"To the Ends of the Earth"
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Naples, Florida. As we leave the Easter season behind us, climaxing in the great feast of Pentecost, I am reflecting on the big takeaways. Each of us has heard something unique and special in the beautiful readings we’ve been through from Acts, and the last chapters of John’s Gospel of Love. Mine, perhaps not surprisingly, is about mission.
The Church in her wisdom included in the triumvirate of readings around Pentecost Sunday three very special ones. First, on Friday, we were treated to John 21:15-19, the only resurrection appearance of the Lord which was not included during the Easter week readings earlier in April. After Peter completes his tearful confession and receives forgiveness, and more, from Jesus with the three words, “Feed my sheep”, his road to martyrdom in Rome is foretold with “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands… and someone will lead you where you don’t want to go.” (John 21: 18). On Saturday, the Apostle Paul arrives in Rome as well in Acts 28:14, where he too begins to witness the Gospel and will also be sacrificed for it. And of course on Sunday itself, we have the great description in Acts of the coming of the Holy Spirit himself that would energize and empower the Apostles and drive them from the safety of the upper room to “Jerusalem, all of “Judea and Samaria”, and indeed to “the ends of the earth” i.e. Rome itself.
The energy and fearlessness of the Apostles, spreading the message of the Gospel throughout the Roman world, is truly a marvel to behold. How did this little band of fisherman from Galilee manage to convert an empire? How did they get transformed from the discouraged followers of the upper room to the joyful, loving, and fearless apostles that breached the gates of Rome itself?
In the readings this weekend, and really through all of the Easter season, we can find many of the same paths to the heart of a missionary that the missionaries of SoHo have found as well. Sacrifice. Prayer. Reconciliation. Perseverance. Dignity. Humility. Faith and Hope. Love. Jesus. And yes, the Holy Spirit. He is everywhere in Acts, seemingly directing every movement, every speech, every act of kindness, of the Apostles. Google says he’s mentioned 55 times. At least.
In today’s divided, religiously neutral, and post-Corona, terrorized world, more than ever, we need missionaries. As a faith community, we’ve largely satisfied ourselves with the important task of Christian witness to others through some combination of our personal behavior in our social and family circles, and through outreach activities such as Catholic charities and mission trips to the inner cities to feed the poor or Appalachia to rebuild homes. With the divisiveness and suffering that is rampant around us, these activities are more needed than ever. Yet, they will not be enough.
At the root of much of what divides us, I believe, is a lack of faith. A lack of understanding that as Paul reminded us yesterday in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “we are all one body in Christ.” In the post-Christian world that we are becoming, particularly in our big cities like New York, we are all more focused on “me” and “now”, and less interested in “we” and “eternity.” We ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit within us, we give up on sacrifice for the many, we refuse to postpone pleasure today for eternal joy tomorrow, we pursue the secular dream. We fail to love.
The world we face today is not a lot different that the secular, self-centered, pleasure-seeking world that the Apostles faced as they left their safe upper room for the last time, on Pentecost Sunday, and headed to the streets of the world’s big cities. Armed with the Holy Spirit, they found the courage, the words, the love, to go forth, to save the world. They, through Him, did it then and we, through Him, can do it now. Out there. On the streets.
Our next mission in New York City is scheduled for September, the feast of San Genaro. If the city is open by then, trust me. We’ll be there.
June 1, 2020