countries, we face a crisis about energy, and also about food. And it is at this precise moment, in this wounded world of ours, that God calls us to come together in Chapter – to travel across the globe, to re-imagine our Redemptorist identity and mission, to trust that Jesus, our Redeemer, is in our midst – and that he has always been closer to us than we ever imagined.
And so, like the disciples at the first Pentecost in the first reading for this Eucharist, we gather together with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, our Perpetual Help. We gather in fear and anticipation, in hope and hesitation. We know that we’re being called to bring the Good News to this wounded world today, but perhaps we’re not sure how best to do this, to whom we are sent, with whom we will create community …
To accept our call today requires courage and resolve, like the courage of Alphonsus when the others abandoned him and Brother Vito alone in Scala. It’s like the courage of Clement when he was exiled from St. Benno’s in Warsaw and didn’t know if he would ever see his brother Redemptorists again. It’s the courage of our blessed Martyrs in Ukraine, in Slovakia, in Spain… We find hope today in the courage of so many of our ancestors in the Congregation who set out to bring the Good News to others, following Jesus to the jungles of Surinam and the deserts of West Africa, to the wilderness of North America and the ancient civilizations of India, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam. We find hope in the courage of our confreres who remained underground in Ukraine, Slovakia, China, and so many other difficult circumstances.
Just as Jesus breathed on that small frightened group of disciples in today’s gospel, so he breathes on us today, in this Eucharist, in this Chapter. Listen to his words once again: “Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit. As the Father sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit – forgive and heal and welcome and preach.”
Like the disciples on that first Pentecost, we need to learn a new language that people today can understand. We pray to let the Spirit rekindle in us a renewed passion which will witness more powerfully than any words we say.
As we prayed in the collect for this Mass, let us pray once again: “Father, pour forth the gifts of the Holy Spirit even to the ends of the earth, and continue today the wondrous works you brought about in the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel”.
Mary, Mother of hope, teach us to soar on the wings of this Spirit and to bring forth the Word made flesh once again in this generation!