Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pentecost: the Gift of Mission - not "School's Out for Summer!"

Pentecost often seems a bit of  an afterthought in parishes.  Pastors and music directors may be tired from a busy round of First Eucharist, Confirmation and even Ordination liturgies, as well as other "rites of spring" such as graduations and weddings. Art and environment ministers, who have been propping up the dying flowers of Easter, are lucky to grab a few swatches of red fabric with which to adorn the worship space for this weekend. Catechetical leaders are too often "done" for the year, with classes over, there is no perceived need to catechize about the significance of Pentecost. Cantors and choir members who have been doggedly singing "big" Easter Season musical selections for weeks,  may only be looking forward to a summer hiatus from rehearsals and performances that will come after those pesky "add-on" celebrations of Trinity and Body and Blood. God's tired people, we may only be looking forward to summer.  We approach this great feast almost unconscious of its significance.

What do we need to make Pentecost a true celebration of the presence of the Spirit in the Church and in our lives?  As the raising up of our identity as a people sent out to renew the world in the name of God? I am convinced that the "school year model" is the chief difficulty.

Psychologically mimicking the cultural calendar emphasis on "startup" in the fall, we begin giving the celebrations of the Liturgical Year attention in September. (Ever notice how poorly we promote the August 15 celebration of the Assumption as if we expect no one to show up?)  We work hard through October and November on music, environment, and other elements of the celebration to make Advent and Christmas "big", and then we sigh with relief in January.  We rev up again to prepare liturgically and catechetically for Lent, then the Easter Triduum. Entering the 50 Days, filled with those initiation sacrament celebrations, ministers can feel like we have been working hard for months and just want to "cruise" through until the traditional summer "shut down" of rehearsals and liturgical ministry meetings and preparations.

The energy needed to sustain the 9-month blitz of the school year model  can be increasingly missing. Too few people doing too many tasks: too few and aging volunteers, often serving in multiple ministries; too few staff members asked to do more because the economy has meant reduced ability to provide support staff. The solution? Perhaps in part, it is to re-evaluate and re-focus on why we are here in the first place.

The Church was created for both celebration ("Do this in memory of me.") and mission ("Go forth and preach and teach..."). We are here not merely to be comforted and to sustain the services we provide to our existing membership, but to be "sent forth" to love and serve - and to tell others the Good News. If this were better understood, we would see the importance of Pentecost - as the day to re-commission all the baptized, to affirm the staff and volunteers, and everyone who lives the faith.

Rather than seeing this weekend as the liturgical afterthought that ends the Easter Season and (almost) kicks off the summer break, we should see Pentecost as time to re-commit the entire Assembly to our core identity and mission.  There is no "vacation" period in the Liturgical Year. Pentecost calls ALL of us to continue to be who we are:  24-7, 365 days a year.  To do that, we need everyone in the Church to serve in the work needed to celebrate and go forth.  There should be no watchers and pew-sitters, only workers.  Many hands make light work, as my grandmother used to say! Come holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love... and the energy needed to spread it!

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