A Blessed Pentecost Sunday

Sunday — Pentecost Sunday — is our birthday!

Happy Birthday!  I learned in second grade — so I know it has to be true — that Pentecost is the “birthday of the Church.”  This is the day Jesus sent the Holy Spirit upon the disciples and His mother, giving them the courage, wisdom, and zeal to carry out the last command He had given them nine days earlier when He had ascended into heaven, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.  Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28: 19) The work of the Church began.

You and I are the grateful heirs.  We prize belonging to the Church.  Our Catholic faith is that “pearl of great price,” to which we cling, passed on to us, often at the cost of great sacrifice, by our parents and grandparents.  This great Catholic landscape of New York is spiced with churches, parishes, and communities founded by our great-grandparents who came to this country poor in the eyes of the world, but rich in the eyes of faith.  They brought with them the treasure of their Catholic faith.  Along with family, their Church was of supreme importance.

On her deathbed in 1821, our first native-born American saint, a native New Yorker, Elizabeth Ann Seton, whispered last words to her sisters: “Be daughters of the Church!”  On this Pentecost Sunday, I shout out to all of you, “Be sons and daughters of the Church!

My file of “favorite quotes from Blessed John Paul II” is a thick-one, but at the top is this one:  “Love for Jesus and His Church must be the passion of our lives.”

We Catholics passionately love our Church.  Like our family, we are “born into it” at baptism; like a mother, our Church strengthens us in Confirmation, forgives us in Reconciliation, feeds us in the Eucharist, consoles us with the Anointing of the Sick, and gives us away in Matrimony or Holy Orders.  Like our family, our Church is there at birth, maturity, sickness, and death.  Like a family, we might quarrel at times and complain about one another, but, like a family, we rarely leave, can always return, and carry our family name, traits, and pride forever.  The Church is our spiritual family.

Many people spend a lot of time asking, “What is the Church?”  Before long, they discover that the answer can only be found if they re-word the question: “Who is the Church?”  Because, simply put, as St. Paul teaches, the Church is Christ, a lesson he learned on the road to Damascus, when the Lord told him that, in persecuting the Church, Paul was in fact persecuting Jesus Himself. (Acts 9: 4-5)

When I was a new priest, my first pastor, Monsignor Cornelius Flavin, had a great reputation for winning converts.  He started every set of instructions with three simple definitions: a theist is one who believes in God; a Christian is a theist who believes Jesus Christ is God; a Catholic is a Christian who believes that the Church is Jesus Christ.

That is a crucial lesson for today.  Ronald Rolheiser observes that people today want “Christ without the Church, a King without His Kingdom.”  We as Catholics say, sorry, but you cannot split them.  Jesus remains alive, powerful, accessible, and active in His Church!  The Church is Christ.    As the French theologian de Lubac asked, “For what could I know of Him [Jesus] without her [the Church]?”

Now, let’s face it, at times it can be very difficult to love the Church.  Again, the Church is like our family.  At times it is hard to love our family, as we recall hurts, dysfunction, and sad episodes.  The Church is Christ, and since Christ was true God and true man, the Church is divine and human, too.  In her divine order, she is beautiful, holy, spotless; on the human side, she can be sinful, ugly, and clumsy.  That’s because her members are; that’s because I am; that’s because you are.

A few years back, a couple wrote me a letter tearing the Church apart.  They concluded, “We’re going to leave the Catholic Church and find a perfect one.”  “Good luck,” I replied.  “But, if you find one, don’t join it, because then it won’t be perfect anymore.”

Listen to what Pope John Paul II spoke to a million young people at a World Youth Day:

I should like to ask you, dear young people, a favor:  be patient with the Church!  The Church is always a community of weak and imperfect individuals.  God has placed His work of salvation, His plans and His desires, in human hands.  This is a great risk, but there is no other Church than the one founded by Christ.  He wants us to be His collaborators in the world and in the Church, with all our deficiencies and shortcomings.

Flannery O’Connor, the renowned southern writer, who loved and cherished her Catholic faith, knew the imperfection of the Church.  “It’s not so much suffering for the Church that I mind,” she commented, “but suffering from it!”  She was right: there is a lot in our Church that tempts us to give up, to get cynical, to leave.  Jesus asks us, as He asked His apostles when people abandoned Him, “Are you going to leave me, too.”  With St. Peter all speak up, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You alone” — and, we add, Your Church — “have the words of everlasting life.”

We love the Church, warts and all.  We stick with her.  We pass on the faith to our children.  We fight the “choice” fallacy that holds up the pagan gods of privacy, convenience, and freedom, with its chant of “leave me alone.”  The Church is at odds with this contemporary pantheon.  Listen again to Father Rolheiser:

What we must challenge is the pathological individualism and excessive sense of privacy within culture.  Especially must we challenge the fallacy, as omni-present as the air we breath, that our lives are all our own, that we owe nothing to anyone besides ourselves, and that we can buy into family, neighborhood, and Church how and when we like it.

We are Catholics; we belong to the Church, at the core of our being.  We did not choose Jesus and His Church; they chose us.  And we are eternally grateful they did.

Our faith, our Church, goes back to Jesus, His Mother, His Apostles, His Spirit unleashed at Pentecost. It is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

“Love for Jesus and His Church must be the passion of our lives!”

A blessed Pentecost!  Happy Birthday!


10 Responses to “A Blessed Pentecost Sunday”

  1. J. Horne says:

    Dear Archbishop Dolan,
    Happy birthday and blessed Pentacost to you too! My comment is admittedly off topic, but I do not know how I can contact you directly. I also do not know exactly how your authority as president of the USCCB is exercised.

    I learned recently of a gay pride Mass being celebrated on June 19 at St. Cecilia’s in the Archdiocese of Boston. I have contacted Cardinal Sean in a similar manner. Please do whatever is within your power to see that this Mass is not celebrated for the intention of celebrating what the Church proclaims to be a disordered expression of sexuality. I understand St Cecila parish’s honest intention of inclusion of all sinners in her ministry, but it sends the polar opposite wrong message to encourage parishioners and humanity at large to give thanks to God for a lifestyle that He and His Church proclaim to be out of synch with Christ’s Gospel.

    If you know Cardinal Sean, please speak to him. I fear for the scandal and confusion this Mass is causing before it has even happened. Please help.

    Humbly Yours,
    J. Horne
    Archdiocese of Baltimore Parishioner

  2. Kate says:

    Thank you for your vocation, Archbishop! Happy birthday, too!

  3. Mary says:

    you are in error dear brother. The truth is that the Church has never been a place or an organization. The Church is was and always has been within the heart of mankind which loves, adores and obeys our Lord. Denominations; Catholic included, are of man not of God. The True Church is the heart which loves our Lord and rejoices in His truth, His life and His way. It is the heart which God alone looks into and sees each of our true spirit. Although I agree fully w/your concerns of the Church embracing what our Lord declares as sinful, our Lord tells us we are to love the wicked as well as the righteous setting our light before men that they may see the path to His way of life. Thus we must reveal His truth to all mankind while reminding them that they must repent of their sins and follow His will where these things are concerned. As a parent loves his children and strives to teach them right from wrong, so we are to lovingly and compassionately guide one another as He has guided us. This is the true path to God. To love one another and guide and care for one another as He has loved us.

  4. Thank you for your wonderful thoughts and please know you are always in our prayers.
    You have done so much for so many and we are forever grateful to you for the inspiration you are to all of us . Stay strong.

  5. MDomke says:

    Dear Archbishop Dolan,
    I am a recently confirmed Catholic in Omaha, NE through the parish of St. Cecilia. I go to Creighton Law School and recently moved here from Milwaukee. I really enjoy your postings and always look forward to hearing from you; I have been meaning and will be sure to pass on this website to fellow RCIA members. This week’s posting is particularly significant and inspiring to me, as was a great homily by Father Gutgsell, take care and thank you.
    Kind Regards,
    Michael Domke

  6. Larry says:

    I’m afraid it is you, dear sister Mary, who are in error. Your sentence should be re-phrased: “Denominations OTHER THAN Catholic, are of man not of God.” It is God Himself, in the person of the Lord Jesus, who said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my Church.” It was Peter whom He told, “whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven; whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven.” And it was to all the Apostles that he said “he who hears you hears me; he who rejects you rejects me and rejects Him who sent me.” The successor to Peter today is Pope Benedict XVI. The successors to the Apostles are those bishops who teach in union with Benedict–that is, Catholic bishops. The admonitions of Jesus to Peter and the Apostles remain current and valid for the pope and his bishops.

  7. Paul Bourguet says:

    Bishop Dolan,

    I do understand the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and I will not argue with it. I understand you are a representative of an ancient tradition as well as a figurehead of one of the largest congregations in North America.

    What you seem to fail to consider is the commitment and love of two people of the same gender for each other, and the life-long bonds they plan and hope to have. They know the Church will not support them. Although many may be Catholic (as am I,) the goal is equal recognition from the State. This is not, in my opinion, an issue for the Church. They want equal rights, not the blessings of our church.

    Please relent. Civil marriages are not recognized as true marriages in the Roman Catholic Church. The marriages that may be performed will be Civil. The Church has nothing to fear.

    Please, Archbishop. Show some mercy.

    Paul Bourguet

  8. Charles J Murphy says:

    I am a bit dismayed that there is nothing about the Holy Spirit aside from the perfunctory mention at the beginning. What does the Holy Spirit do within the Church? Where does the Holy Spirit lead? How does the Holy Spirit work daily? The Church is only necessary until the fullness of God’s reign begins. They all will be God with us. We have the Spirit of Jesus sustaining the Church, not the Church moving off on its own.

  9. Owen Kelly says:

    Bishop Dolan,

    One irishman to another in regards to same sex marriage. It’s time to wear God on your sleave, politicians will rewrite the bible if you give them an inch, it’s time to EXCOMMUNICATE these politicians and enforce our catholic faith. Am I being harsh, yes, most of these politicians lie everyday, and if I am correct, God created Adam & Even and NOT John & Frank in the Garden. Bishop Dolan nothing to be scared about the Catholic faith will vote these politicians out of office if they screw around with tax exempt status. If you don’t do anything they will continue to go after more. It’s time to throw a bomb, and make news and stay strong, if you don’t do anything, then my opinion is your nothing but a weak irshman, and I will be totally disgusted

  10. EDWARD DEVLIN says:

    Granted the church does wonderful charity work. But
    When an associated entity namely Saint Peters Hospital plans to
    Deprive their vested employees of a pension, one that is the employees
    And not the hospitals, I have a problem with that! As with East Orange Medical center, Saint Peters has asked the IRS to give its blessing concerning a “conversion of their
    ERISA pension plan to a so called “church” plan. The management of this hospital should be very careful with this plan because it no longer is the hospitals money when it funds become pension plan funds. Any attempt to take these funds from the plan, deny plan participants their accrual, or otherwise circumvent the benefits will be considered “stealing” and we all know that the church does not advocate theft. The cardinal and Archbishop of this greater metropolitan area should be aware of this ongoing Saint Peters Hospital plan and remedy the situation.