Confusing Conception with Birth

The Pentecost/Confirmation window at Pope John Paul II Catholic High School, Huntsville, Alabama

Happy Feast of Pentecost!

Traditionally we speak of this feast as the birthday of the Church, but it seems to me that some people might get the realities of “birthday” and “conception” confused. For in the last 50 years or so, at least since Pope St. John XXIII prayed for a “new Pentecost” when convening the Second Vatican Council, there are some who seem to interpret it as a new conception of the Church, and so have set about trying to make a new Church – “sing a new Church into being”, as some hopefully croon! Even today, clergy and lay people alike bandy around the term “new Pentecost”, but I sometimes wonder how they mean it.

When the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples who were gathered in prayer with Our Lady, the Church already existed: Christ had already conceived the Church some time before. They were the Church gathered in prayer. The descent of the Holy Spirit thus became the animating impulse that gave life to Church and manifested her to the world by removing the disciples’ fear and driving them out into the public square, in the midst of the world.

Any authentic new Pentecost will thus in no way be a “re-creation” of the Church or her doctrine. The Church was conceived by Christ and the doctrine that she teaches has been entrusted to her by him. No; a new Pentecost will involve a new animation of the Church in the midst of the world – a new “birth” of the Church into the world. However that concretely takes shape is up for the Spirit to decide. There is also the possibility that Pope John’s hoped-for new Pentecost happened with the Second Vatican Council; but due to the grave distortion of that Council that took place and, in some areas, continues to take place, it resulted in a still birth.

What are we to do, then? We can do no better than to imitate the example of the disciples and gather together in prayer with Our Lady. And we can also reflect upon the fact that the first Pentecost was a gift that still is with us: the Lord has never taken back his gift! We all receive the Holy Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon each one of us even today. Then, in fidelity to the Church’s authentic teaching, and recognizing that the Church already exists and is given to us as a gift, not as something that we can do with as we please (Pope Francis has talked about this so many times!), we can live as faithful Christians in the midst of our world.

The Feast of Pentecost is an invitation for us to pray, to draw near to Our Lady, to be faithful, and to share with boldness the gifts that God has given us!

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2 Responses to Confusing Conception with Birth

  1. richardchonak says:

    I like to think that the conception of the Church, if that’s a useful idea, ought to be connected with March 25, inasmuch as the Body of Christ came into existence at the Annunciation.

    • We can also speak of the Church’s birth as happening on Good Friday, when Christ’s side was pierced. This is the problem with trying to tie down these realities to any one moment.

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