Although it’s not given as much attention as Christmas and Easter, Pentecost is a monumental day in the life of the church. All that went before — from Christ’s conception and birth to His death, resurrection and ascension — is now transformed by the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we can share in it by faith and by our participation in the sacramental life of the church.
The watchword for Pentecost is mission. “You are my witnesses to the ends of the earth,” Jesus says to the disciples of every generation. By the gift of the Holy Spirit each of us is called by name for a mission in this world, however humble or great. Whether we know it or not, we are to render some unique service not only for our salvation, but for the salvation of our neighbor and the world.
Pentecost Sunday 2011 is a very special celebration for the Diocese of Toledo. Our diocesan centenary comes to a close that day with a vespers service in the cathedral.
Almost every one of our 126 parishes and Catholic institutions have accepted my invitation to nominate an individual or a couple who exemplify outstanding service. Late last year representatives from among the priests were named monsignors. Now representatives of the laity, religious and permanent deacons of our diocese also are appropriately recognized. Those nominated are to be presented with a diocesan Centenary Award at the vespers service. Still others will receive a papal Benemerenti medal for service to the church at the diocesan level. Later this month the Chronicle will feature a special insert with all the names.
The key words are “representatives” and “exemplify.” Honorees are meant to be “representatives” of the many other people like themselves who are generous with their time, talent and treasure. And by their particular contribution each honoree “exemplifies” some aspect of Christian service. No one person can do everything.
Sometimes an objection is raised that as good Christians we should refuse honors, even in the church. If you examine the Scriptures carefully, however, you will find that what is condemned is vainglory — the pursuit of glory for its own sake or the performance of virtuous acts only in order to be praised.
Jesus says “take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.” (Mt 6:1) However, he also says: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Mt 5:14ff)
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was nothing if not self-effacing and humble. Once she was asked: “What do you think of receiving awards?” (She had received plenty.) Mother Teresa answered: “What do I think? The same as always. I don’t deserve them. I accept them willingly, not just to acknowledge the kindness of those who give the awards, but I think of what these awards can mean … They greatly help people to be favorably inclined towards our work.”
As a priest and bishop, my experience is that the people who are most worthy of being publicly honored are also the humblest in accepting the honor. Like Blessed Mother Teresa, what is important to them is the service that is being recognized. Accepting the honor is a way of allowing their light to shine, not by raising it up themselves, but graciously allowing it to be raised up as a model and inspiration to others to do the same, so as to give glory to our Father in heaven.
As a community of faith, it is important that we find ways of saying thank you to one another. After 100 years as a diocese, it is impossible to thank everyone, but remember the key words I mentioned earlier: “representatives who exemplify.” It is possible to identify representatives from each parish and institution who give a good example, and to express our gratitude as we bring our anniversary to a conclusion.
I began by writing of the mystery of Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We know that what we have is not our own, but from the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “What do you possess that you have not received? (1 Cor 4:7) There is therefore no room for personal boasting, but there is plenty of room for communal rejoicing at what God gives to each for the good of all. Congratulations to all our awardees, and to all who use their gifts generously in fulfilling their mission from Christ to be His witnesses in this world.