Happy Birthday to you all! Why? Because this is Pentecost Sunday. It is the official birthday of the Church. To explain all that happened on that Pentecost day and how that transformed the lives of the early church, I would like to share with you a story which many of you may know already. The 1980 Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid, New York. That year the U.S. hockey team wasn’t much – just a collection of inexperienced college kids. In an exhibition game before the Olympics, the Russians blew them off the ice.
Then came the Olympics. The first surprise came when the U.S. team tied a strong Swedish team. The second surprise came when the U.S. team upset a favored Czechoslovakian team. The kids who were supposed to be too young and too inexperienced had just advanced to the medal round. Then came the big game with the Russians. The Soviets jumped off to an early lead. Then things settled down until the third period. That’s when the unthinkable happened. The Americans closed the gap to tie the Russians. Suddenly the fans in the Lake Placid arena began chanting, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Then came the miracle. The U.S. team scored in the final seconds to win the game. Pandemonium broke loose.
Crowds watching the game on TV outside the arena couldn’t believe it. Suddenly they began dancing in the streets. Crowds dining in fashionable Lake Placid restaurants couldn’t believe it either. Suddenly they began singing and toasting. But the ones who really couldn’t believe it were the Russians – standing in a neat line and waiting the U.S. team to stop hugging and kissing one another so they could give them the Olympic handshake and get off the ice. The spirit that radiated from the U.S. team that night swept across the country like a tidal wave. Even people who weren’t hockey fans got caught up in it. It was an experience no one would ever forget.
That totally unexpected happening in the 1980 Olympics gives us an insight into what happened on Pentecost Sunday 2,000 years ago. The Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and transformed them in the most remarkable way imaginable. Before Pentecost they were a collection of confused disciples. After Pentecost they were totally changed. They were filled with a Spirit that radiated from them and swept across the world like a tidal wave. On that first Pentecost the Holy Spirit transformed the disciples into the Body of Christ. On that first Pentecost the Church was born.
I would like to tell you what happens to the church without the Holy Spirit. “God is distant, Christ is merely a historical figure, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is just an organization, authority is domination, mission is propaganda, liturgy is only nostalgia, and the work of Christ is slave labor. But with the Holy Spirit, God is near and in you, Christ is risen and present, the Gospel is a life giving force, the church is a communion in the life the Holy Trinity, authority is service that sets people free, mission is Pentecost, the liturgy is memory and anticipation and labor of Christ is divinized. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the church.
The feast of Pentecost is an invitation to look into ourselves and discover the soul. The Spirit is present only when charity, joy, peace, patience, endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness, and chastity are deeply in our lives—and permeate the air around us. Let us invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts and ask him to transform us into the Body of Christ. Thus we will radiate the gifts and fruits of Holy Spirit in us and around us.